Accordingto Mr. Khoroshkovskyy maintaining this expensive media project iscurrently too much for him. But sources attribute the decision tothe possible pressure on him after Inter started criticizing thework of government agencies. Khoroshkovskyy himself supposedlyalready left Ukraine, writes Kommersant Ukraine.
Group DF owner Dmytro Firtash exercised anoption to purchase 100% of the UA Inter Media Group - the majorityshareholder of all Inter assets, stated the Channel's press serviceon Friday. The seller was KH Media Limited owned by ValeriiKhoroshkovskyy, and the buyer - GDF Media Limited. "Agreement onSale of UA Inter Media Group was signed on the basis of assessedvalue - $ 2.5 billion," says the statement. The deal will be closedupon approval by the Antimonopoly Committee.
An option to buy a control stake of Inter wasacquired by Firtash at the beginning of 2007, after he sold hisMega, K1 and K2 channels. "In times of economic crisis, it would begood to have a strong financial partner," said Khoroshkovskyy then.A source in Group DF said that the talks on purchasing had beenactive almost all the time, but Valerii Khoroshkovskyy was notsatisfied with the offered price. "In the end Firtash did not raisethe bod," said the source, who declined to give specific figures.The agreement was reached just days ago - Valerii Khoroshkovskyytold the Channel's managers on closing the deal on January 31, saythe people at the Channel.
The main asset of the media group Inter is thesame name TV channel. 61% of its shares were owned by the UkrainianMedia Project company - daughter company of UA Inter Media GroupLtd. Another 29% of Inter belonged to the Russian First Channel,10% to Svetlana Pluzhnikova, the widow of the channel founder IhorPluzhnikov. In addition to Inter, the group includes seven smallchannels (NTN, Mega, K1 and others), one satellite channel (Inter),three sales houses and the Ukrainian News agency.
Valerii Khoroshkovskyy explained his decision byfinancial difficulties. "Under the circumstances, I have noopportunity to further develop the group, and these circumstanceshave been the main motive for sale," cites his words thepress-service. The media was unable to obtain a comment fromKhoroshkovskyy or Friday or yesterday. Beginning 2009, TV channelInter was losing money, though its revenue grew - I half-year 2012the channel finished with net income of 446.84 million UAH and anet loss of 95.34 million UAH. Financial performance of otherassets of the group are not published.
Market participants as the primary reason forsale of the channel call the desire to protect the asset after theconfrontation with Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. ValeriiKhoroshkovskyy disagreed with the re-appointment of Mykola Azarovas Prime Minister and refused to join his government. In the pressoffice statement Khoroshkovsky noted that he believed Azarov unableto pursue economic reforms. After this Inter started airing storiescritical of the authorities. The Prime Minister said at the timethat these stories "are false and deliberately opposed thegovernment's policy."
"Actions of Valerii Khoroshkovskyy attractedattention of the President's Family, so it's possible that now withthe help of selling the channel to its partner, he is trying tosave this asset," said a source close to one of the parties to thenegotiations. Khoroshkovskyy himself, according to the managers ofInter channel, was forced to leave the country - from the end ofDecember, he was, according to various sources, in France orMonaco.
Khoroshkovsky always kept in touch with DmytroFirtash. On receipt of an option to purchase shares of Inter, thebusinessman actively participated in the formation of the channel'sinformation policy, Inter employees claim. And, for example, in2009, working as the head of the State Customs, ValeriiKhoroshkovskyy refused customs clearance of 11 billion cubic metersof gas owned by Dmitry Firtash's RosUkrEnergo, in favor of Naftogazof Ukraine. For that then Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko dismissedhim. But on the same day, President Viktor Yushchenko appointedKhoroshkovskyy first deputy of the Security Service of Ukraine, andhe gave an indication to initiate a criminal investigation into thetheft of gas. Throughout the gas dispute Firtash has participatedin Inter programs where he explained and tried to prove hisposition.
This version is evidenced by the announced assetprice that market participants call clearly excessive. Forcomparison, in 2010, Ihor Kolomoyskyy bought 100% of 1 +1 and KinoChannels for $ 400 million and in 2007, after the publication ofthe first financial statements of Inter it was assessed at $ 365million. "In this case, there are more channels but the packagesare not 100 percent. Fair price would be $ 700-900 million - lessthan $ 1 billion,"- said a top manager of one of the major TVchannels. Hardly Firtash really paid that amount to ValeriiKhoroshkovskyy - rather he said it for the safety net, adds a topmanager of one of the media companies: "Now, if he will be demandedto sell the channel, he is entitled to demand $ 2.5 billion frompotential buyers." One of the former managers of Inter notes thatFirtash could act in the interests of other shareholders - membersof the President's Family or one of the Russian mediagroups.
Change of owner has complicated the workalready. "A number of projects have been frozen, as it is unclearwho should sign the budget," said the manager of a productionstudio working with Inter. "On Monday it should become clear whowill leave the channel. Now the ones preparing to leave are AllaLipovetskaia (general producer of the channel) and YaroslavPorokhniak (CEO of the group)," said the source. Both managers havenot confirmed this information.
There are two candidates for the post of thehead of the channel - two former managers Anna Bezliudnaia who wasa general producer from 2007 to 2009, and Serhii Sozanovskyy -Chairman of the Board of Inter in 2006-2010, say participants ofthe market. "Both of them are now picking teams for Inter," saysthe head of one of the units of the group. However, the source didnot rule out that the managers are only advising the new owners."Anna Bezludnaia is unlikely to head the channel - her relationshipwith Dmytro Firtash severely deteriorated during the previous yearand she practically stopped working with Group DF," said a sourceclose to Firtash.
New managers will have to return to Inter to itsleading positions and repurpose niche channels, says a source closeto Khoroshkovskyy. "Among the channels of the group in the nearfuture we should see youth, sports, and maybe news channels," addedthe source. Since 2005, the audience share of Inter (people olderthan 4 years old, living in cities of more than 50 thousand people)fell by 13.2 percentage points - from 27% to 13.8%. "In recentyears, the fall was even more obvious - it was promoted by frequentchanges of management and strategy," said general producer ofFilm.UA Group Viktor Mirskyy. According to him, the main audienceof the channel are older people living in small towns. "But theniche channels are one of the group's few successful assets, theiraudience is not reducing," recognizes Mirskyy. According to him,the new management will succeed only if it remains in the channelfor a long time - Inter was killed by the fact that every yearthere comes a new executive with his own strategy. Under theseconditions, long-term planning does not work."
The new channel management will face a difficultchallenge - a balanced information concept, said one of the formermanagers of Inter. "Until last September, channel programs wereuninteresting, because they were not raising sensitive issues.Starting September they became too interesting - and ultimatelychanged the owner. Now the channel has to find a balance - to beinteresting, but loyal to the current government," explains thesource. However, the general producer of Channel 5, MP Yuriy Stets(Batkivschyna) notes that the final stage of negotiations for thesale probably lasted at least a month, and it is unlikely that inthis month the information policy was contrary to the wishes of thefuture owner. "The changes have already begun, and the concept ofthe channel is likely to remain the same as it has been in recentmonths," he predicts.