One-time media mogul Leo Kirch, one of the pioneers of German pay-TV, has died in Munich at the age of 84.
Leo Kirch controlled the holding company ProSiebenSat.1 until his KirchMedia entered into well-publicised bankruptcy in 2002. Up to that time, Kirch also owned the Premiere pay-TV platform.
As the founder and main shareholder of KirchGroup, Kirch began his activities in the 1950s with a holding firm that bought up mainly US TV rights and then sold them on to the public broadcasters. With a grand vision, he started to build a broadcasting empire that would control all the stages of exploitation: buying up the rights, then bringing them to premium pay-TV and later on to free TV.
However, the premium business proved to be fatal, and it was mainly the losses incurred at Premiere that led to his bankruptcy in 2002
Kirch launched Premiere’s predecessor, Teleclub, as the first German pay-TV operation, in Switzerland at the beginning of 1988. Two years later, KirchGroup, UFA and Canal+ went on to form Premiere, with the service officially making its debut on February 28, 1991.
Teleclub has since been screened only in Switzerland, its German subscribers having been integrated into Premiere.
When on July 28, 1996, DF1 was launched as the first digital pay-TV offering in Germany, with the KirchGroup as its major shareholder. Building a complete platform, Kirch chose to form a vertically integrated business. The technical company BetaTechnik meanwhile developed the so-called d-box with its own encryption system, known as BetaCrypt.
After his bankruptcy, Kirch continued to look to make a comeback, his Sirius business securing the rights to market the Bundesliga for a five-year period from 2009, until the competition authorities intervened.