ProSiebenSat.1 results awash in red ink

But no plans to sell channels, cut acquisition budgets

COLOGNE, Germany -- European broadcasting group ProSiebenSat.1 says it will not sell off assets or cut its acquisitions budget for U.S. programming despite sour 2008 figures, which showed a net loss of 129.1 million euros ($162 million) and a 5.7% decline in consolidated revenue to 3.1 billion euros ($3.8 billion).

"Our programming budget for U.S. acquisitions last year was in line with 2007 and we expect it to remain stable for 2009," Andreas Bartl, head of ProSiebenSat.1's core German free-TV division, said on a conference call following Wednesday's publication of the results.

Bartl noted that ProSieben will focus on its existing volume deals with its U.S. studio partners: Sony, Paramount, Warner Bros., MGM and Disney-ABC.

So far, ProSieben has been true to its word, paying top dollar for movies such as "Indiana Jones and the Secret of the Crystal Skull," new series including "The Mentalist" and re-upping such established shows as "Navy NCIS," "Cold Case," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives."

But with 3.4 billion euros ($4.2 billion) in debt and ProSieben shares near an all-time low, the TV giant said it will chop 100 million euros ($125 million) from its budget in 2009. New CEO Thomas Ebeling expects the bulk of savings to come from already-implemented cost-cutting measures, including the move of German network Sat.1 from Berlin to corporate headquarters outside of Munich and a new technical setup designed to improve efficiency.

While reducing its debt load remains a key priority, Ebeling said that ProSieben had no plans to sell off assets, again denying rumors that the group was looking to drop its struggling call-in channel 9Live.

ProSieben would not give any forecast for 2009, saying the ongoing economic crisis has made it impossible to predict how European markets will develop in the coming months. But sales chief Klaus-Peter Schultz struck an optimistic note.

"Yes we can ... increase market share," he said, noting that ,so far this year, ProSiebenSat.1's core German channels have accounted for a 43.6% share of the ad market, compared with 41.1% for all of 2008.
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