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Kirch to pare buyers list

Co. making headway on renegotiating film contracts

BERLIN — Bankrupt Teutonic TV titan Kirch Media is planning to pare down its list of potential buyers, which includes Sony, to one or two by September.

Execs at the company, the core terrestrial TV and rights division of the insolvent Kirch Group, said they are also making headway with Hollywood studios and indie producers on renegotiating film contracts.

“In September we will have determined the final investor or investors,” said Kirch Media interim chief exec Wolfgang van Betteray.

Van Betteray confirmed that at least three bidders — a consortium of German publishers Axel Springer and Heinrich Bauer; Commerzbank and Sony’s Columbia TriStar Intl. Television; and French broadcaster TF1 — are interested in the company.

Sounding optimistic, van Betteray said the new Kirch Media — a simpler, more transparent and integrated film- and sports-rights trader, broadcaster and production and technical outfit — is attracting positive attention. A Kirch Media sale could come next month, company said, with preliminary bids for Kirch Media reportedly as high as $2.5 billion.

Van Betteray said Kirch Media had benefited from lower-priced German soccer rights and the enhanced value of World Cup rights following this year’s successful tournament.

Company collapsed under billions of dollars of debt after overspending on film and sports rights for its lackluster pay TV division. But it managed to hold on to worldwide rights to the World Cup 2002 and 2006.

And in a move sure to enrage Germany’s pubcasters and also trigger a bidding war, Kirch Media execs hinted that the next World Cup tournament — to be held in Germany in 2006 — may be broadcast entirely on commercial TV here.

Most of the games of this year’s World Cup were carried by Kirch feevee Premiere; pubcasters ARD and ZDF aired all German national team matches.

According to Kirch Media executive board member Heinz-Joachim Ziems, Kirch Media hopes to sell the event to its own terrestrial broadcasters, including the ProSiebenSat 1 group and sports weblet DSF, or rival RTL Television. But it is not in talks with ARD or ZDF, which have lowered their own bids for Kirch’s sports rights since it filed for insolvency in April.

Predicting double-digit margins from the World Cup rights sale, Ziems said he expected more than half the 64 matches to be broadcast live on German free TV but added that the tournament could end up on terrestrial networks.

The future of Premiere, whose Kirch Pay TV parent company also filed for insolvency earlier this year, remains in question. Like Kirch Media, the pay web is in search of new investors.

Negotiations on the World Cup are due to close by the end of October.

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