Cabler has no plans to share with rival

The small German cabler that snatched Bundesliga soccer rights away from Premiere last week in a three-year $1.5 billion deal and sent the German digital paybox giant’s shares into a spectacular tailspin has no plans to cooperate with its badly wounded rival, according to Arena topper Bernard de Roos.

Arena, owned by Unity Media, dealt Munich-based Premiere another blow in an interview with de Roos to be published Thursday in German newspaper Die Welt. The Dutchman said he will have twice as many subscribers as Premiere now has within three years by charging half the price ($24 per month max) for the live broadcasts of the hugely popular German soccer matches.

With the loss of its centerpiece Bundesliga, which has driven the paybox in Germany for 14 years, Premiere is bracing for a wave of subscriber — and staff — defections.

“We didn’t acquire the (Bundesliga) rights in order to give them back to Premiere,” de Roos told Die Welt in response to Premiere topper Georg Kofler’s repeatedly expressed hopes that a deal could be worked out with Arena, which now has just 100,000 feevee subscribers vs. Premiere’s 3.4 million.

“Our plan is to set up a new broadcast platform in Germany next to Premiere,” de Roos said. “Instead of a monopoly, there should now be a duo-poly.”

He did not, however, rule out a takeover of Premiere.

Like Blighty’s BSkyB, Premiere’s fortunes largely hinge on soccer rights. De Roos said Arena should be able to turn a profit with a subscriber base well below 6 million. Premiere has only recently hit the black after years of struggle in the turbulence that followed the demise of the Kirch empire.

“I see a market potential of 6 million to 10 million subscribers in Germany,” said de Roos, confident of winning over many from Premiere. He said Arena will have its nationwide infrastructure in place by August to broadcast all Bundesliga matches on cable or satellite.

Kofler, who as one of Premiere’s major shareholders lost $120 million of his own wealth with the share price’s 40% nosedive last week that wiped out $1 billion of its value in one day, vowed to remain at the helm; he also has issued ominous warnings to any staffers caught talking to Arena about jumping ship.

“I’m staying with Premiere,” Kofler told Bunte magazine after the spectacular failure of his gamble to force the Bundesliga to give Premiere exclusivity in exchange for more money. “I’m going to steer it through these difficult waters in a responsible fashion.”

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