RTL’s exec shakedown

Conrad's ousting continues to make waves at web

BERLIN — The local industry may have been concentrating on the bustling Berlinale last week, but it couldn’t ignore the loud seismic rumblings emanating from Germany’s TV market.

The ouster of Marc Conrad from RTL Television’s top job after only 100 days continues to make waves, threatening a major crisis at the leading commercial web.

Last year RTL lost its spot as the most-watched channel to pubcaster ARD for the first time since 1998.

However, former RTL Television boss Helmut Thoma blames RTL Group topper Gerhard Zeiler for the broadcaster’s problems, unrelentingly ripping into him in the local media.

Calling Conrad’s termination a “scandal,” Thoma says, “If someone has to be made responsible for the situation at RTL, it is Mr. Zeiler,” adding that in just 103 days, Conrad had no time to get anything done.

Describing the network as a “construction site,” Thoma says RTL has not evolved under Zeiler but floated on its past achievements.

Zeiler, who is now overseeing both RTL Television and parent RTL Group, has declined to comment on Thoma’s scathing indictment.

According to RTL, changes are under way. They include developing more family-friendly shows and long-running series and dropping some reality formats. RTL also will give new series more time to build up viewership.

This reflects Thoma’s own recommendations for the web.

The web’s reliance on formats and rip-offs of popular U.S. product follows years of severe cost cuts in programming acquisitions and development. Major flops include “Verschollen,” a “Lost”-like series about German tourists stranded on a desert island, and “Beauty Queen,” a blatant take on of “Nip/Tuck.”

Additionally, RTL’s dependence on formats, including local “Pop Idol” version “Deutschland sucht den Superstar” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” has stopped it producing series and TV movies.

Zeiler and Conrad are said to have agreed on programming, but sources say Conrad was too quiet about his long-term plans for the web, something that may have made advertisers uneasy.

Speaking to German weekly Focus, Conrad called the assertion “absolute nonsense,” adding that advertisers realized that a new chief exec needs time.

While RTL says Conrad’s exit was mutually agreed, Conrad has since denied that and says Zeiler gave no reason for his dismissal.

Zeiler handpicked Conrad as his successor at RTL’s flagship channel last fall, allowing himself to focus on his duties as CEO of the Luxembourg-based parent group.

To help delegate his workload, Zeiler has appointed Anke Schaeferkordt, head of RTL’s German web Vox, as chief operating officer at RTL Television.

RTL says the new setup is permanent and that Zeiler will split his time between the channel and RTL Group.

With a need for fictional content and not much in the pipeline, local observers bet RTL will soon be knocking on Herbert Kloiber’s door at Tele Munchen.

The Munich media mogul wants to sell a hefty package of series and films he acquired last year from Warner Bros., including nuggets like the “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings” sequels as well as “Troy” — titles that might come in handy at RTL now.

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