Niche channel focuses on U.S. series, originals

RTL’s Cologne-based Vox service has come a long way since its rocky start in the early 1990s. After RTL Television bought it from News Corp. in late 1999, Vox has developed into Germany’s most successful second-wave channel and a market-dominating outlet for popular Hollywood series, such as “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and “Gilmore Girls” while making “CSI” and “CSI: NY” cornerstones of its lineup.

But it’s also done well with its own content, such as “Goodbye Deutschland,” which tracks mostly low-skilled Germans who emigrate to the four corners of the globe and run into various problems — and gives Vox above-average ratings of nearly 9% in the 14-49 target group. Indeed, Vox has been improving its market share and demographic in recent months; its current share is about 8%.

Moreover, 15 years after its first transmission, Vox has become a cash cow for RTL, so much so that some of most successful programs, such as “CSI: Miami,” have been taken over by the more widely watched parent web.

RTL topper Anke Schaeferkordt, who previously was the head of Vox, says there’s nothing nefarious about that. It was simply a chance to offer “a successful series an even bigger platform.”

Vox topper Frank Hoffmann tells Variety his web is not a proving ground for RTL but rather develops and relies on its own productions, films and series. But, he adds, “In exceptional cases, with exceptional ratings, it can be sensible … to move the program to RTL,” adding that Vox will continue to focus on U.S. series because they fit with its philosophy and image.

Vox, which signed an output deal with 20th Century Fox in 1998, is also known for its reality TV shows — especially cooking, decorating and animal programs. In 2005 it dropped Germany’s only erotic magazine-format show after airing more than 500 segs, replacing it with more docu coverage from the BBC, even though the sex program attracted an average 1 million viewers and secured the channel a market share of 8% on its 11 p.m. slot.

Earlier this year, RTL rival ProSiebenSat.1 agreed to its own exclusive long-term contract with Fox on high-profile feature films and series from 2010. But Hoffmann says he’s confident about the future: “We have nothing to be afraid of.”

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