At MIP TV, Anke Schaeferkordt and Guillaume de Posch, co-CEOs of RTL Group, will be feted with Variety’s Achievement in International TV Award, which recognizes creativity, leadership and business acumen within the global TV industry. The award will be presented April 8 at a ceremony by Variety associate publisher Donna Pennestri.
RTL Group, which is majority-owned by media conglom Bertelsmann, is Europe’s largest broadcast network, with interests in 55 channels, including RTL Television in Germany, M6 in France, RTL 4 in the Netherlands and Antena 3 in Spain. It also owns FremantleMedia, which produces and distributes shows such as the “Idol,” “Got Talent” and “X Factor” franchises.
RTL Group’s strength was underscored recently when it reported annual profits up 45.7% to €870 million ($1.2 billion), with revenues totaling $8.09 billion.
This year, the company celebrates its 90th anniversary. Its story started in 1924 when Francois and Marcel Anen set up a radio station in Luxembourg, and their pioneering spirit lives on today. RTL Group has been making strides into the online video market, including investments in companies BroadbandTV and Style Haul. It has also moved into Southeast Asia through a partnership with CBS to launch pay TV channels there.
Although innovation is important for RTL Group, showing great content remains its chief priority.
“It’s all about the programming,” de Posch says. “The distribution is secondary to the quality, the appeal and the unique selling point of your programs.” He points to the success of “I’m a Celebrity — Get Me Out of Here!” on RTL Television in Germany, where the latest season averaged 7.95 million viewers, and the audience share among 14- to 59-year-olds was almost 40%. “You start with that: How do we create, generate, invent or source top programming? This is the alpha and omega of it,” he says.
Once it has a hit show the next priority is to maximize revenues across all the various distribution platforms.
“We are there where our audiences want to watch our content: whenever, wherever and on whatever device,” Schaeferkordt says.
RTL Group prides itself on staying close to the audience. “We have to be in all the genres our audience wants to watch. We have to follow the tastes of the audience,” she says.
After 90 years in the entertainment biz, the core philosophy and values of the company remain constant.
“First, it is passion for what we do. We have passion for programs; passion for television and radio; and no matter to whom you talk our people love what they do,” Schaeferkordt says. “Second, we are a decentralized group. Some formats travel, but large parts of the business are local, and this is why it is really important for us to have strong CEOs running the companies in each country.”
De Posch says: “There is always a long-term view to the business, and this is driven by the fact that long-term planning is in the DNA of Bertelsmann.”
The fact that Bertelsmann is privately owned helps focus attention on the group’s long-term goals. It also helps that Bertelsmann owns several other media businesses, including book publishing giant Penguin Random House, magazine publishing company Gruner + Jahr, and music rights company BMG, and there are synergies that are derived from that. For example, RTL Group is set to launch a TV channel based on the Gruner + Jahr magazine GEO, and FremantleMedia has a first-look deal with Penguin Random House.
There are also synergies to be drawn from across RTL Group, and there are a number of committees that meet to make the most of those. “It is know-how transfer, it is best-practice sharing, and people really enjoy meeting their peers from the other countries and sharing their experiences,” Schaeferkordt says.
Although long-term planning is crucial, it remains nimble during a period when technological changes are reshaping the media landscape. “We have the flexibility to adapt our strategy to the changes in the market,” Schaeferkordt says.
There were a few raised eyebrows when it was announced in February 2012 that Schaeferkordt and de Posch would replace departing RTL Group CEO Gerhard Zeiler as co-CEOs.
“When Anke and I started, many skeptics were saying that this co-CEO structure will last three months and then something will happen, simply because it is not in the management books to have co-CEOs,” de Posch says. “The reality is that we are already two years down the road and we think there are a couple of recipes for this success. The first is that we have a clear definition of responsibilities. Anke is in charge of the German-speaking territories, and I’m responsible for the other territories and for our global content arm, FremantleMedia. Together, we do strategy, communications, HR and audit. Secondly, we’ve been communicating quite intensively from day one, by email and through meetings of our executive committee. Anke knows what I am doing and I know what she is doing. The way we function is quite transparent.
“Thirdly, it is also a matter of chemistry. I think we work well together, and that helps.”
Schaeferkordt adds: “And we share the same passion for television.”
Their bond has been strengthened by a couple of “team experiences” they went through.
The first was when they took a close look at the group’s strategy.
“After we took over as co-CEOs, we intensively reviewed and redefined the group strategy across our three pillars: broadcast, content and digital. As a result of this exercise, we are 100% aligned as to what we want to do in the future,” Schaeferkordt says.
The second team experience was when Bertelsmann decided to re-IPO the company, reducing its stake to 75.1%. This involved Schaeferkordt and de Posch embarking on a roadshow of around 18 presentations across the U.S. and Europe.
“This was a real team experience. It helped us — together with Elmar (Heggen, RTL Group’s chief financial officer) — to really build a strong team relationship,” Schaeferkordt says.