Murdoch targets Balkans for new News land grab

Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of global media conglomerate News Corporation, is looking to Bulgaria for his next land grab.

News Corp, through its subsidiary Balkan News Corporation (btv), is planning to spend an estimated £50m on bolt-on acquisitions such as radio and outdoor advertising businesses over the next months.

Analysts say Eastern Europe offers far better investment opportunities than the mature media market in Western Europe, which suffers from sluggish advertising growth, yet valuations of media companies remain high.

GDP growth of at least 5 per cent is forecast in Bulgaria for this year, more than twice the growth forecast for the UK and some five times higher than eurozone forecasts.

Many media assets in Eastern Europe are part of industrial conglomerates and are not fully exploiting the growing consumer goods market and the advertising revenue it brings in. Governments are also selling new broadcasting spectrum, or bandwidth, which is being released by the military, providing further opportunities for expansion. Other media groups looking to buy in Eastern Europe include Media Times Group and Central European Media Enterprises, run by tycoon Ron Lauder.

Daniel Sandelson, partner at law firm Clifford Chance, said radio and television companies in Ukraine and Belarus could be next on the shopping list. "Media corporations look at emerging markets close to Europe for a number of reasons. They see the possibility of above-average growth as the market matures, the prospect of better regulation... and the chance to use rights they hold in popular international material to outstrip domestic competition. The Ukraine and Belarus look to be the next exciting audio-visual markets."

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