AT&T shrugs off ex-Time Warner business for $1.1bn cash

AT&T shrugs off ex-Time Warner business for $1.1bn cash

15 October 2020 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Prague-based investment group PPF has bought AT&T’s central and eastern European media interests for $1.1 billion in cash.

Under the deal, AT&T is no longer responsible for $575 million in Central European Media Enterprises (CME) debt. The US telco took on the European business when it merged with Time Warner in 2018.

The new owner, PPF, which owns telcos around the region, now has full control of CME’s operations in the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Bulgaria – though the deal is subject to approval from EU and other regulators.

CME’s programmes across Europe include a Slovenian version of Survivor (pictured) as well as Bulgarian, Romanian and Slovakian versions of Masterchef.

Petr Kellner, PPF majority shareholder, said: “We are driven by a sense of responsibility given CME’s past achievements with these TV networks. We want to build on those successes and on the position that these networks occupy in their respective markets as independent broadcasters.”

AT&T said the sale is consistent with its “ongoing efforts to monetise non-core assets to drive incremental shareholder value. The company plans to continue to focus on lowering its net debt to strengthen its balance sheet and will remain opportunistic around opportunities to further improve its borrowing costs.”

PPF, set up in 1991, just a couple of years after democracy returned to eastern European countries, has a wide range of investments in telecoms and media. Two years ago it bought Telenor’s businesses in four eastern European countries for €2.8 billion. It also owns Cetin, a Czech telecoms infrastructure company, and mobile operator O2 Czech Republic, acquired from Telefónica in 2012.  

Kellner said: “We are looking forward to creating new business opportunities between media operations and telecommunication services. Finally, we are pleased to have such a strong and loyal audience and intend to strengthen the relationship with our viewers through content and a superior user experience.”

He announced that Didier Stoessel, who became CEO of Nova Broadcasting in August 2012, will be CEO of CME, responsible for the Czech, Romanian, Slovak, and Slovenian markets.

Stoessel said: “My priority is to accelerate the digital transformation of the business, increase our content creation capabilities, and continue the CME legacy by providing independent and objective news as well as high-quality entertainment for our viewers.”