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When Georg Kofler took over as CEO of Munich-based KirchPayTV in January, the unit's main shareholder, KirchMedia, was lurching toward insolvency. Premiere World, the name under which the pay-TV service is marketed, was burning through $1.6 million a day.
The job wasn't even much of a promotion for the 45-year-old German. In the mid-1990s, Kofler served as the CEO of the Kirch-controlled commercial broadcaster now known as ProSiebenSat.1, and he took it public in 1997. He then struck out on his own in 2000, taking over Hot Networks, a profitable home-shopping channel.
So why did Kofler take the job? Associates say the veteran TV exec is convinced that pay-TV can become the fastest growing segment of the home-entertainment industry. (Kofler himself declined to comment.) "He is one of the few that not only has a vision, but also the capability to put the vision into action," says Wolfgang Bock, Munich-based head of European media for Mercer Management Consulting. Still, Kofler's job got a lot harder on May 8, when KirchPayTV declared itself insolvent, two months after the parent company.
Kofler has moved quickly to boost subscribers and cut costs. He introduced a basic fee of $4.50 a month--less than a third of what Premiere charges for premium sports or film packages--hoping to make up the lost revenue by charging extra for events such as major-league football. The low fee is helping Premiere add 1,000 subscribers a day to its 2.4 million, about double last year's rate of increase. Meanwhile, Kofler is slashing Premiere World's 2,400-person staff by 1,000. Since January, he has saved $135 million and pared Premiere World's daily loss well below $1 million, insiders say.
Kofler's aim is to prepare Premiere for sale. Buyers could include Rupert Murdoch's British pay-TV unit British Sky Broadcasting Group or German media giant Bertelsmann. Kofler insists he wants to stick around long enough to complete the turnaround at Premiere. But there's already speculation he could be tapped to head a reorganized Kirch Group. Stay tuned for Kofler's next death-defying act.