The court must clarify whether the Cartel Office was right to prohibit the merger of Springer and ProSiebenSat 1.
Springer still has an interest in acquiring ProSiebenSat.1. Image: dpa
When Mathias Dopfner, CEO of Axel Springer AG, came to talk to the Berlin Institute for Media Policy recently, he called Bild – "overrated." There may be various reasons why he talked down the flagship of his own company. For example, this one: Bild is read a lot, but also criticized about as much – the newspaper is also a negative image factor for the Group. Or this one: Springer also has other newspapers, such as Welt, but it is far behind Bild in the public perception. Remedy? Don’t make Bild even bigger.
It is not possible to look into Dopfner’s brain, especially since it can be found at a height of just under two meters. But if you apply the tool of pure speculation, you could additionally get the idea that he declared Bild to be overrated, also with a view to the decision that the Dusseldorf Higher Regional Court now has to make: The issue is whether the Federal Cartel Office lawfully prohibited Springer’s takeover of ProSiebenSat.1 at the beginning of 2006. Springer then wanted to have the court clarify whether the company had any chance at all under antitrust law. As reported, the Federal Court of Justice has now ruled that this must be clarified anew and the veto of the Federal Cartel Office reviewed. Springer took this as an opportunity to reiterate its interest in ProSiebenSat.1.
In 2005, Springer wanted to buy a majority stake in ProSiebenSat.1 from a group of investors led by Haim Saban for EUR 2.5 billion. The Cartel Office prohibited the merger because it would lead to "unapprovable market power. The media concentration regulator KEK also rejected Springer’s takeover of the TV group. One of the merger opponents’ arguments at the time was that Bild had as much influence on public opinion as a TV station. It could therefore be assumed that Dopfner wanted to devalue precisely this argument when he declared Bild to be overrated.
Regardless of the OLG’s ruling, however, observers consider a merger of the groups to be unthinkable in the meantime. ProSiebenSat.1 went to the financial investors Permira and KKR after Springer’s takeover was prohibited; in the meantime, the Group has acquired the European TV group SBS. As a result, ProSiebenSat.1 would now be even more expensive. Media expert Horst Roper told the site: "I don’t think anything of Springer’s announcement that it is still interested in ProSiebenSat.1." Especially since Springer has meanwhile invested the money intended for the merger elsewhere, for example in the postal service provider Pin. ProSiebenSat.1 is now likely to overstretch Springer.