Bidder tunes into SelecTV

Pearson denies bid for Telegraph but likely to extend its TV interests

MATHEW HORSMAN

SelecTV, the independent producer, is in talks with an unnamed bidder that may lead to a takeover, the company confirmed yesterday.

City analysts speculated that Pearson, which publishes the Financial Times, and Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail, could be buyers.

The news came on a day of intense rumours in the market, with the Telegraph group, Pearson and Mirror Group all the subject of bid speculation.

Pearson denied that it planned a bid for Conrad Black's 58 per cent stake in the Telegraph but refused comment on speculation it might be among the potential buyers of SelecTV. Senior executives at the Telegraph did not return calls last night, but the market expects some activity today in Telegraph shares, and moved on from Pearson to Mr Black himself as a possible buyer.

A proposed offer by Mr Black's Hollinger to buy out minority Telegraph shareholders failed earlier this year when independent directors could not agree a price. Mr Black had been willing to pay up to 470p a share, compared with the close last night of 336, up 6 on the day.

It was also rumoured Mr Black was preparing to exercise an option over 5 per cent of Telegraph shares held by Lord Hartwell, for pounds 30m.

SelecTV, makers of the hit series Birds of a Feather, also operates its own cable channel and has a stake in Meridian, the ITV broadcaster for the South and South-east. It owns 20 per cent of UKTV, the highest bidder in the auction for Channel 5, due to be awarded within weeks.

There is speculation that Pearson, also in a consortium bidding for Channel 5, may be interested in SelecTV's production arm, to complement Thames and Grundy, its independent producers.

There were rumours early in the day that MAI, which holds 61 per cent of Meridian and is a partner of Pearson in its Channel 5 bid, might be interested in consolidating its Meridian holding. But insiders denied any involvement. The Pearson bid made more sense, according to analysts.

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