By Elvira Pollina
SEGRATE, Italy (Reuters) – Mediaset is in contact with various players over a cross-border tie-up but has no intention of including its shareholder Vivendi in any potential deal, the head of the holding controlling the Italian private broadcaster said.
Mediaset has been embroiled in a legal battle with Vivendi since 2016 when the French media conglomerate, controlled by billionaire Vincent Bollore, pulled out of a deal to buy Mediaset’s pay-TV unit.
The broadcaster has repeatedly raised in recent months the idea of creating a pan-European TV player to fend off competition from established rivals and new entrants.
Most recently, speculation has intensified that Mediaset and German rival ProSiebenSat.1 Media could strike a deal, but the two companies denied press reports they were in merger talks over the weekend.
“We’re talking with everyone, we’ll have to see what happens, it’s too early to give you names,” Marina Berlusconi, chairwoman of Fininvest – the holding company that owns 44 percent of Mediaset – told reporters.
Berlusconi, the eldest daughter of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, ruled out Vivendi being part of any future deal with Mediaset.
“(Bollore) is like one of those neighbours no one wants to have,” she said when asked whether Mediaset could seek to settle the dispute with Vivendi as part of a wider pan-European accord.
Like other European free-to-air broadcasters, Mediaset is suffering competition from internet giants such as Google and Facebook in the advertising market and is struggling to keep up with investments in content production by video-streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
After the failed pay-TV sale, Vivendi built a stake of 29 percent in Mediaset but was later forced by Italian regulators to transfer most of its voting rights into a trust because of antitrust concerns. Vivendi is also the top shareholder in Telecom Italia.
In view of a possible deal, Mediaset’s annual general meeting on Thursday will vote on a loyalty share scheme that is traditionally used by controlling shareholders to strengthen their grip on companies.
As Mediaset considers Vivendi’s stake illegitimate, it could attempt to prevent Vivendi from attending the meeting, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
“There will be a board of directors tomorrow morning and we will decide what to do”, Berlusconi, who sits on Mediaset’s board, said.
(Reporting by Elvira Pollina; Editing by Mark Potter)