Viv U finds Babelsberg taker

Facility sold for one euro in debt-reduction deal

HOLLYWOOD — Vivendi Universal is selling Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam, Germany, to a Teutonic investors group for just e1 ($1.23), the conglom announced Tuesday.

Paris-based Viv U also will pay $22 million to the group, led by Carl Woebcken and Christoph Fisser, which will assume the studio’s debt. The transaction continues the conglom’s asset sale.

Fisser heads Munich-based Studio Atelierbetriebe Babelsberg, Woebcken is managing director of Berlin Animation Film, a fund specializing in animated pics.

The disposal hinged on the amount of debt the buyers would assume.

Bidders included Babelsberg’s management, headed by Thierry Potok, and German pubcasting group ARD, which wanted to take over the facil through its subsid Studio Hamburg.

However, Potok wanted $24 million to take Babelsberg off Viv U’s hands, while ARD was said to be demanding about $49 million.

Vivendi acquired Babelsberg in 1992 and has sunk some $500 million into the complex, which first opened for film production in 1912.

In addition to being saddled with tax debt, the studio has contractual obligations to Germany’s federal privatization agency that oversaw the sale of state assets from the former East Germany. There is also political pressure from the state of Brandenburg to keep as many of the studio’s 250 employees as possible.

Despite its problems, including an abundance of studio competition in Europe, Babelsberg has seen a dramatic 20% upturn in business over the past year.

It recorded $35 million in revenue last year thanks to high-profile pics “The Bourne Supremacy”; Kevin Spacey’s Bobby Darin biopic, “Beyond the Sea”; and Jackie Chan starrer “Around the World in 80 Days.”

In an effort to attract international productions, Babelsberg launched a $12.5 million yearly film financing scheme in January backed by the German state of Brandenburg to co-finance projects shot at the studio.

Titles being shot at Babelsberg will not be affected by the change in shareholding. The buyers intend to keep film activities and attract television production.

(Ed Meza in Berlin and Christian Koehl in Cologne contributed to this report.)

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