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Comment: Private equity investors write off Setanta stakes

Setanta, the only real competition to the UK's undisputed pay-TV champion BSkyB, has seen its private equity backers write off the value of their stakes as the outlook becomes more gloomy for the Irish broadcaster in an increasingly tricky economic climate.

Doughty Hanson, which owns 20 per cent of Setanta, and Goldman Sachs, which owns 5 per cent, have cut the value of their investments in Setanta to zero in their accounts in the wake of its loss of half its Premier League football rights to BSkyB.

The Irish firm currently has two of the six live English Premier League rights packages, but from the 2010-11 season this will fall to one after Sky bid a record GBP1.62bn to clinch the other five.

Only a European Union competition ruling a few years ago has prevented the market leader buying up all the rights to England's top division. Setanta is also reported to be conducting a review of its other live TV rights and could decide to drop other sports such as boxing and rugby.

Setanta, which also has another private equity shareholder, Balderton Capital, was the subject of intense speculation last year that it might be bought out, with putative bidders including telecoms operator BT, UK terrestrial broadcaster ITV and the US sports broadcaster ESPN, which is owned by Disney.

At the time, Setanta's founders Leonard Ryan and Michael O'Rouke said the company was not up for sale, although a serious offer would be given serious thought. Perhaps they might be a bit more enthusiastic now, if there are any serious bidders still out there?

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