Conglom takes 50% stake in TV's RTL7

PARIS – MCA Inc. is to take a 50% stake in Luxembourg-based Compagnie Luxembourgeoise de Telediffusion’s (CLT) startup Polish channel RTL7, which is due to go on the air Saturday.

The deal represents the first equity stake that MCA has taken in a Euro free-to-air broadcaster and could be the beginning of other joint ventures with CLT-owned offshoots.

The agreement was announced Thursday by CLT general manager Remy Sauter and Blair Westlake, president of Universal Pay Television and Television Business Development.

Westlake would not divulge the cash outlay but said it was “significant” for a market that is “growing by leaps and bounds.”

RTL7 is a general entertainment channel, broadcasting in Polish via Eutelsat’s Hot Bird direct-to-home and to cable. There are 12 million TV homes in Poland, and according to Westlake, about 4 million households are either cabled or have home dishes.

Under the terms of the agreement, MCA will supply firstrun programming as well as library material to RTL7, which will rely on ad revenues rather than subscription fees for its income.

Among the theatrical pics destined to air on RTL7 are “Airport,” “The Land Before Time” and the cult favorite “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.” Current TV series such as “Coach,” “The Burning Zone” and “EZ Streets” are also part of the deal.

Traditionally MCA had licensed its product in Poland to state-run broadcaster TVP; the new deal means that RTL7 becomes MCA’s privileged partner there for free and basic cable rights.

MCA will also fashion two Universal-branded action programming blocks for the channel, which will likely air in primetime or on Saturday afternoons. Similar blocks are being created by MCA for its digital channels in Germany and France, on the DF1 and Canal Satellite platforms, respectively.

Westlake said that his division is taking a wait-and-see approach to the development of the pay and pay-per-view markets in Poland: Both Canal Plus/Nethold and HBO are competing on that front.

News of the partnership with MCA came as CLT board members met in Paris for talks which included the upcoming signature of the merger with Bertelsmann’s Ufa division to form CLT/Ufa. Barring last-minute hitches, the signing is expected to take place in January and will see the creation of a TV group with revenue of some $4 billion.

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