German broadcasters yesterday (Thursday 20 Sept) put aside their differences and reached agreement on new standards for digital TV. But that came too late to save Manfred Puffer, who was replaced by Peter Mihatsch, as head of Premiere World.

Puffer joined Premiere World last year as its chief financial officer and in January was promoted to run the operation, which is Germany's leading digital channels group. No explanation was given for his sudden departure in what amounts to merely the latest in a merry go-round of executive changes within the Kirch group. Premiere World is now to be managed by an executive board comprising Michael Boernicke, Ferdinand Kayser and Hans Seger. From Nokia, Helmut Stein also joins the board as chief technical officer. Mihatsch was managing director of technology and networks at KirchHolding, Premiere's parent company.

Public broadcasters ARD and ZDF and the two leading private-sector groups Kirch and RTL announced that they had agreed to promote the Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) as the new standard for digital TV. ARD chairman Fritz Pleitgen described the decision as "the decisive breakthrough for digital television in Germany."

Mihatsch said that the decision to adopt the emerging world standard for set-top boxes would allow Kirch to stop competing in the decoder market and focus on programming and new digital services . "In the past, we ourselves pioneered the development of the d-box technology in order to build up a technical infrastructure for digital television, but this is no longer necessary. Now we shall leverage the potential of an increasingly wider market and, apart from continuing to develop our attractive range of programmes, will be concentrating on the development of innovative services, interactive applications and offerings with added value for our customers."

While the standards decision hastens the arrival of the Germany's public broadcasters into what is currently a sector dominated by Kirch, their arrival is expected to help win over German households which have to date been reluctant to embrace pay-TV.

It may also help the powerful German operators push their digital services outside their home territory. RTL-boss Gerhard Zeiler said that the adoption of MHP and open standards "gives Germany a chance to become a front runner in the development of European digital TV."