Kirch ups stakes in Highlight

EM.Sport takes further 6%

Leo Kirch’s EM.Sport Media has upped its stake in Swiss media group Highlight Communications to 43.6% as the groups continue their merger.

EM.Sport acquired 6% from Highlight topper Bernhard Burgener for E16.5 million ($26.1 million) and some 2.3 million EM.Sport shares amounting to a 3% stake in the group. Burgener will take the reins at EM.Sport in September, replacing Werner Klatten.

EM.Sport wants a 47% stake in Highlight, which owns producer-distrib Constantin Film as well as sports rights agency Team. Team has rights to Champions League soccer through 2012.

But EM.Sport is unlikely to acquire a majority stake due to Team’s deal with European soccer federation UEFA, which owns 20% of Team and holds a first-buy option in the case of a sale.

Nevertheless, EM.Sport is still expected to consolidate Highlight, 42.5% of which is publicly traded.

Meanwhile, German antitrust regulators continue to oppose Kirch’s bid to produce and market top league Bundesliga soccer.

The German Football League, which governs local soccer, last year inked with Kirch’s Sirius SportMedia to market Bundesliga broadcast rights as well as produce and sell ready-to-air Bundesliga programs.

That deal looks likely to collapse as the Cartel Office believes that pubcaster ARD should keep its soccer news summary at 6:30 p.m. Pushing it to 10 p.m., as Kirch wanted, would force viewers to subscribe to pay TV and strengthen the league’s and Kirch’s dominant positions.

Stripping ARD of its early evening sports wrap-up would have made pay TV rights that much more lucrative: Kirch had guaranteed the Deutsche Fussball Liga some $792 million per season.

Commercial TV reps have taken the watchdog to task, saying it favors the already dominant and deep-pocketed pubcasters.

Juergen Doetz, prexy of the Assn. of Commercial Broadcasters and Telecommunication, called the Cartel Office’s position “massive one-sided favoritism.”

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