COLOGNE, Germany – Disney is looking to further expand in the German television market – according to media reports, the U.S. studio is circling German cable channel Das Vierte (The Fourth), the network once owned by NBC Universal.
German media industry website DWDL reports that Disney is bidding for Das Vierte, which is currently owned by Russian media executive Dmitry Lesnevsky.
Disney already has a strong presence in the German TV market. The group holds a 50 percent stake in leading kids channel Super RTL (Bertelsmann’s RTL Group holds the remaining 50 percent) and controls, together with Herbert Kloiber‘s Tele-Munchen Group, a 31.5 percent stake in free-to-air channel RTL II. Disney also operates pay TV channels the Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD and Disney Cinemagic in Germany.
What’s missing in the studio’s German TV empire is a free TV channel Disney controls outright. If Disney were to take over Das Vierte, it could relaunch it as a Disney-branded family channel – a move that would put it in direct competition with Super RTL – or use it to launch a German version of sports network ESPN. Any deal would have to be approved by Germany’s media watchdogs and competition authorities.
Disney in Germany declined to comment on the report.
Lesnevsky acquired Das Vierte from NBC Universal back in 2007 with an eye to rebranding and then reselling the money-losing network which has a meager 0.2 percent share of the German television audience. Lesnevsky planned to sell the channel to German group Phoenix Media in 2010 but that deal fell through.
Germany has Europe’s largest free TV market and the territory has proved largely recession-resistant, making it especially attractive for outside investors. But Germany’s crowded and complex free TV landscape has proved a tough nut to crack for international studios. NBC Universal was unable to turn a profit with Das Vierte. Rupert Murdoch‘s News Corp bought free-to-air channel TM3 from Herbert Kloiber back in 1999 only to sell it off – at a loss – two years later. Murdoch has since abandoned free TV in Germany, preferring to concentrate on building up News Corp’s pay TV operation Sky Deutschland.