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EM.TV sells Constantin stake to Swiss co.

Co. was only media group to escape Neuer Markt crash

BERLIN — German TV license trader EM.TV has sold its 16.4% stake in Constantin Film, Germany’s leading independent producer-distrib, to Swiss-based Highlight Communications for $$8.2 million plus a loan “in single-digit millions.”

Highlight, a home entertainment-oriented distributor, becomes majority shareholder with 41.4% of the publicly listed company. Constantin topper Bernd Eichinger retains 25.1%.

The sale had been expected since Highlight picked up a stake in Constantin held by bankrupt media mogul Leo Kirch last year.

In accordance with German law, Highlight said it would make an offer to Constantin’s minority shareholders for the remaining 33.5%.

With a slew of locally made hits including the Oscar-winning “Nowhere in Africa,” “Resident Evil,” “Bibi Blocksberg” and “Manitou’s Shoe,” Constantin has become Germany’s only listed media company to escape the Neuer Markt crash with only minor wounds. Constantin saw a 3% rise in sales last year to $144 million while cutting net losses by 90% to $1.2 million.

The deal comes at a good time for EM.TV as it gears up to buy Kirch’s sport channel DSF and Internet platform Sport1, along with retail giant KarstadtQuelle and Swiss sporting goods entrepreneur Hans-Deter Cleven. EM.TV also aims to take over Kirch’s technical service provider Plazamedia.

“Through the sale of our Constantin shares, we achieve two goals,” said EM.TV chief exec Werner Klatten. “We sell a financial holding that had no strategic importance for EM.TV. And we can use the cash inflow to finance our planned strategic investment in DSF, Sport1 and Plazamedia.”

EM.TV said the Highlight loan, which is due at the end of the year, would also be used for the Kirch acquisitions.

However, the cash-strapped company is facing a loan payment of $30 million to creditors at the end of the month. EM.TV is hoping to sell its 100%-owned Jim Henson Co. to meet that sum.

The EM.TV consortium has inked an initial contract for DSF and the other assets, but the deal has yet to be finalized by Kirch’s creditor banks, who could still entertain other offers.

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