Kloiber keeps pace on Croisette

Tele Munchen boss busy with 'Seawolf,' rights deals

The news of Leo Kirch's return to the TV business has been the subject of a lot of chatter among European executives at this year's MIPCOM. But the German mogul who never left the scene — Tele Munchen Group's Herbert Kloiber — also is making his presence felt.

Kloiber on Tuesday joined forces with German public broadcaster ZDF for a €12 million ($17 million) remake of the Jack London adventure classic "The Seawolf."

U.K. screenwriter Nigel Williams ("Elizabeth I") will pen the script for the two-part miniseries that ZDF, Tele Munchen's production unit Clasart and British group Power will co-produce. Power will handle international sales.

Rikolt von Gagern, whose recent film adaptation of Martin Walser's "A Runaway Horse" has been a success for TMG's theatrical arm Concorde in Germany, will produce with Power's Justin Bodle. Kloiber will be lead manager on the project, which will begin shooting in mid-2008.

The original "Seawolf" miniseries in 1971 put TMG on the map in Germany. It was one of the main reasons Kloiber acquired the company in 1977.

Kloiber also was busy in TMG's bread-and-butter business of rights trading. Shortly before MIPCOM, he won a bidding war for three of the hottest new U.S. titles: "Californication," "Dexter" and "Sleeper Cell." On Monday, he signed with RHI Entertainment in a volume deal for 40 TV movies.

As Germany's biggest independent rights-trader, Kloiber and TMG have benefited from the resurgence in U.S. programming. Such TMG-licensed shows as "Without a Trace," "The Closer" and "King of Queens" are primetime hits across the German dial.

"There has been a big revival in demand for U.S. programming in the German market," Kloiber said. "What started 2-3 years ago is now established. Channels are dependent on imported shows like 'Closer,' 'CSI,' 'Criminal Intent' or 'House.' That wasn't the case five years ago."

Kloiber doesn't see the pendulum in Germany swinging back to homegrown production in the near future. Despite rising prices for U.S. shows, he believes licensed shows — at least in the German market — remain relatively cheap compared with the cost of in-house production. Where the TMG boss is less bullish is the state of the German pay TV and digital markets.

"What worries me is the (continued) sick state of pay TV in Germany compared with France or England," Kloiber said. "(Leading German pay TV channel) Premiere is not able to even co-finance its own programming; that is unheard of in a pay TV market."

Despite a recent explosion of new digital and broadband channels in Germany, Kloiber is not impressed with what he sees.

"There are opportunities everywhere, and as a program provider we deal with all the new players," he said. "But the key to new platforms becoming an economic success is that they must offer premium quality product, whether fiction, sports, reality or whatever.

"So far, with hardly any exceptions, the various broadband or satellite bouquets are low-cost, low-quality, more of the same and therefore not able drivers for future developments."

TMG is set for another record year in 2007, beating last year's high-water mark of €267 million in sales and pretax profit of €36 million. The gains are evidence, Kloiber said, that reports of the death of the traditional TV business are greatly exaggerated.

"I am not overworried about the trends (away from TV viewing) and particularly young viewers leaving television as a media because free TV still generates unique opportunities for mass viewership," he said. "We therefore believe that for the coming decade — even if overall viewers trend is down — the basic economics will remain totally sound."
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