Hezi Bezalel's ambitions to open a mobile communications company may have been foiled, but he's about to close on a controlling interest in Channel 10 instead. The people at Channel 10 for their part see him as the network's savior, after the present supporters tired of keeping the thing afloat on their own dime.
The Channel 10 shareholders have reached understandings with Bezalel to inject a sorely-needed NIS 50 million into the network in exchange for 25% to 30% of its stock. The other shareholders will be diluted.
On Tuesday night, Channel 10 CEO Yossi Varshavsky met with representatives of the network's shareholders, which include cosmetics heir Ron Lauder and Yossi Maiman's Merhav corporation, to discuss the terms of the deal with Bezalel.
Channel 10's budget for 2011 totaled NIS 400 million, a figure that the participants agreed could be reduced by 10% next year.
Also, Channel 10 in general and its news department in particular will be instituting economy measures. Possibly, the Knesset Economics Committee will agree to give the company more time to pay the state NIS 45 million it owes in royalties and license fees. As things stand, Channel 10 was given until January 1, 2012 to pay up.
The shareholders estimate that the decrease in expenditure and injection by Bezalel will enable Channel 10 to operate independently in 2012 - which means it will not have to merge with Reshet.
Meanwhile, Channel 10's owners are in advanced negotiations to merge with the Channel 2 broadcast company Reshet. But Reshet proposes shutting down Channel 10 completely, closing its news company and absorbing popular Channel 10 content into Reshet. The Reshet-ex-Channel 10 network would broadcast on Channel 22.
The Channel 10 shareholders are horrified by the concept. They insist Reshet itself move to the conceptual entity that is Channel 10, which would broadcast seven days a week.
Bezalel apparently is not dismayed either way. While he wants to get into Channel 10, he is rather pleased than not with the thought of a merger with Reshet at a later stage. That opinion is based, among other things, on an economic analysis he received.
The negotiations on Bezalel's behalf are being conducted by Giora Bar-Lev, who runs Bezalel's investments company.
High-ranking sources in the Israeli television sector bewailed the potential disappearance of Channel 10's news company as a "disaster for the freedom of the press".
"That is no solution, that is the problem," said one. "That is the nightmare scenario for the television sector." Not only would Israel lose a news company, leaving only one: hundreds of people would lose their jobs, the source said.