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Update Premieres massive share fall - 06-October-2008, 13:20

Premieres massive share fall

As exclusively revealed by Rapid TV News late on Oct 2, the fall-out at Germanys pay-TV operator Premiere and its over-stated subscriber numbers, had severe repercussions on the German stock market.

The profits warning saw share prices plunge, tumbling more than 50% on Oct 3 by 4.67 to 4.60. There could be further falls today, Oct 6 especially given that in after-hours trading on Friday the shares fell a further 14%.

Newly appointed CEO Mark Williams says that Premiere will now suffer considerably higher operating losses this year. His CFO, Alex Teschner has, not unreasonably, been let go. Premiere has wiped more than 1m subs from its numbers which means the broadcaster has now only 2.1m true subs (compared with a previously claimed 3.55m directly sold subscribers).

As our Jorn Krieger reported on Oct 2, the number of indirect subscribers, which access Premieres package through third-party distribution partners Arena/Unitymedia and T-Home in Germany, UPC and Liwest in Austria and Teleclub in Switzerland, amounted to 704,000 on September 30. On June 30 the figure stood at 603,114. So 940,000 households have been excluded from the subscriber figures. Most of them (606,000) relate only to agreements with business partners and have not yet resulted in subscription activations. 334,000 households still possess a Premiere smartcard, but their subscription contracts have been terminated and they are not currently paying for services, said Krieger.

Mark Williams is now taking over CFO duties until a replacement is found. "We're thoroughly examining all areas of the company and are confident that this will result in a new strategic direction with a financially sound business plan that will support further growth and profitability for Premiere," Williams said. He has plenty of CFO experience having been News Corp finance boss covering its European and Asian operations, alongside James Murdoch.

News Corp owns 25% of the business, and cynics might suggest now was a very good time to increase its stake, but Germany has a 30% threshold at which point News Corp would be obliged to make a takeover offer to minority shareholders. Premieres market capitalisation is now at a bargain basement figure of just 500m. Premieres shares have now fallen a spectacular 74% since Rupert Murdoch first bought into the business earlier this year.

However, the first hurdle is a debt restructuring operation and while the markets seem to see few hurdles ahead, and especially helped by the News Corp imprint, Mark Williams told analysts that there was no breach of Premieres banking covenents it had started discussions with prospective lenders. Premiere signed a five-year 425m loan back in April 2005.

The second, near-simultainious move must be to secure the broadcast rights for Germany's top soccer league, the Bundesliga, which is a major subscription driver. Williams said Premiere would still be able to bid for the rights, despite the mess.
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