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UTV eyes up bid to take over 'debt laden' TV3

UTV, the listed Northern Irish broadcaster, is considering a bid for TV3, the privately owned television station with substantial debts to IBRC.

The move will see UTV square off against the company's current majority owner, private equity giant Doughty Hanson, which is also mulling buying back its debts from IBRC's liquidator KPMG at a discount.

A move by UTV would create a serious challenger for State broadcaster RTE, as owning stations in the North and the Republic would provide added firepower when bidding for international television rights.

"As a plc we do not comment on speculation," a spokesperson for UTV said. TV3 also declined to comment.

UTV has revenues of £120m (€139.9m) and made a group operation profit of £23.9m last year. This gives it enough headroom to table a bid for the Irish station, which will sell for a very large discount of its debts.

Doughty Hanson bought TV3 for €265m in boomtime 2006. Based on cash flow, TV3 is now valued as low as €15m, but its good management, market position and facilities would significantly add to this valuation in a sale.

Doughty Hanson pumped €140m in equity into TV3 in 2006, with the remainder borrowed from Anglo Irish Bank, later renamed IBRC.

In 2009 Doughty put another €15m up in return for IBRC agreeing to park €81m of its debts into a special facility which is only repayable in certain circumstances.

If the private equity group walks away, it will therefore have lost a huge sum on its foray into Irish television.

TV3 is owned by a company called Tullamore Beta, which is 90.75-per-cent owned by a Luxembourg-based Doughty Hanson subsidiary. Senior management in TV3, including executive director David McRedmond, own the remainder.

It is seen as essential for a bidder to get senior management onside in any attempt to acquire the borrowings.

Irish Independent