News Corp. gets more of Premiere

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COLOGNE, Germany -- News Corp. has strengthened its hold on leading German pay TV group Premiere, boosting its stake from 19.9% to 22.7%

Based on Premiere's current share price, the deal cost News Corp. about 44 million euros ($70 million) for the extra 2.8% in the company.

The move was expected. Rumors that Rupert Murdoch was aiming to increase his share of Premiere caused the stock to shoot up last week (HR 3/31).

The deal makes it even more likely that Murdoch will push for a seat on Premiere's supervisory board at the company's annual shareholder meeting in the summer in Munich.

Many analysts expect News Corp. to continue buying up Premiere stock but expect the company to keep its stake below the 30% mark, above which News Corp. would be required to make a buyout offer to Premiere minority shareholders.

News Corp. is making its move on Premiere as the company is amid a battle for key sports rights. The Bundesliga, Germany's top soccer league and Premiere's most valuable programming asset, comes up for renewal in the coming weeks,.

The German pay TV group has locked horns with media mogul Leo Kirch, who is marketing the rights, because Premiere wants to buy raw game footage to produce its own in-house shows, while Kirch intends to produce and sell prepackaged soccer programming to German broadcasters.

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