He couldn’t have put it more emphatically, could Gerhard Zeiler, the new chief executive of Europe’s largest broadcaster, Bertelsmann-owned RTL Group.
Pressed as to whether RTL would sell its controlling 65% controlling stake in UK terrestrial channel Five, Zeiler proclaimed: “We have 100% support for Five. We really believe Five has a great future. It has a real potential to be one of the main players in the UK. We are not sellers. We won't sell our Five stake.” The residual 35% of Five is held by London-headquartered United Business Media.
But media observers wonder if Zeiler isn’t simply raising the stakes, given the imminent relaxation in media ownership rules when the UK Communications Bill becomes law later this year. Despite a watery denial of interest in Five, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is still seen as a potential buyer, as is US media mammoth Viacom.
Momentarily dropping his bullish stance, Zeiler conceded he was concerned over the plan by Carlton Communications and Granada to establish a single ITV sales house if their planned merger survives the scrutiny of the Competition Commission. “We are worried slightly about a possible dominance of an ITV sales house,” he said. “But we will have to assess the situation.”
RTL’s fanfare for Five accompanied the revelation of substantially reduced group net losses for the year to December 2002, down to €56 million ($60.43m; £38.22m) from €2.4 billion in 2001. Revenues from broadcasting activities rose 7.6% to €4.35bn. The group broadcasts in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK.
Despite the fiscal improvement, Zeiler was reluctant to remove the dustcloth from his crystal ball: “Visibility is extremely low given the current economic and political uncertainty, so it is difficult to give any predictions.”
Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff