Czech tycoons reportedly eyeing Nova purchase

Photo: Jiří Suchomel, ČRo

The Czech Republic’s most watched television channel, TV Nova, could be set to change hands. Coal tycoon Pavel Tykáč is teaming up with the country’s richest man, Petr Kellner, in a bid to buy Nova’s owner CME, Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Tuesday.

Photo: Jiří Suchomel,  Czech Radio
The newspaper said that representatives of Kellner, who briefly owned Nova in the past, and Tykáč and his partner Jan Dienstl had held talks in London with people from CME and its main shareholder Time Warner over a possible deal.

A number of Czech financiers – including minister of finance and food magnate Andrej Babiš – are reportedly interested in getting their hands on the commercial TV station.

However, very few of them would have the financial muscle to push through such a deal, given that its owners will not countenance selling Nova on its own – any buyer would have to acquire CME as a whole.

Mladá fronta Dnes says Kellner and Tykáč are planning to do just that and then offload CME’s television channels in Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia. The newspaper says in almost all cases the pair would not have much trouble finding local players keen to snap up the stations.

For their part, the billionaires’ representatives have denied the speculation. Furthermore, it is unclear what entity would formally take over the media firm.

The deal has been estimated at between USD 1.5 billion and USD 1.7 billion. But the new owners would in reality have to pay about half that amount, as CME’s debts amount to around USD 870 million. Nevertheless, that would still be double the current stock market valuation of the company.

But whichever way one looks at it, this would still be an enormous deal by local standards, and follow a trend of Czechs taking over media companies from multinational players.

Though Petr Kellner’s PPF previously owned Nova and other media outlets such as the business weekly Euro and the failed local news project Naše adresa, the investment group is chiefly involved in insurance, energy and, more recently with the purchase of O2, telecommunications. Pavel Tykáč, meanwhile, is the man behind Czech Coal.

Nova was the first national privately owned TV station in the Czech Republic when it began broadcasting in February 1994. Its tabloid style (including lurid news and late-night weather reports fronted by nude presenters) and imported, frequently dated serials helped it quickly become the country’s most popular channel, a position it holds to this day with some 36 percent of market share.

Its founder and first CEO Vladimír Železný became involved in a dispute with CME and its owner Ronald Lauder that resulted in the Czech Republic being forced under an international arbitration ruling to pay over USD 350 million to CME for failing to protect its investment. Železný was later ousted and CME sold Nova to Kellner’s PPF in 2003. The following year PPF sold it back to CME again.