Mediaset 'mulling full takeover of Spanish arm' in pan-European strategy
Mediaset, the Italian commercial broadcaster, is reported to be considering a plan to acquire the rest of its majority-owned Spanish arm as part of a strategy to build up a presence across Europe.
Mediaset España operates popular free-to-air commercial television channels including Telecinco and Cuatro.
Mediaset, which is controlled by the family of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, is targeting the 48.4 per cent of the business it does not already own as part of a “pan-European” project, according to Italian financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.
There is talk that, once it has consolidated its position in Spain, Mediaset could look to develop a continental TV giant, possibly involving French commercial broadcaster TF1 and German counterpart ProSiebenSat, as it seeks to remain competitive in Europe and counter the increasing threat posed by digital players such as Netflix and Amazon.
This is not the first time that Mediaset expansion has been mooted, with Fedele Confalonieri (pictured), the president of the group, saying at the opening of its assembly for the approval of the 2017 budget and renewal of the board: “We must look with interest at the prospect of international growth in our natural riverbed which is Europe.”
Similar sentiments have been expressed by Pier Silvio Berlusconi, the chief executive of Mediaset, and the son of the major shareholder, who wants the broadcaster to be a “driving locomotive” in European TV.
Mediaset, TF1 and ProSiebenSat are already members of the European Media Alliance that was established in 2014 to foster greater co-operation between commercial broadcasters.
However, Mediaset is thought unlikely to pursue a collaboration with Vivendi, the French media giant that owns pay-TV operator Canal Plus, after the acrimonious breakdown of an agreement in 2016 under which Vivendi was to have acquired Mediaset Premium, the broadcaster’s digital terrestrial pay-TV service in Italy.
Mediaset España is the largest television network in Spain, with an audience share of 28 per cent, and, while it cannot compete with the likes of telecoms giant Telefónica and sports rights agency Mediapro for premium LaLiga and Champions League rights, has established itself as the home of showpiece international soccer events.
All 64 matches from last year’s World Cup were shown on Telecinco or Cuatro, and Mediaset España has since secured Spanish rights to the 2020 European Championships, Uefa qualifying matches (not involving Spain) for Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup, and the new Uefa Nations League.
Telecinco’s highest average audience at the 2018 World Cup was 12.8 million for Spain’s surprise last-16 penalties defeat to hosts Russia.
Other Mediaset España properties include Basketball World Cup, EuroBasket, the European Championships, and Spain qualifying games in a deal with FIBA running to 2021.
Mediaset would appear to have increased resources to invest in foreign business after late last year concluding the sale of R2, the company that controls the technical platform for Mediaset Premium, to rival Sky Italia, having patched up past differences.
Mediaset and Sky had earlier signed a wide-ranging agreement to make the former’s premium channels, plus various on-demand content, available to the latter’s satellite customers.
Thanks to the alliance, Sky can in turn use Mediaset Premium’s DTT platform for its own offering of services and channels.
As a result of the deal, Mediaset channels including Canale 5, Italia 1 and Rete 4 returned to Sky Italia’s platform at the start of this month, after a three-and-a-half-year absence.
The channels had originally been withdrawn in a dispute over retransmission fees.
Mediaset televised the 2018 World Cup in Italy, as well as Spain, which provided a boost to advertising revenues, while the loss of Italian pay-TV rights to the Champions League and Serie A has reduced costs.
Losses for the third quarter amounted to €15.8 million ($18 million), down from €40.1 million a year earlier, as turnover slipped by 5.7 per cent to €629.1 million.
At the time, Mediaset was forecasting full-year net profit “slightly above” the 2017 figure, adding that, in Italy, the trend in advertising sales in the final quarter of the year should “make it possible to gain market share on an annual basis” and despite the “ongoing market difficulties” and “lack of football events present last year.”