Media Boss Desmond Eyes £700m Channel 5 Float
The media tycoon Richard Desmond is considering a stock market flotation of Channel 5 even as bidders firm up offers of up to £700m for the terrestrial broadcaster.
Sky News has learnt that Mr Desmond is working with investment bankers from Goldman Sachs on the possible listing.
The exploration of a flotation raises the prospect of Mr Desmond, one of Britain's most colourful media owners, heading a public company for the first time in his long career.
City sources said Goldman had taken the idea of a listing of Channel 5 to Mr Desmond in recent weeks and that he had agreed to allow the Wall Street bank undertake work on it.
Goldman is understood to have begun sounding out institutional investors and received a broadly favourable response, although their ultimate appetite to buy shares in the TV business would depend on the valuation attached to Channel 5.
The analysis of a listing is at an earlier stage than a concurrent sale process being run by Barclays' investment banks, which has drawn interest from more than 20 potential buyers.
Among those initially competing in the sale process were BSkyB, the owner of Sky News, and US media groups including Discovery Networks, Scripps, the owner of UKTV, and Viacom.
It is unclear whether any of the bidders are prepared to meet Mr Desmond's reputed £700m asking price, or whether a flotation of Channel 5 is being used as a 'stalking horse' option to maintain tension in the bidding process.
Banking sources said that seven parties remained in the auction last week, with that number expected to be narrowed further in the next few weeks.
Among the media and communications groups which are not currently in the process are BT and ITV, with the latter having publicly ruled out any interest in a takeover.
Mr Desmond has turned around the financial performance of Channel 5 since he paid just over £100m for the broadcaster of Big Brother and its celebrity offshoot in 2011.
The tycoon, who also owns the Daily Star and Daily Express and their Sunday sister newspapers, has cut costs and improved the performance of Channel 5's advertising sales operation.
He has also been assessing the sale of the Health Lottery, which he owns, believing that any buyer would have a ready-made platform for submitting a competitive bid for the National Lottery licence when it enters its next tendering process.
A spokeswoman for Mr Desmond's Northern & Shell holding company declined to comment while none of those understood to be interested in bidding for Channel 5 would comment.