Premiere pact close

CEO: Euro financial investors dominate bid

BERLIN — Although Hollywood studios have passed on the ailing broadcaster, a takeover of German pay TV web Premiere is apparently close. Most of the bidders are financial investors from Europe, Premiere chief exec Georg Kofler told German newspaper Handelsblatt. No names were revealed, but Kofler reckons on closing a sale by year’s end.

The money-losing multichannel digital broadcaster, which Kofler values at between $2 billion and $3 billion, was partly responsible for the collapse of Leo Kirch’s media empire in April. Since then it has joined other Kirch assets on the sales block.

However, its immediate future looks dicey — after the insolvency of its parent Kirch Pay TV in May, the web received $100 million in bridge financing to hold it over until fall and will soon need fresh capital.

Despite this, Kofler hopes to increase subscribers from 2.4 million to 2.5 million by the end of the year and aims to break even in 2004.

Premiere’s auction appears to be going more smoothly than that of broadcasting and rights unit Kirch Media, which has been dragging since lenders shortlisted three bidding consortia, which include producer Haim Saban, Columbia TriStar and French TV group TF1.

Final bids for Kirch Media are due Tuesday.

Meanwhile, execs at Kirch Sport are preparing a management buyout — reportedly between $270 million and $340 million. Company holds lucrative rights to a wide range of sports events, including Word Cup soccer.

“We’ll win a great deal of support when we reveal which investor is backing us,” said a Kirch Sports spokesman.

Leo Kirch has reportedly considered buying back the unit. However, local press reports claim Karl Reichmuth, a private banker who holds a seat on Kirch Sport’s administrative board and has close ties to Leo Kirch, is playing a key role.

Munich-based kidvidder EM.TV is also considering making an offer for Kirch sports weblet DSF. EM.TV executive board member Rainer Huether ran DSF until last year.

In related news, publishing group WAZ has backed out of a deal to buy Kirch’s 40% stake in fellow publisher Axel Springer.

Conflicting opinions among WAZ shareholders, aggressive opposition from Springer and Kirch’s reported asking price of $1 billion appear to have led to the decision.

Kirch has until Tuesday to sell the stake or it goes to Deutsche Bank, which holds it against a $725 million loan.

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