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Tele Munchen looks for content

Company aims for all rights on more material

BERLIN — Herbert Kloiber’s Tele Munchen Group is solidifying its position as one of Germany’s leading media companies.

It has a slew of high-profile inhouse productions; major licensing deals with MGM and Summit Intl.; recently acquired Austria’s only nationwide commercial channel; and is continuing its exclusive theatrical broadcasts of the New York Metropolitan Opera.

“We’re really looking at an increase in volume, creating more and more material of which we have full control and all rights,” says Kloiber. “We’re shifting more towards co-financing international productions.”

Its Clasart Television subsidiary is teaming with pubcaster ZDF on an English-language adaptation of Jack London’s “The Sea Wolf.”

German actor Sebastian Koch, who toplined the Oscar-winning “The Lives of Others,” stars as Wolf Larsen, a hard-as-nails but deeply philosophical captain who rescues landlubber Humphrey van Weyden, presses him into service on his schooner, and drags him off on a seal hunting expedition.

Budgeted at $18 million, the two-parter is co-produced by Rikolt von Gagern of Gate Film and Justin Bodle, chairman and CEO of U.K. TV producer Power, which will also handle international sales.

The pic, which is set in 1900, will begin shooting in April on location in Canada and San Francisco with Mike Barker directing from a script by Nigel Williams. The production returns Tele Munchen to its roots. Company produced a hit four-part mini based on “The Sea Wolf” in 1971 for ZDF.

Tele Munchen’s Clasart Film is also producing Joseph Vilsmaier’s bigscreen adaptation of “Die geschichte vom Brandner Kaspar” (The Story of Brandner Kaspar), a beloved Teutonic folk tale written by Franz von Kobell in 1871 about an old man who cheats death.

Franz Xaver Kroetz stars in the title role and multihyphenate Michael Herbig (“Dreamship Surprise: Period 1”) plays Death. Pic, which is shooting, is co-produced by Vilsmaier’s Perathon Film and slated for release next November via Tele Munchen’s Concorde Filmverleih.

Despite its renewed focus on production, Tele Munchen remains a major license trader.

It inked a long-term free TV deal with long-time partner MGM in June encompassing future MGM and UA titles, including Tom Cruise’s upcoming suspenser “Valkyrie” and the 22nd James Bond film.

More recently, company signed a three-year output agreement with Summit Intl. for all rights in Germany and Austria to movies produced, co-produced and/or acquired by Summit, including upcoming pics “Twilight” and “Sex Drive.”

On the broadcasting front, Kloiber took over Austria’s ATV last month, picking up a 42.4% stake from Austrian bank BAWAG PSK, giving him 98% of the web.

After revamping Tele Munchen’s German channel Tele 5, managing director Ludwig Bauer has taken the reins at ATV and plans a similar overhaul.

ATV has a market share of 4.8%. Despite the dominance of Austrian pubcaster ORF, Kloiber says there’s plenty of room to grow in the country’s TV market.

“ORF is not overwhelmingly dominant. We occasionally beat them. The other night we attracted more viewers with ‘The Matrix.’ We’re aiming to reach a market share of 7% and break even by 2010.”

In addition to inhouse formats, including an upcoming show about Austrian families starting life overseas, ATV airs hit U.S. shows like “24,” “Criminal Minds,” “Dead Zone” “Justice” and “King of Queens.”

Meanwhile, Clasart Classic is continuing its hugely successful series of live broadcasts of Metropolitan Opera productions.

From December through April, six productions will be broadcast live via satellite in 24 cinemas across Germany and Austria. The operas include Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette,” Verdi’s “Macbeth,” Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” and “La Boheme,” Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” and Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment.”

The privately owned Tele Munchen Group saw revenue hit a record high of $390 million last year and Kloiber says sales in 2007 will beat that figure with double-digit growth in revenue.

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