German pub Verlag eyes Premiere stake

Third partner may solve ownership problem

BERLIN — German publishing house Axel Springer Verlag has indicated it may be interested in taking a stake in pay TV web Premiere. Springer chairman August Fischer told weekly news magazine Focus, “We are open to all offers.” And when asked directly about Premiere, he said, “Why not?”

A third partner is likely to be the solution to Premiere’s contested ownership structure. Since the German cartel authorities’ recent warning, and request for more concessions from Kirch and Bertelsmann in lieu of their requests to raise stakes in Premiere to 50% each, execs have indicated a third partner may be the answer.

Bertelsmann chief Mark Woessner recently mentioned a French partner as a long-term solution. German newspaper group WAZ was also under consideration.

At last week’s annual Bertelsmann conference, Woessner said he hoped the case would be resolved in the next four weeks but feared it might not be resolved this year, if it comes off at all.

Kirch manager Dieter Hahn told German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Friday that he thought it would be possible to reach an interim solution should the cartel authorities veto the reshuffle.

In May the EU blocked Kirch and Bertelsmann’s application to merge the Kirch Group’s digital pay TV channel DF-1 with Premiere, with each raising their stakes to 50%.

Michael Dornemann, Bertelsmann management board director for TV activities, spoke out Wednesday about the cartel authorities perceiving the current applications as the same as that blocked by the EU earlier this year. Dornemann pointed out this time that separate applications were handed in by Kirch and Bertelsmann, which only involve raising their stakes, not a merger.

Bertelsmann holds 37.5% and Kirch 25% in Premiere. The rest is held in a trusteeship.

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