Does Springer Still Want ProSiebenSat?

BARCELONA (Reuters) – German publisher Axel Springer said it could still be interested in buying ProSiebenSat.1 after its 2.5 billion-euro ($3.1 billion) bid to buy the broadcaster was thwarted two years ago.

Chief Executive Mathias Doepfner said Springer had other options including building its own video business but might consider another attempt to buy ProSieben if it wins an appeal against the regulatory decision that stopped it last time.

“Would we then be interested to buy ProsiebenSat.1 again? The answer has to be ‘perhaps,’ because it really is something that is an option for our company, but not a necessity,” Doepfner told an investor conference in Barcelona on Thursday.

German media and anti-trust regulators rejected the combination of Springer with Germany’s biggest commercial broadcaster in 2006, fearing that together they would have too much influence over advertising markets and public opinion.

But Doepfner said he believed the outcome of ProSieben’s being sold to foreign financial investors Permira and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts had led to a shift in German political circles.

“It was not really to the benefit of the asset and to the benefit of the competition in the German media landscape and to the position of the German media landscape in the international context,” he said.

Doepfner said Springer, publisher of Europe’s best-selling tabloid, Bild, would not necessarily want to try again to buy ProSiebenSat.1 and could continue building its own business organically, which would take longer but cost less.

“The other option would be to achieve that in one big step by buying ProSiebenSat.1, or parts of it if they are available,” he said in answer to questions at Morgan Stanley’s annual Technology, Media and Telecoms conference.

“But then you have to look, apart from the regulatory question, are they in shape… and are they available at a price or with a structure with regard to debts and so on we really want to own.”

A German court is expected to rule soon on the appeal.

Springer had cash and equivalents of 119 million euros and net debt of 405 million euros at end-September.

Doepfner added that Springer would have to consider buying European newspaper Mecom’s (MEC.L) assets in Poland, where Springer is the leading foreign player in the newspaper market, were they to become available.

Mecom co-owns Poland’s third-biggest non-tabloid daily, Rzeczpospolita, with the Polish government.

“We would have to consider that, as we are very strong in Poland, and a combination of Dziennik, our quality newspaper, and Rzeczpospolita in certain areas, sales force and so on, would make lots of sense,” he said.

“Mecom as a whole is not interesting to us,” he added.

Doepfner also said he expected to be able to continue to counter falling circulations of Springer’s newspapers and magazines with higher cover prices.

“Our copy prices are very low compared to our German peers and to our international peers. Bild is between 50 and 60 (euro) cents at the moment. Its competitors are 90 cents in Germany,” he said.

“We absolutely see no limit here for further, regular price increases,” he added.

Asked by Reuters to predict the advertising market or Springer’s own advertising revenues for 2009, Doepfner declined, saying the market situation was still too volatile amid general global economic turmoil that has hit ad spending.

Springer earns about 46 percent of its revenues from ads.

(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)