Sun, Mar 27, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Livedoor claims control of broadcaster

TAKEOVER BATTLE The Japanese Internet firm said it now has more than half the voting rights in Nippon Broadcasting, which would enable it to make key decisions

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Livedoor Co, a Japanese Internet portal that's in a takeover battle with the country's biggest media group, said it has accumulated a majority of the voting rights in radio network Nippon Broadcasting System Inc.

Tokyo-based Livedoor holds 15.3 million shares representing 50.21 percent of the voting rights in Nippon Broadcasting, the company said in a statement released through the Tokyo Stock Exchange late Friday. A majority stake would enable Livedoor to make key decisions such as appointing directors.

Livedoor founder Takafumi Horie, 32, is seeking control of Nippon Broadcasting to build an entertainment and information network spanning the Internet and broadcasting.

Fujisankei Communications Group, Japan's biggest media group, whose interests include the radio company and Fuji Television Network Inc, has enlisted rival Internet billionaire Masayoshi Son as it builds defenses against Livedoor.

"Fuji is trying to protect itself and will use any means possible," said Edwin Merner, who oversees US$600 million in assets as president of the Atlantis Investment Research Corp in Tokyo. "All's fair in love and war, and it's war at present."

Nippon Broadcasting loaned 14 percent of its dominant 22.5 percent stake in Fuji TV to Softbank Investment Corp, a venture capital fund founded by Son, to make Softbank the biggest shareholder in the TV network.

In addition, Softbank Investment, Fuji TV and Nippon Broadcasting will set up a ?20 billion (US$188 million) fund to develop film, music as well as Internet programming.

Son, president of Softbank Corp, Japan's No. 2 provider of high-speed Web access, said he was happy to cooperate with Fuji TV, adding he is interested in unifying Internet and television businesses, Kyodo News reported yesterday.

Yoshitaka Kitao, chief executive officer of Softbank Investment, plans to meet with Livedoor's Horie tomorrow, said Kazunori Oomae, a spokesman at Softbank Finance Corp, a holding company that's the biggest shareholder in Softbank Investment.

Softbank Investment may attempt to acquire a stake in Pony Canyon Inc, a film and music software distributor that generates almost two-thirds of Nippon Broadcasting's revenue, through the planned fund, aiming later to sell shares to the public, the Nihon Keizai newspaper reported yesterday, citing Kitao.

Fuji Television, Japan's biggest publicly traded broadcaster, is asking shareholders to increase their stakes and other companies to buy its stock in an effort to build a stable shareholder base, Masao Sakai, Fuji TV's senior executive managing director, said in a telephone interview yesterday. Fuji said on March 8 that it held about 36.47 percent of Nippon Broadcasting.

Fuji TV is asking about 50 companies, including Hitachi Ltd and Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co, to buy its shares, the Nihon Keizai reported earlier yesterday, without saying where it obtained the information.

Livedoor shares fell 7.3 percent on Friday to ?342, their biggest drop since Feb. 18, on news of Softbank's entry into the takeover fray. Softbank added 3.2 percent to ?4,480 for its biggest rise in more than two months, while Softbank Investment rose 3.5 percent to ?41,500. Nippon Broadcasting fell 11 percent to ?6,500, and Fuji TV declined 1.4 percent to ?281,000.

All the companies are based in Tokyo.

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