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Company Town : Havas Considers Joining Turner in Bid for CBS : Media: Turner is also reportedly close to signing a deal with Microsoft.


Havas, the largest French media company, is considering teaming up with Turner Broadcasting Systems Inc. to make a rival bid for CBS Inc., according to several Wall Street sources.

Turner, which has a joint venture with Havas in France, has apparently approached the foreign company about putting up about $1 billion to best the $5.4-billion bid for the television network by Westinghouse Electric Corp.

Ted Turner, the chairman and president of Turner Broadcasting, has intensified his search for financing and has been pressing his board, which includes three executives each from the nation's two biggest cable operators, to support a bid.

Several sources said Turner is close to finalizing a deal with Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft Corp., who is also considering investing about $1 billion in Turner Broadcasting, for about 10% of the company. Gates is looking for programming such as Turner's Cable News Network and Cartoon Network for his new Microsoft Network on-line service and for interactive ventures in the future.

"Havas has passed up other opportunities over the last five years, so I doubt they'll take this one," said Porter Bibb, an investment banker at Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co. in New York. "But Gates needs the security of an equity investment in a programmer. Microsoft Network has nothing on it, and while he could license content, services like America Online have found out that when licenses end, these rights shift around."

Havas could not be reached for comment and Turner Broadcasting would not discuss the matter. Havas owns book and magazine publishing interests, advertising concerns, a stake in the French pay television channel Canal Plus and a quarter of Luxembourg's CLT, the owner of 12 TV channels in Europe.

Havas also has a joint interactive venture with New Line Cinema and has rights to broadcast CNN in France.

But Bibb said few European media companies outside PolyGram, Bertelsmann and Hachette have made significant inroads into the United States, mainly owing to cultural differences.

Federal regulations prevent foreign entities from owning more than 25% of a broadcast network.

Many entertainment executives are skeptical about whether Turner can round up the financing and get his board in step to make a competing bid. Sources close to the situation say the money is not as big an issue as working out the roles that Turner's various investors will play if it wins the bidding. It is also unclear how it would structure the tangled ownership of the company to comply with federal cross-ownership rules that prevent cable operators from owning more than a 5% voting interest in a broadcast network.

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