Court unplugs Kirch

Premiere calls DF1 on out-of-bounds beef

BERLIN – German pay TV channel Premiere has temporarily put the brakes on media mogul Leo Kirch’s DF1, the country’s first digital pay TV web.

Arguing that DF1, launched nationwide in July, has a license to broadcast over satellite in the state of Bavaria but not in other parts of Germany, Premiere on Wednesday obtained an injunction against DF1 from a Hamburg court. The order forbids DF1 from recruiting new customers outside of the state Bavaria, and ordered the digital web to stop advertising in other German states until the appropriate licenses have been granted.

A decoder advantage

“With this decision, the Hamburg district court has eliminated DF1’s unfair competitive lead,” Premiere managing director Bernd Kundrun said. Next month, Premiere begins broadcasting a digital form of itself in a pilot project involving 30,000 of its 1.4 million subscribers. PremiereDigital will lease its decoders at relatively low rates, putting it at an advantage over the still-struggling DF1, whose customers have to shell out around $600 for digital equipment.

DF1 spokesman Nikolaus von der Decken told Daily Variety that DF1 will appeal the court’s decision. “The situation isn’t so dramatic,” von der Decken said. “We have applied for a suspension of the enforcement of the injunction, which should go through in the next two to three days.” Von der Decken expects the main hearing concerning the issue to take place in four to eight weeks. An end run

Premiere and DF1 have been locked in an ongoing legal battle since the summer, mainly about the right to broadcast premium movies. In this case, DF1 managing director Gottfried Zmeck said it appears “that someone is trying to use legal means to hinder something he wasn’t able to manage himself: the establishment of a digital platform.”

That “someone” is Bertelsmann’s film and television unit, UFA, and Luxembourg broadcaster CLT, which dropped joint plans to launch their own digital channel bouquet after it became clear last fall that Kirch had secured nearly all the choice pay TV output deals with Hollywood majors for the next 10 years. Bertelsmann since has pinned its digital hopes on Premiere, in which it holds a 37.5% stake.

But Kirch, who owns 25% of Premiere, would like to jumpstart his ailing digital web (20,000 subscribers) by adding Premiere to the DF1 platform. A spokesman for Bertelsmann told Daily Variety that Kirch is blocking PremiereDigital from expanding beyond a pilot project in an effort to gain control of the web.

The decisive vote on the fate of Premiere may come from remaining shareholder French media group Canal Plus, which holds a 37.5% stake in the web. Canal Plus long appeared be aligned with Bertelsmann, but recently has shown more sympathy for Kirch, who could be willing to sell shares in Italian pay TV web Telepiu to his French partner in exchange for more influence at Premiere.

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