Das Vierte offers growth potential

BERLIN — Disney is expanding its television operations in Germany with the acquisition of free TV channel Das Vierte.

Disney announced on Tuesday it had inked a deal with Russian media entrepreneur Dmitri Lesnevski for the web. The agreement to buy Das Vierte provides the Mouse House “with a number of options to expand its broadcast capabilities in Germany,” although the deal remains subject to approval by the Bundeskartellamt, Germany’s federal competition authority.

If successful, the acquisition would give Disney’s its first wholly owned free-to-air channel in Germany. The company already owns a 50% stake in leading tyke channel Super RTL and a 15.75% stake in RTL 2 (via its ABC Cable and International Broadcast Worldwide Holdings) in addition to pay outlets like Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD and Disney Cinemagic.

Dominated by pubcaster giants ARD and ZDF and commercial rival RTL and ProSiebenSat.1, Germany’s highly competitive TV market remains difficult for independent players. In addition, with more than 60 free-to-air commercial and public channels, it’s also nearly saturated.

Launched by NBCUniversal in 2005, Das Vierte failed to make headway in the local TV market. NBCU sold it in 2008 to Lesnevski, who had hoped to grow Das Vierte as a general entertainment channel.

The web, however, has remained seemingly rudderless, managing just a 0.2% share last year.

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