CLT-Ufa unswayed on Vox

Company turns cold shoulder to Rupe

COLOGNE, Germany — Bertelsmann AG’s unit CLT-Ufa on Monday turned a cold shoulder to Rupert Murdoch after the global media tycoon urged the German TV giant to invest in their joint Vox channel or move out of the way.

In a high-profile appearance in Germany over the weekend, Murdoch said he wanted to transform Vox from a niche channel into a major force with at least 10% of the market.

“We don’t want to sell,” said Rolf Schmidt-Holtz, chairman of CLT-Ufa, Europe’s biggest broadcaster.

“For this reason we see no movement at Vox. We have a very long-term contract with Murdoch and we will stick to it. If Murdoch wants to invest in Vox, he is more than welcome.”

Murdoch met Gerhard Schroeder, the Social Democrat challenger to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, on Sunday after a keynote speech in which he criticized Bertelsmann and Bavarian media mogul Leo Kirch for carving up the market between themselves.

Markus Tellenbach, managing director of Vox, said Murdoch left Germany on Monday, earlier than planned, to tend to “urgent unexpected business.” He did not elaborate.

Murdoch, who controls the sprawling media empire News Corp., said over the weekend that he wanted to raise his 49.9% stake in Vox and invest heavily in the station, which he said ranks as a minnow among Germany’s commercial broadcasters.

CLT-Ufa owns a 24.9% stake in Vox, as does France’s Canal Plus.

Despite being the larger shareholder, Murdoch cannot outvote Bertelsmann on investment decisions because any decision requires an 80% majority, Vox officials said.

In order to build up Vox, Murdoch either must gain control of the station or convince the other shareholders to agree to his plan to invest as much as 700 million marks to haul Vox into the television big league.

But Bertelsmann, fearing competition for its prime RTL channel, says the market is saturated with four big feature channels and 34 channels in total and has no interest in creating new competition for RTL.

Meanwhile, speculation began to emerge during the Cologne Media Forum that regulators could turn a critical eye to the Premiere pay TV venture owned by Bertelsmann and Kirch.

Murdoch in his speech had welcomed the European Commission’s recent decision to block a digital pay TV alliance be-tween Bertelsmann, Kirch and phone giant Deutsche Telekom.

He also urged Brussels to force Premiere to make its digital TV platform available to other program operators.

Gerd Tenzer, who as board member at Deutsche Telekom is in charge of cable television, said it was necessary to have a strong player in the pay TV market to break the ground for digital television.

“I am convinced that we need a single strong operator to gain the distribution. At the moment I only see Premiere,” he said.