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Thread: Five sold to Richard Desmond for GBP 103.5million

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    Five sold to Richard Desmond for GBP 103.5million

    Five sold to "Northern and Shell" owned by Richard Desmond for GBP 103.5million
    Desmond owns the Express Newspaper group.
    Sale will be subject to Government approval.

    More to follow
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    RTL Group announced at shortly after 5pm that it had signed an agreement for the sale of Five Group to Desmond's Northern & Shell.

    Gerhard Zeiler, the chief executive of RTL, said: "With a significant recovery of the UK TV advertising market and Five performing well in the first half of 2010, we saw a window of opportunity to realise a transaction based on a fair evaluation of Five. The disposal is in line with RTL Group's strategy of being number one or two in each of our markets.

    "I would like to thank the whole team at Five and CEO and chair Dawn Airey for their passion and professionalism, especially in the difficult past 20 months which saw a comprehensive restructuring of the company."

    With immediate effect, Five joins Desmond's roster of media assets, including Express Newspapers, the Daily Star, OK! magazine, and Portland TV - home of adult TV channels Television X and Red Hot.

    Desmond visited Ofcom last week to assure them that Five's public service obligations to provide news and current affairs programming in primetime would be upheld. Speculation is mounting that Desmond will bolster celebrity-led content - possibly even including a continuation of Big Brother - on the television channel's schedule, using his other media assets to cross-promote Five.

    Desmond is expected to face a grilling by MPs on the House of Commons culture committee once the deal has been done. But the deal is unlikely to be blocked by regulators because there are no competition issues. Desmond's combined share of the UK media market will still be relatively small if the purchase goes ahead.

    Under the terms of Five's licence, which runs until 2014, it must screen a set amount of news and current affairs each year. Desmond visited Ofcom, the media regulator, last week to reassure them that he will continue to meet those requirements. MP are nevertheless also likely to seek assurances that Desmond does not intend to fill Five's schedule with "tabloid TV" shows.
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    "I'm delighted to have taken ownership of the network," Desmond said, "and I know with the right investment, drive and leadership it can go from strength to strength as a competitive broadcaster and a modern player for the digital viewer."

    Desmond's bid is believed to be twice what his closest rival offered for the company, which made an operating loss of €41m in the last financial year. It attracted interest, among others, from Channel 4 and the entrepreneur John De Mol, who created Big Brother.

    Desmond spent the past 10 days negotiating the details of the deal after being granted a period of exclusivity by RTL, and has also agreed to take on any regulatory risk should any arise. That means that if his acquisition is blocked by the media regulator Ofcom or by the competition commission, he will not get his money back. The deal is not expected to be blocked on competition grounds, however, because Desmond's combined share of the media market will remain relatively small. Five has a 10% share of the TV advertising market and is by far the smallest of the UK's terrestrial channels.

    Sources close to Ofcom have already signalled that they will also wave the deal through. Desmond already has a broadcasting licence because he operates several adult pay-TV channels on the BSkyB satellite system.

    The Express proprietor has a reputation as an uncompromising deal-maker and may now try to renegotiate some of Five's deals with content suppliers, which include major American broadcasters and film studios. Some of those deals are believed to have been struck on unfavourable terms.

    RTL contacted many of those suppliers over the past few days to ask them not to invoke change-of-control clauses that can be triggered by a sale. That would have required RTL to pay the full value of the contracts.

    The company is understood to have told suppliers that triggering the clauses would have led to legal disputes and delayed the Desmond deal
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