Kirch hikes SAT1 stake, defying foe

BERLIN — Fending off an attempt by partner Axel Springer Verlag to gain more influence over No. 2 German commercial web SAT1, Bavarian media mogul Leo Kirch is increasing his stake in the channel from 43% to 59%, German weekly Focus reported on Saturday.

According to Focus, Kirch acquired a 15% share from AV Euromedia and 1% from Ravensburger Film+TV GmbH on Jan. 2, thus taking advantage of a new German broadcasting law that went into effect the first of the year. The new legislation allows a single partner to own more than 50% of a web, provided the company does not control an overall market share of more than 30%. The purchase must be approved by media authorities.

Control contested

The other major shareholder in SAT1 is publishing giant Axel Springer Verlag, which raised its stake in the channel to 40% in December. While Kirch owns 35% of the publishing house, Springer chief executive Juergen Richter has been acting independently of Kirch, having bought up the shares of smaller partners in SAT1 in hopes of challenging Kirch’s control of the web.

SAT1 has slipped to the No. 4 position among German channels, behind RTL and pubcasters ARD and ZDF. Kirch’s partners in SAT1 have long complained that Kirch, who has a massive archive of films and series, has made money on the barely profitable web as a programming supplier while the other shareholders chalked up losses.

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