Germany’s SAT1 rethinks prime

BERLIN — Germany’s No. 2 commercial web SAT1 is abandoning a key scheduling change introduced in late 1995.

Starting March 1, the troubled channel will once again begin its primetime programming at 8:15 p.m., bringing it back in line with other German webs.

Convincing tradition-bound German viewers to skip the popular 8 p.m. news program on pubcaster ARD and instead tune into SAT1’s series and movies was the cornerstone of SAT1 programming director Fred Kogel’s highly publicized 1995 programming reform.

SAT1, which suffered from a lack of premium movies and a somewhat stodgy image, hoped that Kogel, now 36, could breathe new life into the ailing web by introducing a comprehensive — and costly — reform of its pro-gramming strategy.

“We knew that the move to 8:00 was a risk,” said Kogel. After a similar switch, number three web Pro7 admitted late last year that German viewers could not be persuaded to change their viewing habits, and pushed the start of its primetime back to 8:15.

Recently, Kogel has come under fire for allowing SAT1 to slip from a No. 2 position in the 1995 ratings to fourth place in 1996, behind RTL and pubcasters ARD and ZDF. Kogel’s attempt to make up for SAT1’s dearth of Hollywood product by commissioning an expensive series of remakes of classic German films last year produced very mixed results.

Juergen Richter, chairman of publishing house Axel Springer Verlag — which owns 40% of SAT1 — has hinted publicly that Kogel may lose his position at SAT1.

Richter, who would like to see some major changes at SAT1, is currently locked in a battle for control of the chan-nel with partner Leo Kirch. The Bavarian media mogul, who makes a profit off the money-losing web by supplying it with programming, is trying to up his stake in SAT1 from 43% to 59% to ensure his hold over the network.

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