Bertelsmann head sees bright online future

BERLIN — While the rest of Germany’s media industry wonders anxiously about the future of Teutonic TV, Thomas Middelhoff, chief exec of local giant Bertelsmann, is looking to take over and revive online music swap site Napster. He has also proclaimed the end of money-losing Internet ventures.

“Our solution is a complete takeover of Napster. We want to buy out the shareholders,” Middelhoff told German daily Die Welt.

Specifically, Middelhoff said Bertelsmann had made an offer to Napster shareholders Hummer Winblad Venture Partners and some private investors, including John Fanning, uncle of Napster founder Shawn Fanning.

“We believe that our strategy is the right one for the future of the company,” he added.

Napster can develop into a leading platform for digital music, Middelhoff said, adding that the shareholders were undecided about the proposal and as a result are blocking progress on the deal.

Middelhoff also added that the company’s Internet-related losses, which reached €880 million ($773 million) last year, would be down to nil in the coming year. Bertelsmann has either shut down money-losing Internet subsids or is restructuring them.

Regarding the expected bankruptcy of the Kirch Group and the possible entry of foreign competition into the Teutonic TV market, Middelhoff said Bertelsmann did not fear new rivals but added, “There will definitely be a harder wind blowing through Germany’s TV landscape.”

The topper said that while Bertelsmann was restricted from picking up Kirch broadcasters like Sat 1 and ProSieben due to German antitrust laws, the group was planning to beef up its TV biz abroad.

“A wave of consolidation is coming to England, Spain and France, and Bertelsmann will play a significant role there through the RTL Group,” he said.

In addition to RTL, Europe’s biggest broadcaster, Bertelsmann owns diverse media holdings around the world, including music label BMG, book publisher Random House and newspaper publisher Gruner + Jahr.

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