Pubcasters bristle at Kirch World Cup demands

BERLIN — Germany’s 2002 World Cup rights deal is still up in the air despite last month’s agreement between pubcasters and the Kirch Group.

ARD affiliates and ZDF are still smarting over the record DM255 million ($117 million) price for rights to 24 games from the championships in South Korea and Japan, with only a possible option for the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Managing directors of the regional pubcasters must vote on whether to pay what many see as Kirch’s astronomical asking price. A final decision is not expected until the end of May.

Digital stranglehold

Another point of contention is Kirch’s demand that games on ARD’s digital service be encoded to prevent satcaster viewers in neighboring countries (where the World Cup is on pay TV) from getting the games free. That move would bar 350,000 German households from receiving the broadcasts and set what many here fear could be a dangerous precedent — one nation controlling the free flow of information in a united Europe through digital set-top decoders.

Some pubcaster officials are also incensed at Kirch’s insistence on access to ARD and ZDF’s sports programming archives for its commercial webs.

In related news, Kirch announced Tuesday it had taken complete control of Host Broadcasting Services (HBS), a former 50-50 joint venture Kirch Media set up with troubled Swiss sports rights marketer ISMM in 1999.

The technical service outfit will be responsible for the actual broadcast of the 2002 and 2006 World Cup games.

ISMM, which is on the brink of bankruptcy, is reportedly being eyed for a possible takeover by Canal Plus and RTL, which are negotiating a merger of their sports rights divisions, UFA Sports and Sports Plus.

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