Approval clears way for takeover of paybox

The European Commission has paved the way for Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of Premiere, Germany’s biggest pay TV operator.

Murdoch’s News Corp. has become the paybox’s single largest shareholder after continually upping its stake to 25% since the beginning of the year.

The EC said it would allow the deal on the condition that Premiere continued to allow rivals access to its satellite set-top boxes, adding that the agreement would ease concerns that News Corp. was dominating the Teutonic pay TV market and strengthening Premiere’s leading position here.

The paybox’s top attractions remain live German Bundesliga soccer and Formula One motor racing, as well as exclusive films and TV series. It also carries channels from NBC Universal, Sony and Disney as well as local players RTL, ProSiebenSat.1 and Kinowelt.

Premiere is the leading pay TV operator in Germany and Austria, with some 4.2 million subscriber households.

Company is switching its encryption technology to News Corp.’s own NDS VideoGuard, a move that had sparked concerns among some market players, who feared third parties would be excluded from Premiere’s satellite platform.

The European watchdog said News Corp. had promised to allow third-party access to the platform.

Earlier this month, Premiere expanded its supervisory board to include News Corp. reps Thomas Mockridge, CEO of News Corp.’s Italian satcaster Sky Italia, and Mark Andrew Williams, News Corp.’s chief financial officer for Europe and Asia.

If Murdoch decides to buy more than 30% of Premiere, he will be legally obligated to make a takeover offer to the feevee’s minority shareholders.

Nearly 38.5% of the paybox is publicly traded, with the remainder owned by several private equity firms and Premiere execs.

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