bne IntelliNews -
International media and entertainment company Antenna Group said on September 8 it has acquired a controlling stake in B92, a Belgrade-based broadcaster that became a symbol of resistance to Slobodan Milosevic’s dictatorship in the 1990s.
The deal expands Antenna Group’s presence in Serbia where it has been the owner of TV PRVA since December 2009. The family owned group currently has operations in five countries across Southeast Europe, and plans to use its experience in the region to further develop B92.
”Antenna Group sees B92 as an exciting investment opportunity and we continue to seek similar ones in the European media sector, in countries where the regulatory authorities have strong working relationships with investors, such as Serbia,” Theodore Kyriakou, CEO of Antenna Group, said in a press release issued on September 8.
“I strongly believe in the future of Serbia, a country in which we have experienced tremendous growth, having turned PRVA into the strongest media company in Serbia and Montenegro,” Kyriakou added.
Antenna’s share in B92 following the deal has not been announced, and a spokesperson for the group said the size of the deal could not be disclosed for confidentiality reasons.
Since 2010, the broadcaster’s majority owner has been Astonko d.o.o., a Cyprus-registered joint venture that holds an 84.55% stake. Astonko was founded in 2010 as a joint venture between East Capital, which already owned shares in B92 via its subsidiary Salink, and Greek company Lake Bade. Prior to the Antenna deal, Astonko held 84.9% of B92, while the B92 Trust and several small shareholders own the remainder of the company.
Radio B92 started broadcasting in Belgrade in the 92.5MHz FM frequency in 1989. As one of very few media not controlled by the government, it received support from USAID and the Soros Foundation. Under Milosevic’s regime, B92 was shut down multiple times but continued broadcasting from improvised, hidden studios. It played an important role in the mass pro-democracy protests after the September 2000 elections, which eventually forced Milosevic to concede defeat and resign.
Also in September 2000, B92 took its radio service nationwide and launched its television station and website. Since then it has steadily expanded including through the launch of 24 hour news channel B92 Info. It also has a publishing house, Samizdat, and its own record label.
B92 remains one of the most prominent watchdogs in Serbia. Its evening news and factual programmes are both popular and trusted sources of information. The investigative show Insider exposed some of Serbia’s biggest corruption scandals as well as researching the murder of the country’s first democratic prime minister, Zoran Djindjic. Olja Beckovic’s hard-hitting live talk show was regular Sunday night viewing for many Serbians for 25 years until it was taken off the air in 2014. Beckovic was well known for her relentless probing of government officials.
Recently, however, the broadcaster has expanded into commercial programming in an attempt to overcome its financial difficulties. In 2006, it decided to buy a license for reality show Big Brother. According to B92 employees the move, which was heavily criticised as a betrayal of the station’s roots, was the only way for it to survive. The recent decision to air yet more commercial programmes is seen as a signal the broadcaster is fighting for its position on the market.
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