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French watchdog's competition concerns put TF1/M6 merger plan at risk

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PARIS (Reuters) -French television group TF1 and Bouygues said the French competition authority has concerns about TF1's plans to merge with broadcaster M6.

TF1 and its shareholder Bouygues said in a joint statement on Tuesday that a report by the authority's investigating teams raised a number of significant competition concerns, especially with regard to the advertising market.

"The nature and extent of the remedies required in the report would mean that the merger plans would no longer be meaningful for the parties involved and they would therefore abandon them," the two companies said.

The companies said the watchdog's report in no way predicts the final decision of its board.

They added that they do not intend to make any changes to their original plans and that they will inform the authority of their response within the next three weeks.

Hearings will take place before the French competition authority’s board on September 5 and 6, the companies said.

France's antitrust watchdog said in March it was launching an in-depth review of the merger of TF1 and M6, the country's top two listed broadcasters.

The combined entity would have sway over three-quarters of the country's TV advertising.

TF1 and M6 owners - respectively French conglomerate Bouygues and Germany's Bertelsmann - want to combine the broadcasters in a bid to fend off the rise of streaming platforms such as Netflix.

Shortly after the deal plan was announced in May last year, TF1 boss Gilles Pelisson said that any demand by France's antitrust watchdog for M6 or TF1 to sell either of their flagship channels as a condition for approving their proposed merger would be a deal breaker.

(Reporting by GV De Clercq. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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