German media mogul Leo Kirch dies at 84

German media mogul Leo Kirch has died at the age of 84. Kirch was one of the leading figures of the postwar German media industry, building a television empire that encompassed commercial free-to-air and pay television before suffering a rapid reversal of fortune in the 2000s.

After building a business in film rights that he sold on to broadcasters, Kirch became a pioneer of commercial TV when it was launched in Germany in the 1980s, taking control of the Sat.1 and Pro7 channels and merging them into ProSiebenSat.1 before launching pay TV channel Premiere in partnership with Bertelsmann and Canal Plus in 1991 and pay TV platform DF-1 in 1996 (the two merged to form Premiere World in 1999). He also held the rights to Formula 1 motorsport.

The failure of Premiere to make a profit and mounting debt problems run up through acquiring rights for the service led to his KirchMedia company filing for insolvency protection in 2002, the biggest bankruptcy in postwar German history at that point. Kirch subsequently lost control both of ProSiebenSat.1 and Premiere, which ultimately became Sky Deutschland, majority-owned by News Corp.

In addition to his TV interests, Kirch held the largest library of films outside the US and was the world’s largest licenser of film rights. In recent years Kirch, who lost his sight as a result of diabetes, acquired a stake in film group Constantin Media and made a failed bid for German premier league football rights. He was also involved in a long-running legal battle with Rolf Breuer, the former CEO of Deutsche Bank, who he blamed for causing his company’s collapse.

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