Neun Live under fire for phony phone bills

World Brief

BERLIN — Munich’s district attorney’s office is investigating German web Neun Live web for allegedly fraudulent business practices after the channel boosted revenue 187% to $66 million in 2002 thanks to call-in quiz shows.

Prosecutors are examining complaints from callers who dialed the web’s 53¢ toll number to answer easy quiz questions and were charged for the call even if they didn’t get through. Some callers notched up $500 phone bills.

The web registered 173 million calls last year and it’s aiming to increase that number in 2003.

Neun Live refutes the charges and prosecutors say the probe could last weeks.

The channel, which airs erotic programming and home shopping and travel shows, has amazed industry observers by swimming against the tide in Germany’s dire media market.

It made a pretax profit of $12 million for 2002, up from a $28 million loss the previous year — and that without a reliance on advertising.

The channel is 46% owned by USA Interactive’s Home Shopping Europe, Germany’s ProSiebenSat.1 (48%), Neun Live topper Christiane zu Salm (3%) and Georg Kofler, head of German pay broadcaster Premiere, (3%).

Meanwhile, Former Napster topper Konrad Hilbers has been named new CEO of USA Interactive’s Home Shopping Europe.

His appointment was announced Wednesday, but Hilbers assumed the post March 27.

Hilbers replaces John Watson, who has become supervisory board chairman at the company.

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