Bertelsmann Shopping Spree Boosts Revenue, Profit Drops

Bertelsmann Chairman and CEO Thomas Rabe

Over the past year and a half, the German media giant has taken control of music label BMG and merged publishing division Random House with Penguin

Bertelsmann posted its third-quarter financials on Thursday, boasting its highest revenue figure in seven years with sales topping $14.7 billion (€11.8 billion) after an 18-month shopping spree that has seen the German media giant acquire music label BMG, merge its books division Random House with Penguin and complete a takeover of publishing group Gruner + Jahr.

Sales were up 4.3 percent year-over-year and operating profits (EBITDA) hit $1.92 billion (€1.54 billion), up slightly from the same period last year. Group net profit, however, was down sharply, at $355 million (€285 million), down 53 percent from $835 million (€623 million) this time in 2013, driven by weaker results at TV arm RTL Group and merger integration costs.

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Bertelsmann is in the midst of a seismic strategic shift, masterminded by chairman and CEO Thomas Rabe, that wants to see the company move away from its traditional, and slow-growth, base in old media in Europe.

The company has been pouring money into digital companies, recently buying a majority stake in Denver-based ‎SpotXchange, a leader in digital video advertising, for $144 million plus possible additional payments; and paying $107 million for a controlling stake in YouTube multichannel network StyleHaul. Both companies are now controlled by RTL.

Bertelsmann is also looking to leverage its old media business in new ways.

Random House has a film division, Random House Studio, which recently renewed its partnership with Focus Features through 2016, and Penguin Random House has signed a first-look deal with Focus parent company Universal, the studio behind the adaptations of the publishers' best-sellers Unbroken and Fifty Shades of Grey.

Bertelsmann has also been active in the less-sexy e-learning market, acquiring U.S. online education provider Relias Learning.

“Overall, we have exceeded our expectations,” said Rabe in a statement. “Bertelsmann is growing, is very profitable and is making good progress in the implementation of its strategy ... We will resolutely continue on our course to ensure that Bertelsmann becomes a faster-growing, more digital and more international company long-term.”

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Internationally, Bertelsmann's Asia investments fund expanded its portfolio of digital businesses in China and in India, invested in the e-commerce platform Pepperfry and the education service provider iNurture. In Brazil, Bertelsmann launched a new venture capital fund with a Brazilian investment company focusing on technologies in the Brazilian education sector.

Rabe said he wants to make education a third pillar, alongside content production and services, of Bertelsmann's business.

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