Murdoch weighs Teutonic options

German industry awaits News Corp. decision

BERLIN — When Rupert Murdoch speaks on the topic of “Investments in the Information Society” Sunday at the Media Forum NRW confab in Cologne, industryites will be on the edge of their seats: Will he or won’t he announce a major move into the German TV market?

Rumors regarding potential Murdoch investments in Germany abound. Up to now, the media titan’s attempts to get involved in Teutonic TV have resulted only in News Intl.’s acquisition of a 49.9% stake in Cologne-based netlet Vox (1997 market share: 3%).

Past announcements of Murdoch’s BSkyB partnering with Bertelsmann, and then rival Leo Kirch, in digital television projects came to nothing.

But the European Commission’s recent rejection of the proposed digital pay TV merger of Kirch and Bertelsmann-affiliated CLT-Ufa may open up new opportunities for Murdoch.

Premiere enticing

Investment in pay TV web Premiere — with its 1.65 million analog and 120,000 digital subscribers — could be especially enticing.

Currently, CLT-Ufa holds a 37.5% stake in the web, while Kirch owns 25%. CLT-Ufa and Kirch had planned to buy out Canal Plus’ 37.5% share in Premiere but are now banned from doing so by the Commission.

But there is a potential barrier to BSkyB’s purchasing a piece of Premiere: Kirch would reportedly welcome Murdoch, but Bertelsmann is said to be wary of him.

CLT-Ufa has already submitted a new application with German antitrust authorities to raise its share in Premiere to 50%, Munich-based daily Suddeutsche Zeitung reported in its Friday edition.

Murdoch could also change his mind about his involvement in DF1.

Following the collapse of the merger with CLT-Ufa, Kirch said that without the support of a partner, DF1 would be forced to shut down. Finally, Murdoch may simply announce he is increasing his stake in Vox. Twentieth Century Fox TV Intl. president Mark Kaner recently told the German press that Murdoch would like to buy out the other Vox shareholders — including CLT-Ufa.