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Knives out for Kirch

Creditor banks set to review takeover bids

MUNICH — Kirch Media creditor banks, now calling the shots at the company, will begin reviewing offers for the fallen broadcasting giant today.

Up to 10 groups are said to be in the running for the Kirch Group division, which controls Germany’s biggest broadcast unit ProSiebenSat 1 Media — covering channels Sat 1, ProSieben, Kable 1 and news channel N24 — a vast film library and lucrative sports rights including German soccer.

Bidders include U.S. billionaire producer Haim Saban, looking to invest some of the $1.4 billion from the sale of Fox Family Worldwide to Disney; a consortium of Sony’s Columbia TriStar and Commerzbank, which is owed $364 million by Kirch Media; and German publishers Axel Springer, which already holds 11.5% in ProSiebenSat 1, and Heinrich Bauer.

Rupert Murdoch, who exercised a $1.7 billion put option to force Kirch to buy back his stake in Kirch Media’s sister division Kirch Pay TV, which then pushed it into bankruptcy, has been conspicuously absent from negotiations.

Kirch’s main creditors are to review the offers and decide which consortia they will allow a closer look at the books — which could be a telling time.

German publisher WAZ, which was part of the Sony bid, pulled out after it reportedly got a glimpse of the balance sheets.

Commerzbank values the company at $1.8 billion, but industry watchers say that is too low. USB Warburg is handling Kirch Media’s insolvency.

Meanwhile, Kirch Media has surprised the industry by hanging on to the rights to national soccer for the next two seasons in a move that could safeguard the future of Germany’s only paybox, Premiere, part of Kirch Pay TV.

Kirch Media will pay the soccer league Bundesliga $574 million plus a one-off $49 million in a deal hammered out late Friday.

Kirch Media, which has held the rights for 10 years, beat off a rival bid from Herbert Kloiber, whose Tele Munchen Group allegedly offered more.

It will share rights with Premiere. Soccer is a staple of the cash-strapped paybox; without it, the channel would have gone under.

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