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Bavarian media firm began with classics

It’s a double anni this year for Tele-Munchen’s managing director and half-owner Herbert Kloiber: Twenty-five years since the company was set up and 25 years since the start of his meteoric career.

Kloiber got his first job at 29, right out of law school, in May 1970. His first employer is now his biggest competitor: media magnate Leo Kirch. “My entire learning period was at Kirch’s Beta/Taurus,” says Kloiber.

He worked in various sections, including international distribution, but ended up producing and selling classical music TV productions.

From 1974 to 1976, Kloiber headed Kirch’s classic subsid, Unitel, and, like Kirch, he has a love of classical music in his veins. Born and raised in Vienna, and educated at a Swiss boarding school (which he says taught him English, French and Italian so well that he couldn’t spell German correctly when he was finished), he and his family were close to the legendary conductor, Herbert von Karajan.

“(Von) Karajan was not my godfather, but he was a godfather-like figure to me,” says Kloiber. “I followed him as he toured with the Berlin Philharmonic, and he took me to recording sessions.”

In 1968, it was von Karajan who introduced Kloiber to Leo Kirch – at a taping of Verdi’s “Requiem” in Milan.

His relationship with von Karajan and music lasted longer than that with Kirch. “My departure in 1976 was quick and not entirely amicable,” says Kloiber. “It was a combination of my wanting to be my own boss and an incident (a disagreement over a contract with a third party) that now, looking back, had no real significance.”

Kloiber and partner Fritz Buttenstedt left Unitel together and founded a competing classical TV production company, which became Clasart.

“Clasart was basically a two-man band for a year,” says Kloiber. “It’s still special to me, though we use it now as a library and sometimes as a logo for movie production.

“Making classical music productions now would be an anti-climax after working with some of the greatest and most exciting artists in the world, like Horowitz, Glenn Gould, Rubinstein and Bernstein.”

Though classical music is still his love, he admits that producing it for TV was not a great idea.

“In hindsight, the idea of putting classical music on the small screen, trying to popularize it on TV, was an errant idea. You don’t really attract an audience to classical music by putting it on TV – you should put it in a park or a concert hall or whatever.”

In 1977, Dieter Stolte at pubcaster ZDF pointed out to Kloiber a small fiction production company called Tele-Munchen, whose managing director/writer/producer Walter Ulbrich, owned world rights to the Jack London books. Kloiber mortgaged his house in Vienna, bought out Ulbrich, and with Buttenstedt became fiction producers. (Buttenstedt later retired and now lives in Berlin.)

TM quickly grew to look more and more like a younger version of the Kirch Group. Film libraries and sales became the focal point, and expansion into theatrical and video distribution and investment in stations arose to serve that activity – as in the Kirch Group.

In TV investments, Kirch has foiled Kloiber’s plans twice so far. When Kirch turned the early SAT 1 into a rights processing machine for his libraries, Kloiber and other investors were forced to bail out. When Kloiber helped set up Tele 5, a direct competitor to SAT 1, he soon found Kirch infiltrating the board.

Kirch bought up parts of co-shareholder Springer publishing and was good friends with – and perhaps a silent partner to – co-shareholder Silvio Berlusconi.

“When the other shareholders had more or less sold out to Kirch, we had no other choice,” says Kloiber.

TM sold out for a profit – nearly $135 million (DM 200 million) for a 26% stake in a business still losing money – but it still hurt.

However, Kirch and Kloiber have also crossed paths on friendly business terms. “There have been deals between Kirch and TMG at all times,” says Kloiber. “There’s a difference between being in business together and making a deal.

“We’ve sold movies and animated material to (the Kirch-influenced commercial channel) Pro 7. I have a good relationship with Pro 7’s Georg Kofler: We even go skiing together.”

Kloiber, 48 this year and married with two teenage children, doesn’t regret having left a career in his great love, classical music.

“I’ve been in business for 25 years, as long as TM has existed. I’ve never had a day when I haven’t looked forward to going to the office.”

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