Stay tuned to Kirch drama

EM.TV scandal makes Heinrich Bauer takeover shaky

BERLIN — Just when it appeared that Germany’s tumultuous TV market was settling down after the massive quake caused by media giant Kirch’s bankruptcy, a series of aftershocks have locals wondering if another big one is coming.

The much touted takeover of Kirch Media by Hamburg publisher Heinrich Bauer looks less sure after national regulators raised objections, and it is also being rocked by an unfolding scandal surrounding kidvidder EM.TV.

And then there’s the very persistent U.S. billionaire Haim Saban, who’s still trying to cut out Bauer and swing a last-minute deal for Kirch Media’s assets.

Kirch’s collapse last year was the largest bankruptcy in German post-war history. Politicians and anxious Kirch employees cheered when creditor banks chose to do business with German firm Bauer rather than the host of foreign players ready to bid.

But Bauer’s acquisition of Kirch’s ProSiebenSat 1 broadcasting group and vast film library may be in trouble after regulators raised fears about the takeover’s impact on TV diversity. Bauer already owns a stake in rival web RTL 2 and controls the TV magazine business so its bid could violate local media ownership laws, according to regulating body KEK.

And Bauer is still wrangling over the takeover of Kirch’s library. While the banks have priced the stockpile at $1.3 billion, market value is far lower and Bauer appears to be playing hardball.

Kirch Media’s management makes no secret of its continued dialogue with Saban, who has won strong backing from the U.S. Embassy in Berlin.

Meanwhile, a growing scandal enveloping Werner Klatten, chief exec of EM.TV and a close Bauer adviser, could further rattle the publisher.

Klatten is accused of having been a front man for Kirch when the former took control of EM.TV last year. Recently uncovered documents suggest that Leo Kirch secretly engineered Klatten’s 25% buyout.

Klatten was advising Bauer on its acquisition of Kirch’s library, but with his alleged role as a Kirch lackey now under scrutiny, Bauer’s credibility with creditor banks could be on the line. Klatten had also been a leading candidate for the top job at a Bauer-controlled ProSiebenSat 1.

German cartel authorities have confirmed that they will examine Klatten’s acquisition of EM.TV and probe whether Kirch played a role.

While Klatten has denied any knowledge of a Kirch link, evidence to the contrary could result in a major shakeup at EM.TV. Former chief Thomas Haffa is expected to demand back the stake he sold to Klatten and offer it to Saban, who has also been eyeing EM.TV’s 100% stake in the Jim Henson Co.

The complicated back story is worthy of any drama that ever appeared on Kirch’s channels; stay tuned for more developments.

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