Red Bull eyes Premiere partnership

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COLOGNE, Germany -- Austrian-based energy drinks giant Red Bull is circling Premiere as the German pay TV group comes under increasing legal and financial pressure.

Red Bull is looking to negotiate a "strategic partnership" with Premiere, according to reports Monday in the German media.

A cooperation between the two companies is not as far-fetched as it might seem. Red Bull already is active in several sporting events, including auto racing and professional soccer, which form a key part of Premiere's programming.

Both Premiere and Red Bull declined comment Monday.

Also on Monday, the state attorney's office in Hamburg said Premiere CEO Georg Kofler is under investigation on suspicion of fraud in connection with the cancellation of several hundred Premiere subscriptions earlier this year.

A German consumer protection group last week filed a class-action suit against Premiere on behalf of 250 subscribers (HR 11/21). The suit claims Premiere continued to charge the customers monthly fees even after they had cancelled their pay TV subscriptions.

The Hamburg state attorney's office is now investigating the company and its chief executive. If the claims are substantiated, Premiere and Kofler could be charged with fraud.

Premiere denies any wrongdoing in connection with the investigation and the class-action suit.

There also were reports Monday that two of Premiere's key investors are pulling out of the company.

The Financial Times Deutschland reported that Irish Bank and Germany's WestLB have both sold the bulk of their Premiere shares to hedge funds and private investment banks. According to the report, the banks sold at a loss of between 2%-5%.

Just two weeks ago, investment group Permira sold off its 8.4% stake in Premiere -- almost 7 million shares -- to institutional investors (HR 11/13). Analysts said the sale was to clear the way for a possible takeover by Permira and investment house KKR of Haim Saban's German broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1.

Premiere shares fell 2.5% to €12.13 ($15.92) in late trading Monday.

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