Eutelsat, Tele Columbus pact for digital

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BERLIN -- European Satellite Provider Eutelsat has signed a non-exclusive digital alliance with Germany's third largest cable operator Tele Columbus to provide digital free-TV services to Tele Columbus' 3.2 million connected cable homes.

Tele Columbus already receives Eutelsat's pay TV bouquet, Kabel Kiosk, but gets its free-TV offerings spliced in from its larger cable competitors.

"It was our goal to stay independent from the larger (German) cable operators KDG, Unity or KabelBW," said Tele Columbus CEO Markus Schmid, explaining the reasons behind the deal. "In order to do so we also have to be able to provide all the big digital free-to-air channels like ProSiebenSat.1 or the public channels. So far this has only been possible via the big operators."

Tele Columbus is in the process of merging with smaller German cable operator Primacom. Luxembourg-based investment group Escaline, which bought up Tele Columbus in 2006, recently acquired the publicly listed Primacom. Once Primacom has been integrated, the joint cable network will reach over four million German homes.

Schmid said he expects to be providing the first 22 channels from Eutelsat by mid-year and hopes to quickly upgrade the service to include HD-TV offerings.

For Eutelsat, the Tele Columbus agreement marks a major move into Germany, a territory where it lags far behind satellite competitor ASTRA. Kabel Kiosk managing director Martina Rutenbeck said she would immediately begin negotiations will other independent German cable operators to convince them to take their free-TV bouquets from Eutelsat.
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