Kirch comeback almost complete

EM.Sport Media merging with Highlight

COLOGNE, Germany -- Six years after his television colossus KirchMedia collapsed under a mountain of debt -- the largest bankruptcy in modern German history -- Leo Kirch's new empire has emerged.

Assuming a few legal and regulatory hurdles are cleared, Kirch's Munich-based EM.Sport Media will soon merge with Swiss rights group Highlight Communications to create one of Europe's largest media conglomerates, with annual revenue of nearly $800 million.

The marriage will create a sports rights giant -- Highlight controls rights to the UEFA Champions League; EM owns German sports channel DSF; and Kirch's holding company KF 15 holds the rights to Germany's top soccer league, Bundesliga. Together, it comprises a $4.7 billion prize.

But the merger also will give Kirch control of Highlight subsidiary Constantin Film, Germany's leading indie distribution/production outfit.

With its theatrical focus, Constantin is an odd fit for the new sports-focused EM-Highlight group. New EM boss and Highlight president Bernhard Burgener has assured shareholders that Constantin will remain a key part of the company and key executives in the film and TV production operations have extended their contracts.

But expect selloff rumors to dog the Munich-based film group for a while to come.