On Nov. 25, at a gala ceremony in New York, Anke Schaeferkordt, co-CEO of RTL Group and CEO of RTL Germany, will receive the Intl. Emmy Directorate Award from the Intl. Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Schaeferkordt is grateful for the award, but is keeping her feet firmly on the ground. “Television is teamwork,” she tells Variety. This typifies her overall management philosophy, and also applies to the success she has had with RTL Germany.
RTL is Europe’s leading broadcast company, and owns FremantleMedia, the producer of “American Idol,” “The X Factor” and “America’s Got Talent.” It is part of media conglom Bertelsmann, which also owns a majority stake in publisher Penguin Random House and fully owns music rights company BMG.
“I would never claim a programming success as my personal victory. That’s why I think it is important to be a reliable partner. I try to live up to the principles and standards I expect from my colleagues. The worst (thing to do) would be to preach water while drinking wine myself,” she says.
The economic environment in Europe has been tough for broadcasters as elsewhere, but despite that, RTL raised its profit for the first half of this year, which Schaeferkordt attributes to its careful management of costs.
“You can only be successful with a very well-run, very cost-conscious company. Cost discipline is in our DNA. When the advertising markets are down, we can respond very flexibly and have plenty of ways to achieve savings, for example in the marginal timeslots of our programming, in the early morning or late evening. Besides, in times of declining markets, our competitors usually tighten their belts as well.”
Although ad-funded linear TV channels and programming remain RTL’s core biz, its strategy is to increase the proportion of its revenue that comes from other sources.
In June, it invested €27 million ($36 million) to acquire a 51% stake in Vancouver-based online video company BroadbandTV, which made RTL the fourth biggest multichannel network on YouTube.
“The deal strengthens our position in North America — the biggest and most innovative media market in the world,” Schaeferkordt says. “BroadbandTV operates on a global scale. The business is a perfect fit and addition to the digital activities of both our broadcasters and FremantleMedia. It’s about content aggregation and advertising sales in the online video world — and thus close to our core competencies.”
Other investments have been made in the digital space, such as in Stylehaul, YouTube’s leading original network for fashion, beauty and lifestyle content, while FremantleMedia, which is the highest-rated producer on YouTube worldwide, recently bought a stake in Divimove, the second largest Multi-Channel Network in Germany.
“We have given a particular boost to our presence and expertise in the digital distribution space. RTL Group will attract more than 17 billion online video views for the year 2013,” she says. “This makes us the leading European media company in online video — and we will clearly continue to invest in this space.”
That said, linear television remains at the heart of RTL’s business.
“Our pure online revenues are growing strongly, by approximately 20% year-on-year, but we also have to keep in mind that these revenues represent 3% of RTL Group’s total revenue. In other words: Yes, we invest in the digital space and we want to further grow our revenues dynamically, but advertising on our linear TV channels, and FremantleMedia’s content production for TV broadcasters are and will remain our core businesses for a long time to come.”
RTL is also keen to explore new geographic territories, and like other media companies, it is looking toward Asia.
“In India, we’ve been on air for about a year now with Big RTL Thrill. Together with CBS, we’ve just launched a new channel in Southeast Asia, RTL CBS Entertainment HD, which is already on air in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines. These are manageable investments, but we are gaining important experience,” she says.