Liberty rings cable

Purchase of Germany's Tele Columbus set

BERLIN — U.S. cabler Liberty Media looks set to increase its already hefty holdings in Germany’s cable market with the acquisition of Teutonic cable outfit Tele Columbus.

Deutsche Bank, which controls Tele Columbus, is said to be interested in exchanging the company for a piece in Liberty’s bigger cable pie.

Pending government approval, company will soon control six regional cable franchises reaching 10 million subscribers, becoming Germany’s biggest cable operator. Tele Columbus would add a further 1.7 million customers.

As part of the overhaul of those cable systems, Liberty Media is planning to provide German customers with free digital decoders by the end of next year.

Speaking at a Munich media conference last week, Miranda Curtis, head of Liberty Intl., said the company plans to distribute the set-top boxes free to its German customers. Curtis also said the digital TV standard favored by Germany’s main broadcasters was too expensive and would hinder growth. Last month German broadcasters agreed to adopt MHP in an effort to hasten the introduction of digital TV.

“There is nothing wrong with MHP, but in our experience you need to build up the network and bring the boxes into the market as quickly as possible,” Curtis said.

Customers, she added, are more interested in services than in technology and would be unlikely to pay for a system that may not support a new standard in a few years.

With planned investments of $450 million-$900 million a year, company will be upgrading the cable systems to allow for more digital channels and other multimedia services.

Curtis said she expected all German broadcasters on cable to be included in the Liberty broadband network, adding that TV will make up only one-third of broadband cable content in the future; the rest will be used for communication and data transfer.

Curtis expects Liberty to create some 10,000 jobs in Germany in the next five years as it builds up technical, distribution and client services.

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