Canal Plus may sell German TV stakes

BONN – French pay TV group Canal Plus plans to reduce or even give up its stakes in Germany’s pay TV channel Premiere and the commercial channel Vox, the weekly German newsmagazine Focus reported Sunday.

Such a move could spark a major shakeup of Germany’s fledgling pay television market, which has been marked recently by a fierce fight between Premiere’s German shareholder Bertelsmann and Bavarian mogul Leo Kirch. Focus, in an unsourced article, said Kirch was prepared to take over the 37.5% stake in Premiere owned by Canal Plus. Kirch currently holds 25% of Premiere and Bertelsmann owns the remaining 37.5%.

None of the companies was available for comment.

Separately, the newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported that Kirch was seeking to have Premiere managing director Bernd Kundrun dismissed. Kirch lawyer Joachim Theye has asked Bertelsmann and Canal Plus to support the move, but both backed Kundrun and rejected Kirch’s demands on Friday, the Der Spiegel report said.

Focus also said Canal Plus was no longer willing to finance losses at commercial network Vox, where it holds a 24.9% stake. Other Vox shareholders include Bertelsmann and majority shareholder News Corp. Ltd .

If the Premiere shares go up for sale, it could spark a bidding war between Bertelsmann, Kirch and Murdoch. Premiere’s Kundrun, in a recent interview with Reuters, said the company was valued at about $1,000 per subscriber. It has 1.41 million subscribers.

Kirch, although a Premiere shareholder, last year broke off on his own and set up a new company, DF1, which would concentrate on digital pay television services and compete against Premiere.

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