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Bosses of Mediaset and ProSieben hold 'constructive' talks - sources

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By Reuters
Bosses of Mediaset and ProSieben hold 'constructive' talks - sources
FILE PHOTO: German media company ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE Chief Executive Max Conze speaks to reporters during a briefing in Berlin, Germany, October 25, 2019. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse   -   Copyright  Annegret Hilse(Reuters)
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BERLIN/MILAN (Reuters) – The bosses of Mediaset <MS.MI> and ProSiebenSat.1 Media <PSMGn.DE> held what sources on both sides called constructive talks on Monday, in the first top-level meeting since the Italian broadcaster took a 15% stake in its German counterpart.

Mediaset is seeking to persuade Munich-based ProSieben to join MediaForEurope, a Dutch holding company that it is creating as a vehicle for the European TV industry to consolidate and fight back against a viewer grab by U.S. streaming giants like Netflix <NFLX.O> and, coming soon, Disney+ <DIS.N>.

ProSieben, however, sees little to be gained from cross-border integration and instead wants to explore ways to team up at the operational level. The two sides have aired their differences, sometimes in strong terms, via the media in recent weeks.

The sources described Monday’s talks between CEOs Pier Silvio Berlusconi and Max Conze as good and constructive, adding a joint working group would explore the possibility of launching ProSieben’s new streaming product, called Joyn, in Mediaset’s main markets of Italy and Spain.

Conze, hired last year from British home appliance maker Dyson, has made Joyn a centrepiece of a strategic pivot to digital growth that he hopes can offset declines in advertising revenues at ProSieben’s commercial TV channels.

A premium version of Joyn, a joint venture with Discovery Inc <DISCA.O>, has just gone live. Priced at 6.99 euros ($7.70) a month, it narrowly undercuts Netflix.

While agreeing to explore licensing Joyn, Mediaset has little enthusiasm for the idea, sources close to the Italian firm said.

Chief financial officer Marco Giordani told an investor conference in Barcelona last month that streaming was not a differentiator for TV companies, instead calling for more urgent steps to unite at a strategic level.

Mediaset, controlled by the family of former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, says it could raise its ownership of ProSieben to 20%, but has ruled out a full takeover that would trigger a political and media backlash in Germany.

Complicating matters is a protracted dispute over a 29% stake in Mediaset owned by French tycoon Vincent Bollore’s media group Vivendi <VIV.PA>. Talks last week failed to reach a deal for Mediaset to buy back most of those shares, meaning the case will return to an Italian court on Dec. 6.

(Reporting by Douglas Busvine and Elvira Pollina; Editing by Keith Weir and Mark Potter)