Manfred Puffer, chief executive of Kirch Gruppe’s troubled pay-TV arm Premiere World, rained on his employer’s parade yesterday, the announcement of his unexpected exit coinciding with a fanfare hailing Premiere’s adoption of a common digital TV standard with German public service broadcasters ARD and ZDF.

Premiere World, which has thus far failed to meet any of its economic targets, has drained billions of deutschmarks from Kirch Gruppe’s ample coffers. In the hot seat for less than a year, Puffer was the second PW chief executive to quit, emulating his predecessor Ferdinand Keyser.

Although no official reason has been given for Puffer’s ausgang, insiders say it was his opposition to sharing PW’s D-Box receiver technology with ARD and ZDF. The adoption of a common standard with its rivals is seen by Kirch as vital to the staunching of the cash-haemorrhage.

Until yesterday’s agreement, the public service broadcasters, along with RTL, were using different and incompatible technologies for the receipt of dTV transmissions. PW’s decision to open up its D-Box to others is expected to achieve savings amounting to hundreds of millions of euros.

According to Kirch, the deal assures the continuation of plans for a Premiere World IPO in 2003, although it remained zip-lipped as to when the broadcaster might emerge from the red. PW is controlled by Kirch Pay-TV, in turn jointly owned by media moguls Leo Kirch (70%) and Rupert Murdoch (22.3%).

News source: Handelsblatt (Germany)