Leo Kirch, who built a German media empire through acquiring rights to movies, TV series and sports, only to see it crumble into the biggest bankruptcy in Germany since World War II, died today. He was 84. Kirch was a co-founder in the 1980s of the German commercial network Sat.1, which eventually merged with ProSieben Media to become one of the biggest broadcasting companies in Europe. At its peak, the media magnate’s Kirch Holding GmbH was valued at $5 billion — it had rights to more than 63,000 films, TV shows and sporting events, including two World Cup soccer tournaments. But a foray into the untapped German pay-TV field in the mid-1990s started his company’s downfall. He poured more than $3 billion into the service, Premiere World, which never took off. His financing dried up, and the company filed for court protection in 2002. Following the collapse, Kirch filed a web of lawsuits for billions of dollars against Deutsche Bank and its former CEO Rolf Breuer, who Kirch claims started his company’s decline with negative comments about it during a TV interview. Most of those many lawsuits are still pending.
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