Murdoch flips stake

Vox sold for $342 mil to CLT/Ufa

BERLIN — On the heels of entering the German pay TV market, Rupert Murdoch has sold his biggest stake in the local free TV biz to European heavyweights CLT/Ufa, leaving local players Kirch and Bertelsmann to run the free TV market.

Bertelsmann affiliate CLT/Ufa acquired from News Corp. a 49.9% stake in second generation web Vox for DM650 million ($342 million), boosting the company’s stake to 74.8%. Move paves the way for an expansion of CLT/Ufa’s family of channels, which includes local stations RTL2, Super RTL and RTL.A company spokesman told Daily Variety that constructive talks were under way with the remaining Vox shareholder, Canal Plus, over acquiring its stake in Vox.

Included in the agreement is the renewal of a programming accord between 20th Century Fox and Vox.

For CLT/Ufa, the move confirms its commitment to the free TV business following its withdrawal from German pay TV earlier this year.

Pay TV the priority

For Murdoch, it’s clearly the European pay TV business, rather than free TV, that has taken priority.

Murdoch broke into the German pay TV market by securing a 24% stake in pay web Premiere World several weeks ago. News Corp. is already present in other European pay markets, including Italy and the U.K. In Spain, Murdoch was recently rumored to be eyeing a stake in digital web Via Digital.

Shedding the Vox stake makes sense for News Corp., as European and German regulators are mulling approval of the firm’s deal for pay web Premiere.

Kirch, Bertelsmann set free

With Murdoch’s withdrawal, the German free TV market looks set to remain in the hands of local kings Kirch and Bertelsmann, which between them garner the lion’s share of free TV advertising revenues through their stations.Although Kirch has welcomed several new partners into the company this year, the Kirch Group remains firmly in control of both its free TV and pay TV businesses, which were reorganized earlier this year into two separate holdings.

In Kirch’s pay TV holding, Murdoch is now the only shareholder besides the Kirch Group. Together they are in near full control of the German pay TV market.

Bertelsmann, meanwhile, is pressing full steam ahead with its free TV businesses through its company CLT/Ufa and with its online activities. It is in the process of launching interactive television as well as video- on-demand and other interactive services. Both Murdoch’s acquisition of a stake in Premiere as well as the Vox deal still have to be approved by media regulators and, in the case of Vox, by the companies’ boards.

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