Despite KDG warnings, int'l congloms move into market

BERLIN — German cable is blossoming despite Kabel Deutschland’s (KDG) failed attempt to merge all nine regional cable companies under one roof.

The cable giant had argued that its planned takeover of the three remaining regional cablers was necessary to spur digital rollout. But the rejection of its bid by Germany’s antitrust watchdog last month has not deterred Sony, Viacom and Disney, which are moving quickly to launch digital outlets in the world’s second biggest TV market.

Sony’s action-adventure channel AXN and two tyke webs from the Mouse house, Playhouse Disney and Toon Disney, are starting next month on KDG’s new digital TV platform, Kabel Digital Home.

They join Universal, which already has its Sci Fi and 13th Street outlets on KDG and Ish, the regional cabler in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, as well as on digital pay TV platform Premiere, which also offers an exclusive MGM channel to its 3 million customers.

KDG’s plans to create a cable monopoly faced massive protest from Germany’s free-to-air commercial broadcasters, which stand to lose advertising due to the proliferation of ad-backed commercial cable webs.

While KDG had won support from execs at Universal Studios Networks Deutschland and MTV Networks Central Europe, who saw little possibility for digital development without the merger, others now see greater opportunity.

Darren Childs, VP, Intl. Networks at Sony Pictures Television Intl. (SPTI), says a divided cable market in Germany is a positive thing, noting that “a market dominated by one cable provider is a nightmare.”

Local industry observers reckon that the three remaining regional cablers, Ish, Iesy in Hesse and Kabel BW in Baden-Wurttemberg, will merge.

David Hulbert, prexy of Walt Disney Television Intl., has noted that due to the difficulties that have hindered cable development in Germany, there is high demand for more channels here.

While KDG reaches 10 million homes, only a fraction of those are digital subscribers. Since KDG and Ish are just now rolling out their digital packages, there are no figures available, although industry experts estimate there are only about 150,000 to 200,000 households receiving digital TV in Germany apart from the 3 million Premiere subscribers.

It’s not clear whether KDG’s new digital package will attract viewers already saddled with TV license fees of around $20 a month in addition to basic cable charges and who already get 35 terrestrial channels.

After all, it’s taken Premiere years to reach 3 million subscribers in a country of nearly 40 million TV households.

With its 30 new channels, including National Geographic, the History Channel, E! Entertainment, BBC Prime, ESPN, MTV, VH1, Playboy TV and two movie channels, KDG and its content providing partners are certainly giving it a go.

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