RTL not interested in buying United's stake in Channel 5

LONDON - RTL Group has said it is not interested in buying United Business Media's 35% stake in Channel 5, its chief executive Didier Bellens said.

Speaking in a conference call, Bellens said that RTL, which already owns 65% of Channel 5, had no interest in acquiring the outstanding stake, owned by Lord Clive Hollick's United.

The comments came as RTL reported its interim results. Revenues rose by 5.1% to €2.1bn (£1.3bn) from €2bn last time, while earnings before interest, tax and amortisation dropped 27.8% to €197m from €273m last time.

RTL a reported significant growth in the UK with Channel 5's audience share rising 6.4%.

Channel 5's share of the UK advertising market was also up, rising to 7.3% from 6.3% last year. Revenues increased by 15.2% to €121m.

Bellens also went on to say that RTL had no interest in buying into ITV. RTL had already ruled itself out of any battle to buy into the UK's largest terrestrial broadcaster.

RTL has signalled its intention to focus its efforts on building Channel 5. It recently invested in a marketing exercise, which will see the station rebrand as Five from September 16.

The station hopes the rebranding will help seal its changing image as a station of high-quality programming, removed from its early image as a station of cheap programming, soft porn and football. It has recently had big hits with highly rated American shows and big movies. This week, it airs the gory WWII Oscar-winning Steven Spielberg epic 'Saving Private Ryan' uncut.

RTL said it had already been helped by the success of films such as 'Independence Day' and 'Armageddon', and its deal with Columbia, signed earlier this year, will see the terrestrial premieres of films such as 'Spider-Man' and 'Men in Black II'.

RTL recently boosted programming investment in the station by 8%, a 5% hike on the £149m it currently receives, well above the rate of inflation.

The boost in the programming budget was also designed to keep Channel 5 chief executive Dawn Airey at the station. ITV chiefs have been courting her in an effort to persuade her to take the top job at the ITV network.

Bellens told reporters that RTL was optimistic about the prospects of Channel 5 and revealed that the station was close to breaking even, despite the downturn in advertising revenues.

"For this year, we forecast the UK advertising market to be up 3%," Bellens said, adding: "Channel 5 will see its revenues rising over 20% this year."

The latest forecasts show that Channel 5 is on course to achieve ad revenues of £236.5m, an increase of 23.3% and well above industry averages.

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