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ProSieben attracts bids for stake in digital ops, say sources: Reuters

Germany’s ProSiebenSat.1 (PSMGn.DE) has attracted bids from private equity firms for a stake in its ecommerce portfolio as it seeks cash to finance a shift away from its television advertising business, sources close to the matter said.

General Atlantic and EQT handed in separate offers for a 30-40 percent stake in the business, which includes energy price comparison portal Verivox, online dating service Parship and online perfume retailer Flaconi, among others, they added.

The bids value the whole business at more than 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) or around 10 times the asset’s core earnings of 130 million euros, they said, adding that JP Morgan is acting as sellside advisor.

ProSieben, JP Morgan and the bidders declined to comment.

The planned sale of the stake in digital ventures and ecommerce operations, which excludes the online travel platforms, is part of ProSieben’s broader strategy to generate more of its revenues outside traditional TV advertising.

Broadcasters are battling changing viewing habits and cuts in marketing outlays by major consumer brands with overall growth in TV advertising spending in Europe’s largest economy at its slowest pace since 2011.

They are also fighting streaming services which are disrupting viewing patterns and making it harder to deliver the mass audiences for which advertisers are prepared to pay premium rates.

ProSieben’s shares fell to a 4-1/2-year low after the broadcaster last week cut its outlook for revenue and profit for the year and said it wasn’t able to forecast TV advertising revenues for the fourth quarter.

Chief Executive Thomas Ebeling said last week that he did not rule out the possibility of sector consolidation but said ProSieben would not be a buyer and that a merger with a peer is not on the cards at the moment.

ProSieben built stakes in some of its ecommerce investments by paying in advertising time on its TV channels but critics say the portfolio lacks focus and critical mass, as it spans sites selling sex toys, furniture, fashion and energy contracts.

“There are some good assets in the portfolio but also some toads,” said an investor who was initially interested, but decided to pass, adding that the limited say in strategy that any buyer will get was putting off potential bidders.

Last year, ProSieben tapped its biggest investors looking to raise more than half a billion euros for digital investments, few of which have so far materialized.

At the same time, it held informal talks with a number of peers and investors about possible tie-ups, sources previously told Reuters. The company is now hoping that it would become more attractive to potential merging partners once it has carved out its digital business, one of the sources said.

ProSieben’s stake sale competes for investors’ attention with German trade group Otto’s minority stake sale of its online fashion retailer About You, which was valued at 320 million euros in a 2016 financing round. That sales process is led by Goldman Sachs, people familiar with that situation said.

Otto and Goldman Sachs declined to comment.