Richard Desmond, the newspaper and entertainment proprietor, has purchased the cash-strapped British broadcaster Five in a £103.5 million ($A180 million) deal, declaring that he would "invest heavily" to bring the channel back to profit.
Desmond had been regarded as the overwhelming favourite to take over Five from the RTL Group, which put the broadcaster up for auction earlier this year. RTL announced yesterday afternoon that it had signed off on an agreement with Northern & Shell, Desmond's media empire.
The deal could still be subject to scrutiny from Ofcom, the media regulator, with whom Desmond discussed his intentions last week. He is also likely to have to appear before MPs on the House of Commons culture committee. There are, however, no clear competition barriers that would hinder the deal, given that Desmond's stake in the UK media market - including the Express and Star newspapers - remains relatively small.
In a statement, Desmond said that he was looking forward to the challenge of rebuilding Five, which was written down to a quarter of its former value by RTL Group in the space of three years.
"I am delighted to have taken ownership of the network, and know with the right investment, drive and leadership it can go from strength to strength as a competitive broadcaster and a modern player for the digital consumer."
He indicated that he would "invest heavily in talent and content both in the programming we already have and in home-grown programming".
Gerhard Zeiler, RTL's chief executive, said in a statement that he was pleased at having offloaded the broadcaster. It is understood that RTL regards the price to be above the value of Five's assets.
"With a significant recovery of the UK TV advertising market and Five performing well in the first half of 2010, we saw a window of opportunity to realise a transaction based on a fair evaluation of Five.
"The disposal is in line with RTL Group's strategy of being number one or two in each of our markets."
Where to now?
Desmond has already signalled that he intends to make changes to the channel in an effort to revive its fortunes. He said yesterday afternoon that he was promising "more of everything" on Five, and did not intend to "take anything away" from the broadcaster's activities.
According to The Telegraph, Desmond has discussed the possibility of resurrecting Endemol's Big Brother format; Channel 4 indicated last year that the current series would be the last. Desmond also remarked to the press - perhaps partly tongue-in-cheek - that he hoped to poach popular programmes from other networks.
"What about Coronation Street. Would that be good? Or X Factor be good? Maybe even Panorama. That'd be good, wouldn't it?"
According to BBC News' Torin Douglas, Desmond "is expected to introduce more celebrity programmes, trading on a formula that has worked well at the Express and his weekly magazine OK!". Such a direction would be aimed at defining the Five brand more clearly in viewers' consciousness, although sources close to Desmond said that he did not intend to "dumb down" Five further.
Desmond would not be able to promote his entertainment magazine brands on Five under EU cross-promotion rules, although there remain other opportunities to connect parts of his media empire, such as through the "sharing" of celebrities already attached to OK!.
The acquisition of Five may be the first of many investments in the industry: according to The Guardian, Desmond led his board in a rendition of the song We've Only Just Begun prior to the deal being announced.