RTL Group, the Bertelsmann-owned pan-European broadcaster, is highly unlikely to bid for either of Britain's largest TV companies, Carlton Communications or Granada Media, despite excited speculation to the contrary.

RTL ceo Didier Bellens effectively ruled this out during an interview yesterday, saying that RTL will “build rather than buy” TV channels – thus toeing the strategic line in the sand drawn by new Bertelsmann boss Günter Thielen.

Bellens said RTL, which holds the controlling stake in the UK’s Channel 5, will continue to work with minority shareholders at this and other of its TV properties. He also acknowledged the prospect that one or more of those shareholders might decide to float or sell their stakes.

Bellens left no doubt in whose direction he was looking. Lord Clive Hollick whose ailing United Business Media holds a 35% stake in Channel 5. “Up to now, we had no major difficulty with UBM,” said Bellens. “Our local partners help us. At the moment it is UBM at Channel 5, but it may be another partner if UBM sells, or it could be us taking full control.”

Bellens also confirmed RTL’s readiness to continue investing in its major UK asset. “In Channel 5 we are ready to invest more in programming and I’d prefer to have a partner sharing our view of the investment in programming,” he said.

RTL, added Bellens, would try to retain the extant management team at Channel 5. Chief executive Dawn Airey has been fingered by feverish press speculation as a possible chief executive for the reeling ITV network. “Dawn Airey had our support at the right time [concerning the channel’s recent surprise move upmarket: WAMN: 26-Aug-02],” said Bellens. “But she may decide she wants a change.”

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff