ProSiebenSat.1 Said to Be in Merger Talks With Axel Springer

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German broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG is in talks to combine with newspaper publisher Axel Springer SE to strengthen their push into digital media, according to people familiar with the matter.

Discussions are at an early stage and any transaction could face antitrust hurdles, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. A deal would unite Springer’s Bild-Zeitung tabloid and Die Welt newspaper with the ProSieben and Sat.1 commercial TV channels. Together the two companies have a market value of more than 14 billion euros ($15.4 billion) and 2014 revenue of 5.9 billion euros.

A renewed merger attempt comes almost a decade after Springer’s quest to buy the broadcaster was turned down by German antitrust authorities. While that deal was motivated by the ambition to build a counterweight to media powerhouse Bertelsmann SE, a combination now would increase the companies’ heft as consumers turn to Google Inc.’s YouTube and social media for content.

Springer shares added 3.8 percent to 49.08 euros at 2:58 p.m. in Frankfurt for a market capitalization of 4.9 billion euros. ProSieben jumped 0.5 percent to 44.67 euros, valuing the broadcaster at 9.7 billion euros.

‘Growth Options’

Springer is controlled by Friede Springer, the widow of founder Axel Springer. Chief Executive Officer Mathias Doepfner, who is a close confidant of Friede’s, is among the top five shareholders, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“Speculations regarding a relinquishment of control are completely unfounded,” Berlin-based Springer said in a statement. The publisher continues to pursue a change of its legal form into a so-called KGaA that would let its owner maintain control of the company “on a long-term basis and open up growth options.”

A spokesman for ProSieben, whose headquarters are near Munich, declined to comment.

Springer dropped its bid for ProSieben in early 2006 after failing to win regulatory approval. In 2010, Springer lost a case in Germany’s top court to overturn a veto by the Federal Cartel Office. The company last year won a separate court challenge toppling a media regulator’s veto in Germany’s highest administrative court.

In June, the cartel office approved a marketing cooperation between Springer and rival Funke-Mediengruppe, saying the Bild newspaper doesn’t hold a dominant position under competition law. That ruling has likely played a role in encouraging Springer and ProSieben to revive talks, according to two people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential.

Digital Push

Teaming up with ProSieben would let Springer market content across various platforms, using its best-selling Bild newspaper and its popular online outlet to recycle content such as Heidi Klum’s “Germany’s Next Top Model” show that features the German model coaching aspiring young women to catwalk fame.

ProSiebenSat.1 combines a group of commercial channels that include the ProSieben and Sat.1 outlets, as well as smaller niche products such as Kabel Eins Fernsehen and Sixx. The company’s stock has gained 28 percent this year through Monday, while Axel Springer has lost about 5 percent in the same period.

Axel Springer has introduced paid online content and acquired Internet assets to offset a decline in print revenue. Doepfner has pushed aggressively into online products with purchases, gaining control of companies including Runtastic GmbH, a maker of a run-tracking application, news broadcaster N24 Media GmbH, U.K. job portal Jobsite and Israel’s largest classifieds site Yad2.

ProSieben, which owns travel websites such as weg.de and rental-car platform billiger-mietwagen, is also betting on rising online commerce. Last month, it made its biggest digital acquisition, paying at least 170 million euros for a controlling stake in price-comparison website Verivox.

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