TV’s action heroes

German broadcasters see hit shows translate to overseas sales, revs

Germany’s leading commercial broadcasters are flexing their muscle, powered by surging ad revenue, higher ratings and bigger success with hit TV shows at home that are also selling abroad.

RTL Television still leads the airwaves in Germany with long-running series like Autobahn cop actioner “Alarm for Cobra 11,” which is celebrating 15 years on the air, daily soap “Gute zeiten, schlechte zeiten” (Good Times, Bad Times) and “CSI: Miami” as well as the still-popular formats “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “Deutschland sucht den superstar” (the local version of “American Idol”).

RTL is set to continue what it sees as a winning programming formula: a combination of popular local series and hit U.S. shows.

“There has always been enough budget for the development of inhouse productions and there also will be in the future,” says RTL spokesman Claus Richter. “RTL has never just relied on licensed series, but rather makes sure there’s a balanced mix of U.S. product and its own productions.”

RTL Deutschland, which includes RTL and affiliates Vox, Super RTL, RTL2 and N-TV, increased its lead over main rival ProSiebenSat.1 in 2010 by 5.3 percentage points, achieving an annual market share of 35% among viewers 14-49.

The RTL channels also rode the wave of Germany’s strong and growing TV advertising market as operating profit in soared 50.5% to €551 million ($772 million) at the unit. By comparison, ProSiebenSat.1’s channels achieved a combined market share of 28.5% in its key 14-49 demo, relatively flat compared to the previous year’s 28.8% share.

RTL has five ongoing homegrown series in its current lineup, including “Cobra 11,” fellow cop actioner “Countdown,” romantic medical drama “Doctor’s Diary” and “Lasko: The Fist of God,” about a former elite soldier who fights for justice as a kickass man of the cloth and member of the secret Vatican order Pugnus Dei.

Richter says RTL remains very satisfied with the performance of “CSI: Miami,” but adds the web is also banking on the start of the “fantastic seventh season of ‘House,’ which will guarantee a lot of attention.” It has also recently picked up U.S. series “White Collar” and “Royal Pains.”

Despite a slip in the ratings last year, ProSiebenSat.1’s flagship webs Pro-Sieben and Sat.1 have maintained their positions with popular series such as “Der letzte bulle” (The Last Cop), about a hard-nosed policeman who wakes up in the present after spending more than two decades in a coma, and legal eagle comedy “Danni Lowinski,” about a hairstylist-turned-lawyer who, unable to land a job due to her lack of experience, opens her own quick-service law office in a mall.

“Lowinski” star Annette Frier attributes the show’s success to its “social relevance,” adding that its light-hearted take on weighty issues has struck a chord with auds. “Serious themes don’t always have to be handled in such a serious and heavy-handed manner,” Frier says.

Both “Bulle” and “Lowinski” have just begun their second seasons.

ProSiebenSat.1’s have impressed U.S. TV execs.

Earlier this year the group’s sales arm SevenOne Intl. sold “Danni Lowinski” to CBS Television Studios and Dick de Rijk’s format “You Deserve It” to ABC.

Boosted by hit local programming, rising international revenue and a major jump in its fast-growing diversification segment, ProSiebenSat.1 nearly doubled its net profit and posted an 8.7% increase in full-year revenue in 2010. The broadcaster saw its bottom line rise by $233 million to $438.3 million on revenue of $4.2 billion.

ProSiebenSat.1 is also expanding across the pond with a U.S. sales outfit aimed at exporting more content to North America.

Some of the broadcaster’s other hit formats include “Minute to Win It,” “Galileo” and “Germany’s Next Top Model” as well as such major event programming as “The Pillars of the Earth.”

ProSiebenSat.1 chief exec Thomas Ebeling says it’s not just the “economic tailwind” that has lifted the group but also the company’s overall strategy.

That includes producing content aimed increasingly at international markets rather than just domestic viewers. In January, ProSiebenSat.1 launched Red Arrow Entertainment in the U.K. to make strategic investments in high-growth Blighty production companies and develop and package major scripted properties of its own for the international market.

Germany’s smaller channels are also boasting new hits and signs of improvement.

At RTL 2, the recent premiere of the HBO hit “True Blood” got off to a good start despite a latenight slot.

Airing in back-to-back double episodes, the Southern Gothic skein scored an impressive 8.9% share, surpassing the channel’s average.

RTL 2 will be airing several new shows this year, including Syfy’s fantasy skein “Warehouse 13” and “MEK8,” from the makers of “Alarm for Cobra 11” about an elite, high-tech police unit.

More on German TV:
TV’s action heroes | Pay TV players dig deeper into market | Concept’s action is the main attraction | Hot properties: Teuton TV hits Mip
Mip TV 2011

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