MFE Will Not Pursue ProSieben Takeover Until it Divests Non-TV Assets, Says Berlusconi

Dan Meier 18 March, 2024 

MFE-MediaForEurope will not pursue a takeover of ProSiebenSat.1 until the German company divests its non-TV assets, CEO Pier Silvio Berlusconi suggested today. He also commented on the health of MFE, citing a strong start to the year in ad revenues, and a profitable 2023 compared with the previous year.

In an interview with Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, the Berlusconi heir disclosed that MFE profits in 2023 were expected to surpass 2022, when the media holding group made €217 million.

And the CEO forecast strong performance for the first quarter of 2024, with Q1 ad revenues expected to be up 5 percent YoY. He noted that the gains came against a challenging geopolitical and economic backdrop, and that the results exclude the accounting effect of the consolidation of ProSieben, as the holding group seeks to restructure its stake in the German broadcaster.

“Our Group advertising revenue in Italy and Spain in the first quarter of 2024 shows us at +5 percent compared to the same period last year,” said Berlusconi. “With two wars, skyrocketing interest rates, inflation, high energy prices and so on, we also saw 2023 as very tough. Yet, we are about to close the balance sheet with a profit higher than the €217 million of 2022, and without the accounting effect of Germany’s dividends.”

“We don’t want to conquer”

While positive on the prospects for the TV business in Italy and Spain, Berlusconi painted a less sunny picture for Germany. MFE is the largest shareholder in ProSiebenSat.1, and last month received approval from the Austrian competition regulator to up its stake in the German media group. The clearance effectively paves the way for MFE to gain de facto sole control of ProSieben.

But when asked whether MFE would pursue a full buyout of ProSieben, Berlusconi was less than enthusiastic. “A takeover offer also covering businesses which we know little about?” he said. “And that have little to do with our core business?”

The media executive has been critical of the German group’s strategy, urging the company to divest its non-TV assets to focus on its “core business”. He doubled down on those criticisms in the interview, suggesting that ProSieben’s “first step should be to spin off its dating and e-commerce operations to extract value.”

Berlusconi sought to position MFE as a force for growth at ProSieben, rather than a competitor looking to “conquer” the German business. “They need to understand there is a shareholder that owns almost 30 percent, and operates in their same business,” he said. “We don’t want to conquer just to conquer, we want to promote growth.”

The statements follow a tough year for ProSieben, whose group revenues fell 7 percent YoY in 2023. EBITDA was also down 15 percent YoY, and the company slashed its annual dividend.

Berlusconi said MFE’s share of ProSieben contributed €40 million to its overall business in 2022, but this was “practically eliminated” in 2023, when the German company contributed a €134 million loss for the holding group.

“Germany is going through a difficult phase, but it will start recovering and we need to be ready,” he said. “This is why it is now important for ProSieben to change course and return to investing in television.”

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