Fremantle, Dutch TV buoy revenue

BERLIN — Increased business from international production and TV operations in the Netherlands helped boost revenue last year at pan-European broadcasting giant RTL Group.

Europe’s leading broadcaster posted a 4.2% increase in revenue to €5.76 billion ($7.6 billion), while net profit climbed 13.9% to $917 million.

Higher revenue at London-based producer FremantleMedia and RTL Nederland boosted RTL Group’s overall performance.

Fremantle reported revenue growth of 12.3%, with profit before interest, tax and amortization up 2.1% to $188 million, driven by increased revenue in North America and the first-time full consolidation of recent acquisitions Radical Media and Canadian game developer Ludia.

FremantleMedia distribs “Merlin,” the hit German and Dutch daily soap “Good Times, Bad Times” and Australia’s “Neighbours,” as well as popular formats “Idols,” “The Price Is Right” and “Got Talent.”

RTL Nederland scored its best ratings since 1997, capitalizing them into double-digit TV ad growth as earnings climbed 21.8% to $176 million for TV and radio operations.

The company described Europe’s TV ad markets last year as a mixed bag: flat ad revs in Western Europe, with the exception of Belgium and the Netherlands, which were up, and lower in Southern and Eastern Europe.

RTL Group’s other major profit centers in Germany and France continued to outperform local competition.

RTL Deutschland saw a 4% drop in earnings to $695 million, reflecting the challenging local TV ad market and higher investments in programming, but nevertheless achieved its second-best result ever. With its flagship channel RTL Television reporting higher ratings, thanks to hit shows including “House,” “Alarm for Cobra 11″ and “CSI: Miami,” RTL Deutschland, which also comprises four other free-to-air channels, increased audience leadership over main rival ProSiebenSat.1 to 6.1 percentage points.

In France, M6 was the only major channel to increase its audience share year-on-year, while digital channel W9 reported significant growth, both in terms of ad revenue and ratings. M6 earnings were up 1.6% to $327 million.

Outgoing RTL CEO Gerhard Zeiler said the group accomplished three major achievements last year: Its channels maintained or increased their strong audience share; the group maintained the high profitability achieved in 2010; and it fortified an international portfolio aimed at safeguarding its leading market positions and developing new businesses. To that end, RTL consolidated TV operations in the Netherlands, Hungary and Croatia, made new online acquisitions in Germany and the Netherlands, and exited Greece’s troubled broadcasting market.

“We see different developments in the various countries we operate in,” Zeiler said. “Looking at January and February 2012, we can say that the negative development many had feared did not happen. Given the high volatility of the various TV advertising markets throughout Europe, and the very short-term bookings cycle, it is not possible to give full-year guidance at the moment. However, RTL Group has repeatedly demonstrated that it can operate successfully in very difficult economic environments.”

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