NEW YORK (The Deal) -- Germany's biggest media merger is off the table. Broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 Media and publishing group Axel Springer on Wednesday walked away from talks to create a €14 billion ($15.4 billion) combine.
Springer told reporters it has "no plans" to change its business structure.
It's been a tough seven days for Axel Springer CEO Matthias Döpfner. On July 23, he found his £750 million ($1.17 billion) bid to buy the Financial Times Group trumped by an £844 million offer from Japan's Nikkei Inc. Now his hopes of a tie-up with Germany's largest commercial broadcaster have also evaporated, amid speculation about the role of Springer's majority shareholder, Friede Springer in thwarting his ambitions.
Instead, the two groups on Wednesday announced a joint project for the promotion of digital startups "to enhance the positioning of Germany as a digital hub also on an international level." They said they would make joint investments and encourage networking between their incubator hubs. They would also promote "media-for-equity" investments, trading advertising space for a stake in start-ups.
At the same time, ProSiebenSat.1 announced the unrelated acquisition of Smartstream.TV an automated trading platform for digital video advertising with more than 300 million video views per month. Unterföhring-based ProSiebenSat.1 said it was increasing its stake in the company from 25% to 80%, but gave no financial details of the deal.
Although talks between Axel Springer and the broadcaster were never officially acknowledged, they have been widely discussed in the German media for several weeks. A similar deal was blocked by antitrust authorities a decade ago, because a combination between Springer's Bild Zeitung, Europe's largest circulation tabloid newspaper, and Germany's largest commercial broadcaster would have dominated the advertising market.
A ruling last year by a Munich court that said the regulator had been wrong to block that deal, and the growth of online competition from the likes of Google (GOOGL) - Get Report means the antitrust considerations are less clear today.
Nevertheless, many analysts felt that the regulatory hurdles might still be too high.
And Springer itself had set a hurdle that in the end might have proved even more significant than regulatory doubts. Earlier this month the Frankfurt-listed publisher issued a statement pointing to continued efforts to alter its status to a KGaA -- or a partnership limited by shares. It made clear the purpose of any change would be to strengthen control by the eponymous founder's widow Friede Springer, who owns 57.1% of the company both directly and through a foundation.
"Thus," it concluded "speculations regarding a relinquishment of control are completely unfounded."
Axel Springer finished the day down 0.05% at €50.42, while ProSiebenSat.1 closed down 0.92% at €46.82.