Pay TV chief Thomas Schultheis to leave

Sale rumors continue to swirl around pan-European broadcasting group ProSiebenSat.1, newly sparked by pay TV chief Thomas Schultheis, who has become the latest exec to announce his exit.

With the group’s share price at a five-year low, one regulatory watchdog official has warned that Rupert Murdoch may make a bid, and he criticized a past regulatory decision to block ProSiebenSat. 1’s purchase by German publisher Axel Springer.

Last month ProSiebenSat.1 chief exec Guillaume de Posch said he would step down in December.

Schultheis, who will leave at the end of the year, is co-managing director of ProSiebenSat.1’s SevenSenses subsidiary, which oversees digital TV, including pay TV, video-on-demand and mobile TV.

He has headed SevenSenses since 2006. Since joining ProSiebenSat.1 in 1993, Schultheis has also served as head of programming at Kabel Eins and overseen program scheduling at ProSieben. He is leaving of his own accord “to pursue new challenges.”

SevenSenses co-topper Dirk Klein, will take over his responsibilities.

In view of ProSiebenSat.1’s situation, media regulators are calling for clearer guidelines from the government detailing to what extent regulatory bodies such as the Commission on Concentration in the Media (KEK) can block acquisitions.

Gerd Bauer, head of the LMS, the media regulator in the state of Saarland, will join the KEK as a member in September and has pointed out with regret that the KEK played a major role in blocking German publisher Axel Springer from taking over ProSiebenSat.1 in 2006.

The KEK ruled against the Springer takeover, saying that the combination of the broadcaster with Springer’s newspaper and magazine business, which includes the country’s No. 1 tabloid Bild, would have given it a dominating influence over public opinion.

ProSiebenSat.1 was subsequently purchased by a consortium lead by Haim Saban, which in turn sold it to a group of private equity firms lead by KKR and Permira. They are merging ProSiebenSat.1 with their SBS to create the second-largest Euro broadcast group after Bertelsmann’s RTL.

ProSiebenSat.1 has become “a plaything for foreign investors,” Bauer said, warning that the group may again be sold to other foreign investors or stripped of its assets.

“I think it’s a bad joke to say that it’s worse for the diversity of the German media market when a German media group buys ProSiebenSat.1 than when someone like Rupert Murdoch, a foreign media mogul who has already taken a major stake in (German pay TV platform) Premiere and who aims for market-dominating positions around the world, takes over this broadcaster. We see now where this logic has taken us,” Bauer said.

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