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CANAL+ SAYS SI, SI

Gallic paybox seeks Leo's Telepiu stake

MILAN — French pay-TV giant Canal Plus said it’s ready to take over Leo Kirch’s 45% in Italy’s Telepiu, bringing its stake in the Milan-based pay-TV company to 90%.

The deal would be part of a larger agreement between Canal Plus and Kirch, including their joint activities in Germany.

According to industry sources, the French group would not hold on to 90% of Telepiu (Silvio Berlusconi’s Finin-vest holds a 10% stake) but would sell part of its shares to Italian investors.

At the right price

“If Kirch offers us a very good price” for Canal Plus’ 37.5% in German paybox Premiere “and adds to that the control of Telepiu, we might consider withdrawing from Premiere,” Canal Plus International’s general manager Michel Thoulouze told Daily Variety. Kirch has a 25% stake in Premiere.

According to persistent rumors in the TV industry, which the Kirch Group just as persistently denies, the German conglom would sell its share in Telepiu to focus on Germany, where its digital TV efforts are struggling.

On the other hand, Canal Plus, which gained a foothold in Telepiu upon its acquisition of Nethold, has said several times that Italy is a priority market. In the last few weeks, the French group launched a restructuring plan of Tele-piu, including job cuts.

Recouped money invested

According to Thoulouze, “This restructuring plan, launched with the agreement of Kirch, Fininvest and Nethold, has already recouped the Italian company $125 million, part of which will be invested in programs, the relaunch of the network and better customer service.”

“In the past, Telepiu made very serious mistakes: If it adopted Canal Plus-style methods, Telepiu’s subscribers would not be only 800,000 but two million,” Thoulouze said.

Telepiu currently has more than 830,000 subscribers for its analog terrestrial service. The digital satellite package, which launched last September, has signed up only 55,000 subscribers, though estimates were that there would be at least 100,000 by the end of 1996.

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