By Giancarlo Navach
COLOGNOMONZESE, Italy (Reuters) – Italy’s Mediaset will make a decision on a possible pan-European free-to-air television alliance by the time of a July 25 board meeting, its chief executive said on Thursday.
The board meeting had already been scheduled to review the broadcaster’s decision not to pay a dividend for 2018.
The broadcaster, owned by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s holding company Fininvest, has in recent months repeatedly raised the idea of creating a pan-European TV player to fend off competition from established rivals and new entrants.
Speaking to reporters after the group’s annual general meeting, CEO Pier Silvio Berlusconi, who is the son of the former premier, said there were several options for Mediaset’s pan-European project.
“Once we have all the elements, we’ll understand how to go about this,” he said.
Most recently, speculation has intensified that Mediaset and German rival ProSiebenSat.1 Media could strike a deal, but the two companies denied last Saturday a press report that they were in merger talks.
Mediaset’s Chief Financial Officer Marco Giordani told the shareholder meeting there were currently no plans to expand in Germany with ProSiebenSat.
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.
France’s largest private TV broadcaster, TF1 has also been mentioned in the press as a possible partner for Mediaset, though the company said last September it was not discussing a major cross-border deal with its Italian rival.
Thursday’s shareholder meeting approved a loyalty share scheme that rewards longer-term investors with additional votes under an Italian law that is traditionally used by controlling shareholders to strengthen their grip on companies. Fininvest currently owns 44 percent of Mediaset.
Under the new scheme, investors will have two voting rights for each share held for at least 24 straight months.
Mediaset has been embroiled in a legal battle with hostile shareholder Vivendi, the French media conglomerate controlled by billionaire Vincent Bollore, since 2016 when Vivendi pulled out of a deal to buy Mediaset’s pay-TV unit.
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.
As Mediaset considers Vivendi’s stake illegitimate, its board rejected requests from both the French group and the trust in which it has transferred most of its stake to vote at Thursday’s shareholder meeting.
Vivendi said in a statement that it could challenge the validity of the decisions approved by the meeting.
(Writing by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Susan Fenton)