ProSiebenSat 1 going digital

Expansion could mean big earnings for new owner

ProSiebenSat 1 is going digital and gearing up to launch two new digital networks in two German states, including the country’s biggest, North Rhine-Westphalia and neighboring Hesse.

Publishing giant Axel Springer is in the process of buying the TV group from Haim Saban, but it will likely sell off one of its leading free-to-air channels in order to get regulatory approval for the deal.

ProSiebenSat 1’s digital expansion could mean big potential earnings down the road for the company’s new owner.

The planned digital outlets are a feature film network and a comedy channel; they’re set to go on air in the second quarter of 2006.

In its deal with Unity Media, announced Friday, all five company channels — Sat.1, ProSieben, Kabel Eins, N24 and 9Live — will be available on digital cable in both regions effective immediately.

The recently formed Unity Media includes cablers Ish in North Rhine-Westphalia, Iesy in Hesse and Tele Columbus, one of Germany’s leading lever-four operators, which control the end connections directly to consumer households.

Unity Media digital subscribers will receive ProSiebenSat 1 programming automatically.

“The agreement with Unity Media is our first step into the digital future in cable,” said ProSiebenSat 1 chief exec Guillaume de Posch. “From our side it is also an effort to develop digital TV in Germany. The viewer benefits: He will receive additional programming and services, even more conveniently than he does today. I’m delighted that the lengthy negotiations with Unity Media have led to such a fruitful conclusion.”

Unity Media topper Parm Sandhu added, “This is yet another step in our strategy of cooperating with partners in the industry to advance the digitalization of cable. Digitalization can only be a success if the entire industry backs customers’ interests and offers higher-quality products and services. That’s exactly the aim of our agreement with ProSiebenSat 1.”

Ish and Iesy currently offer more than 50 digital TV channels in German and 24 in other languages. Unity Media’s combined customers number 7 million, with more than 160,000 digital subscribers.

A similar deal is expected soon between ProSiebenSat 1 and Germany’s largest cable operator, Kabel Deutschland, which has more than 10 million subs and some 320,000 digital customers.

Rival broadcaster RTL Television and its associate channels also recently signed similar agreements with Unity Media and Kabel Deutschland for digital broadcast.

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