Premiere gets breaks from Euro Commish

BRUSSELS — Under heavy pressure from the European Commission, German media firms Bertelsmann AG and Kirch have stopped their jointly controlled pay-television firm Premiere from marketing its digital TV platform using Kirch’s decoder. But the commission said in a statement Monday that Premiere could continue using Kirch’s digital set-top box to broadcast its service, Premiere Digital, to some 100,000 subscribers who have signed up since the beginning of November.

Premiere also was given permission to activate the service for another 30,000 “subscription packages,'” comprising Premiere Digital plus Kirch’s decoder, that either have been sold or are still available in shops.

“Regarding existing subscribers to Premiere Digital who have bought a subscription to the digital service in good faith, the commission is willing to accept that Premiere broadcast its digital service using the decoder box,” the statement said.

The commission’s demand that the companies put their digital TV merger on hold while it conducts its regulatory investigation is a severe blow, because the period just before Christmas usually records big sales.

In November, Premiere dropped its own decoder Media-box to market its digital platform after Bertelsmann and Kirch agreed earlier in the year to merge their digital operations, ending years of fierce rivalry.

The success in selling Premiere Digital in such a short time contrasted with the more than 80,000 customers who subscribed to Kirch’s own product, DF1, in more than a year.

But this was mainly the result of a special promotion under which the 1.6 million subscribers to Premiere’s analog pay TV service were offered the opportunity to switch to the digital service, the commission said.

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