Int'l firms seek a piece of German TV ad pie

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

Country's foreign-friendly ownership laws lure in big business

German TV's big turnaround is full of promise

Germany's booming market in local-language production, combined with its foreign-friendly ownership laws (unlike the U.S., Germany lets non-nationals buy its TV networks) has drawn an army of international companies making waves on the German TV scene. Here's a look at the latest players.

French group Banijay Entertainment got into the German market in a big way last year, buying 50% of Cologne-based Brainpool, the light entertainment genius behind hit format "Beat Your Host" and long-running sitcoms "Stromberg" -- a German take on "The Office" -- and "Pastewka," a Teutonic "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Das Vierte
Foreign ownership is nothing special for a German network. British and U.S. private-equity companies control ProSiebenSat.1. Disney owns half of kids channel SuperRTL. But Britain's SpiritOn Media is the latest international player to try to crack the competitive German market. SpiritOn bought Das Vierte in May from Russian investor Dmitrij Lesnewski, who picked it up two years ago from NBC Universal. Several relaunches and facelifts later, Das Vierte now languishes at the bottom of the ratings and content pile, filling airtime with softcore porn and teleshopping. The new boss, Ulrich Ende, hopes to revive it by investing in in-house production.

Shine Germany
Not one for half measures, Elizabeth Murdoch went wide with her German invasion plans by setting up two satellites for her Shine empire -- one in Munich, the other in Cologne. Shine Germany's start was somewhat tarnished when its first two shows, "My Life as an Animal" and "Sex With Mom and Dad," both flopped on RTL2. But its Teutonic take on NBC gameshow "Minute to Win It" has been a out-of-the-gate hit for Sat.1 and has already been renewed for a second season.

Sky Deutschland
Elizabeth Murdoch's father, Rupert Murdoch, has been trying for decades to crack the German TV market. The pattern is always the same: Murdoch buys a German network, pumps in the money and then, a few years later, sells at a loss. But this time, at least, Murdoch seems in it for the long haul. After buying about 45% of Premiere, Germany's biggest pay TV platform, News Corp. spared no expense bankrolling a costly restructuring and rebranding, baptizing the network Sky Deutschland to match News Corp.'s European money-spinners British Sky Broadcasting and Sky Italia. But Sky Deutschland is still deep in red ink and new CEO Brian Sullivan has yet to show that he can do what no one yet has managed in this market: Make money on subscriber-based TV.

Like Murdoch, Liberty Media boss John Malone has been trying to break into the German market for years. He finally managed with the buyout of cable giant Unitymedia. The Cologne-based provider boasts nearly 6.5 million subscribers and the rapid take up of so-called triple play offerings (phone, Internet, TV) has juiced cable revenues. But the loss of top soccer rights for Unitymedia's pay TV service Arena has left it dead in the water. Malone is still hungry though. Expect him to gobble up more German cable networks in the coming months.

Yellow Bird Pictures
The German division of Scandinavian production powerhouse Yellow Bird is the group behind international blockbuster "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Controlled by Zodiak Media, Yellow Bird is a division of Italian media conglomerate the DeAgostini Group. Yellow Bird's Munich office is in post on its first production -- a German miniseries based on a thriller by Swedish author Henning Mankell.
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