Bertelsmann, the world's fourth-largest media group, is looking for acquisitions which could include part of the British Broadcasting Corporation, after its music and TV units helped triple half-year

Bertelsmann, the world's fourth-largest media group, is looking for acquisitions which could include part of the British Broadcasting Corporation, after its music and TV units helped triple half-year profits.

The BBC confirmed on Wednesday it has talked to the German group and its bigger U.S. rivals Time Warner and Disney about a possible sale of its BBC Worldwide unit, which owns assets such as magazines and stakes in TV channels.

Bertelsmann declined to comment on BBC Worldwide, but CEO Gunter Thielen repeated he was ready to use a €2 billion ($2.4 billion) war chest to invest in growth.

"Bertelsmann is steadily increasing its scope for investments to strengthen our core businesses and expand in new growth markets," Thielen said in a statement. "We will pursue appropriate opportunities when they become available."

The books-to-television group, which is unlisted and owned by the founder's family and a Belgian investor, on Wednesday posted operating earnings of €596 million ($720 million) in the six months to June, up from €186 million ($224 million) a year ago.

After years of declining sales at the group, revenues at its music unit BMG and television arm RTL Group rose strongly, while cost cuts across the group also helped earnings, Bertelsmann said in a statement.

"The BMG music division's recorded music triumphs and RTL Group's excellent business performance made an essential contribution to this rise in earnings," it said.

Sales rose 3.2% to €8.1 billion ($9.8 billion). Adjusted for currency effects and portfolio changes, they rose 4%, Bertelsmann said. It sold a science publishing unit in 2003 and has consolidated TV station M6 since February.

Bertelsmann, in which Belgium's Groupe Bruxelles Lambert owns 25%, confirmed its forecast of improving this year's earnings compared with last year.

"Our business performance during the first half of 2004 was very encouraging," said CFO Siegfried Luther. "We ... continue to expect a year-on-year improvement in operating results."

Bertelsmann's music division BMG, which last month merged with Japanese electronic giant Sony's Sony Music, had €74 million ($89 million) in earnings, up from a loss last year, as sales of rose 10% % to €1.2 billion ($1.45 billion) despite the still weak global music market.

Sony BMG, in which Bertelsmann owns 50%, is now the world's second-largest record label, featuring artists ranging from rapper Usher to pop singer Britney Spears.

Bertelsmann's Random House unit, the biggest U.S. book publisher, got a boost in sales from former U.S. president Bill Clinton's autobiography, and almost tripled earnings to €31 million ($37 million).

Magazine publisher Gruner + Jahr lost sales and earnings due to asset sales and spending on new magazines in France.

And sales at loss-making book club unit Direct Group fell due to currency effects and a subdued German economy.

In a separate statement, Direct Group said it had acquired Ukrainian book club Family Leisure Group, which it said had 600,000 members, from a group of private investors.

RTL Group, Europe's largest TV broadcaster which contributes more than half of Bertelsmann's earnings, posted a 57% rise in underlying earnings last week.

-- Reuters