No more time for Kirch

Court ruling gives Deutsche right to sell stake immediately

BERLIN — A Munich court on Friday denied bankrupt media baron Leo Kirch more time to sell his 40% stake in German publisher Axel Springer, paving the way for its acquisition by Deutsche Bank in lieu of a €730 million ($717 million) loan.

Ruling gives Deutsche Bank the right to sell the stake immediately, and it appears close to doing so as Swiss publisher Ringier is in negotiations with Springer and the bank to buy the stake — and merge with the German publisher.

Kirch, whose media empire collapsed earlier this year under a mountain of debt, was seeking an extension that would have given him until Sept. 30 to sell his stake in Springer, which publishes the top-selling Bild tabloid. Kirch had until Sept. 1 to vend the stake.

Under a possible deal, Springer would buy out the Zurich-based Ringier, which would use the money to purchase the stake from Deutsche Bank.

The sale of the Springer stake does not directly affect the ongoing auction of bankrupt TV giant Kirch Media. Leo Kirch, however, could have gotten nearly $1 billion for the stake, leaving him considerable cash after paying back Deutsche Bank. Kirch is also bidding for Kirch Media’s sports rights division, valued at around $350 million.

Fellow publisher Heinrich Bauer, which is bidding for Kirch Media sans the sports unit, is reportedly in talks with former RTL Television honcho Helmut Thoma to head the company if it wins the auction with its bidding partners Springer and HypoVereinsbank. Thoma is credited with the transformation of RTL into Germany’s most successful web.

Meanwhile, Urs Rohner, chairman of Kirch Media’s ProSiebenSat 1 broadcasting group, has confirmed the company’s interest in buying the vast Kirch Media film library, which has long supplied ProSiebenSat 1’s channels with films and series. But Rohner said the group would have to raise money on the capital market to finance the purchase as company would be unable to finance the acquisition through credit.

Speaking to German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Rohner said the TV advertising market could get much worse than previously expected. “You can no longer exclude a further 5% drop in the market by the end of the year,” Rohner said.

Ad revenues in Germany have dropped 7.1% since the beginning of the year to $4.1 billion.

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