LONDON (Reuters) - Shares in ProSiebenSat.1 (PSMGn.DE) rose almost 4 percent on Monday on news that its chief executive would quit early after a series of missteps, rekindling hopes the German broadcaster could become an acquisition target.
Thomas Ebeling presided over a string of profit warnings and an exodus of senior managers this year and then had to apologise for calling the company’s core audience fat and poor. He will leave in February 2018, the company said on Sunday.
Ebeling, 59, was destined to lead the company’s digital efforts as part of plans to shift away from its stagnant broadcasting core business, a source familiar with the plan said.
But earlier this year, investors told Reuters they were confused by the company’s digital strategy, especially after Ebeling raised 500 million euros from them in a surprise deal to fund acquisitions but had not yet spent the money.
ProSieben shares have been the worst performers among the German blue-chip DAX .GDAXI constituents this year, falling by almost a third. By 1017 GMT on Monday, the stock was up 3.9 percent at 26.27 euros.
“ProSieben flags up as an obvious M&A target,” wrote Liberum analyst Ian Whittaker, adding that Comcast’s (CMCSA.O) NBCUniversal could be a buyer, having previously signalled interest in international expansion and ProSieben specifically.
Comcast was not immediately available to comment while Prosieben declined to comment.
“ProSieben’s announcement last night that the current CEO Thomas Ebeling will step down in February 2018 (ahead of his contract end) might additionally trigger such a deal,” he wrote, keeping his “hold” rating on the stock.
The company’s general counsel Conrad Albert, who is also a board member for external affairs and industry relations, was appointed deputy CEO.
Several senior bankers familiar with the sector played down the chances of ProSieben being taken over by an American rival in the near future. They also said the U.S. market offered more attractive M&A opportunities at the moment, with Comcast (CMCSA.O) looking at some of Fox’s (FOXA.O) studios and TV operations.
Discovery Communications (DISCA.O), another potential consolidator which has made some inroads in Europe after acquiring Eurosport in France and Prosieben’s Nordic TV, is currently busy merging with Scripps Networks (SNI.O), one of the bankers said.
But over time, if Prosieben manages to separate its digital business, its relative low price could make it attractive to these players again, another banker close to the company said.
In Europe, viewers’ preference for local content has also so far hindered cross-border deals. Bankers expect that trend to continue for now, while in Germany, market dominance with domestic rival RTL (RRTL.DE) would make it difficult for a tie-up to gain regulatory approval.
“Consolidation could eventually happen in Europe but ProSieben first needs to put its house in order,” said one of the bankers, who asked not to be named because the matter is private.
ProSieben has spent only a quarter of its 1 billion euro cash pile earmarked for M&A since its 2016 cash call but is looking to raise more money from new investors to develop e-commerce and content production.
Ebeling said earlier this month that sector consolidation was a possibility but that ProSieben would not be a buyer and that a merger with a rival was not on the cards.
ProSieben has a virtual duopoly with RTL, Germany’s other free-to-air commercial broadcast group, in the German TV advertising market.
($1 = 0.8474 euros)
Additional reporting by Joern Poltz in Munich and Pamela Barbaglia in London; Editing by Louise Heavens and Jane Merriman