RTL eyes £500m takeover of Channel 4
LONDON - Fresh speculation over the future of Channel 4 has linked German media group RTL, which owns rival UK broadcaster Five, to a £500m takeover bid.
According to a report in the Sunday Times, RTL has asked investment bank JP Morgan to look into a bid.
Talk of a takeover comes just four years since the two last held merger talks. Those talks eventually foundered after Five has pulled out in November 2004.
Last time talks emerged from plans to combine the two channels' airtime sales houses. However, this time the state-owned and commercially funded Channel 4 faces serious financial difficulty and an escalating shortfall in funding.
Several ideas have been floated to safeguard its future including a merger or partnership with BBC Worldwide.
In September, the same month Channel 4 announced 150 job cuts, it was reported that the BBC and its fellow state-owned channel were in talks about a commercial alliance through BBC Worldwide.
The talks were said to have been "sanctioned at the highest levels of the BBC" and in the words of BBC sources were "proceeding well".
At the time there was little detail on the form that the partnership might take, but possibilities mooted included the BBC selling Channel 4's programmes abroad and taking a commission, and the BBC making international versions of Channel 4's hit shows using its own production facilities, with the pair sharing profits.
However, former BBC Worldwide chief executive Rupert Gavin called any such merger a "ludicrous suggestion". There is also concern that it could threaten future BBC funding.
The BBC is also implacably opposed to the idea, which would involve the loss of commercial brands and operations such as the Radio Times and Top Gear magazines, overseas BBC TV channels and its recently acquired stake in the Lonely Planet travel guide company.
In September a BBC spokeswoman said: "BBC Worldwide is regularly talking to major players across the industry. However, we have nothing to announce."
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