Pick your partners

Liberty eyes Teutonic cable allies, tech issue

BERLIN — Miranda Curtis, senior VP of Liberty Media, says the U.S. cabler would welcome partners in its German cable TV business. Rumors say company is eyeing Deutsche Bank.

“We can imagine many ways of cooperation, but it is true that, quite deliberately, Liberty doesn’t control 100% of a cable network anywhere in the world. A strategic German partner would be very welcome,” Curtis said.

Liberty is buying six regional cable companies from Deutsche Telekom for about $5 billion.

Company has been in talks with Deutsche Bank subsidiary DB Investor to acquire its local cable outfit TeleColumbus; Liberty is now reportedly offering the bank a stake in its German operations in a strategic tradeoff.

TeleColumbus, which has 1.7 million customers, controls many of the straight-to-user connections Liberty needs to upgrade its networks.

Liberty is said to be offering DB Investor a 20% stake in its German subsidiary, Liberty Deutschland.

Callahan cables up

Fellow U.S. cable outfit Callahan Associates also is likely to get a stake in TeleColumbus. Callahan controls two regional cable systems in North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Wurttemberg.

Curtis defended Liberty’s decision to forgo the recently adopted Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) digital standard by German broadcasters. The Liberty exec said MHP is good technology, but at around $60-$80 apiece, MHP set-top decoders are too expensive.

Liberty plans to provide its 10 million customers with free non-MHP digital decoders within three years. Curtis said Liberty may adopt the MHP standard after that.

Adding 40 channels, Web

In the next three years, Liberty will be offering 40 additional channels, interactive TV and high-speed Internet access. Subs also will be able to receive German digital pay web Premiere World via the Liberty decoder.

Curtis said that in her 15 years in the cable business, it was the first time she has spent so much time wrangling over technical standards rather than discussing business and dealing with financial questions.

If it gets regulatory approval for its cable deal, Liberty will become the biggest player in Germany’s cable market.

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