Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. has picked up a 14.58% stake in German paybox Premiere from regional cabler Unitymedia, making it Premiere’s biggest shareholder.
News Corp. paid e287 million ($422.4 million), or $25.76 per share — above Premiere’s stock price, which shot up 24% on Monday to $23.25.
The stake was held in trust by Pictet & Cie on behalf of Unitymedia, which acquired a 16.7% stake in Premiere last year as part of a joint marketing deal for top league German soccer. Unitymedia had been expected to sell the stake by 2009.
News Corp.’s acquisition is certain to fuel further speculation of a possible takeover of Premiere.
Such rumors have been heating up in recent months, although speculation began as early as August when former CEO Georg Kofler left.
Industry observers have also predicted a possible takeover of Premiere by media mogul Leo Kirch and sports rights group EM.Sport after Kirch and the German Football League inked a marketing deal for Bundesliga soccer in October that runs from 2009-15. Soccer is the main driver of the paybox’s subscribers.
News Corp.’s move does not rep its first involvement with Premiere. Murdoch held a 22% stake in Premiere through BSkyB but was badly burned when the media empire of fellow shareholder Kirch, who founded Premiere, collapsed under a mountain of debt. BSkyB was forced to write off its whopping $1.4 billion investment in Premiere’s former parent, KirchPayTV.