Majors try salvaging Teutonic territory

H'w'd works to perk pay TV scene

The Hollywood majors are trying to band together to salvage what they can from the wreckage of Germany’s Kirch Group — and put pay TV in the Teutonic territory back on its feet.

Even with the Kirch Group in tatters, Hollywood believes the territory should still be one of the most lucrative: The majors just have to figure out how to recoup what they can from Kirch and rethink the market now that he is no longer a middleman for their product.

Several said they thought the German landscape would not be clearly redefined until the fall.

In the meantime, international TV execs from Warner Bros., Columbia TriStar, Universal, Disney and Paramount all recently trekked to Munich to discuss with Kirch and caretaker bank reps plans to take over and run movie channels on Kirch’s failed Premiere World paybox.

In exchange for ownership and marketing control of such channels, the Hollywood majors might forgive Kirch much of the remaining millions on his megabuck output deals for their movies.

The majors have experience working together as co-owner-managers of movie channels abroad, in the Far East with HBO Asia and in Latin America in various partnerships.

Complicating matters, Rupert Murdoch, who holds a 22% stake in Kirch Pay TV, is apparently still discussing his own company’s role in the post-Kirch Teutonic TV world. His longtime dream is to extend the Sky brand across continental Europe, as he has done across the British Isles, Asia and Latin America.

Premiere World could be transformed into a satcaster a la BSkyB, with many of its channels carried by Teutonic cable operators like Primacom.

Primacom, in fact, just picked up Universal’s mystery and suspense channel 13th Street, which had been carried exclusively on Premiere World’s multichannel digital platform.

The cabler looks close to adding U’s other movie outlet, Studio Universal — also beamed on Premiere World.

Stephan Koenigfeld, head of Primacom’s PrimaTV division, says he’s in talks with the Hollywood majors about possibilities, including more studio channels.

German cable execs say they are surprised at how far advanced Hollywood studios’ business plans are for reorganizing their business in the territory.

Premiere chief Georg Kofler may have more success concluding deals with Hollywood than the insolvency experts now running the show at sister division Kirch Media.

Hans Reischl, head of retail giant and Kirch shareholder Rewe, has blasted new Kirch consultants Wolfgang van Betteray and Hans-Joachim Ziems, who he described as “totally inexperienced” in dealing with Hollywood studios or with the media industry.

Other media watchers still anticipate a Kirch Pay TV insolvency, which would give Premiere a clean slate on which to ink new deals with Hollywood.

Meanwhile, Kirch Media’s bankruptcy continues to rock Germany.

Company founder Leo Kirch filed a lawsuit against Deutsche Bank chief exec Rolf Breuer last week accusing him of slander; newspaper giant Axel Springer is set to file its own multimillion dollar lawsuit against Kirch Media after the company failed to honor a $700 million put option; and USA Networks is cutting off funds to German shopping web HOT Networks, its money-losing joint venture with Kirch’s son Thomas Kirch.

Leo Kirch is suing Breuer for comments he made in an interview in February, which cast doubt on Kirch’s creditworthiness, and for betraying business confidentiality.

Deutsche Bank, which has rejected the charges, is a major Kirch creditor. Breuer made the comments as Kirch’s financial troubles were coming to a head, causing uproar at the company.

The discovery of various undisclosed transactions, including $132 million to Thomas Kirch for his H.O.T. investment, thwarted efforts by banks and minority shareholders to restructure Kirch Media, leading to its insolvency last month.