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German television is not known for being ambitious. Broadcasters in Europe’s biggest TV market are usually happy to import formats from other countries — The Voice from The Netherlands, The Masked Singer from Korea — or series for the U.S., C.S.I., The Simpsons — rather than risk their profit margins on something new or original.
So it was something of a sensation this week when RTL invited a select group of industry journalists to a hip concrete-and-glass party spot in Berlin to unveil details of an ambitious, and entirely original, streaming service.
Called RTL+, the service will offer up more than 60,000 hours of video content — including historic drama Faking Hitler, starring Lars Eidinger and Moritz Bleibtreu and crime procedural The Allegation, which recently won the Dior Grand Prize at the CanneSeries festival — in combination with tens of thousands of ebooks from Penguin Random House (a subsidiary of RTL parent company Bertelsmann), thousands of podcasts and audiobooks from Bertelsmann-owned AudioNow, digital magazines and articles from Bertelsmann’s Gruner + Jahr publishing group (including science imprint Geo and newsmagazine Stern), as well as some 73 million songs on demand, supplied through a deal with French-owned music streamer Deezer.
RTL+ went live with its video service Thursday, Nov. 4. The full-service platform, with music, magazines, podcasts and ebooks, will launch in the second half of next year.
“This is the most exciting time for our business since the beginning of commercial television,” said Stephan Schäfer, co-CEO of RTL Deutschland, announcing the project.
“We’ve spent two years planning this and we think it is a true alternative to the global streaming services for the local market,” said fellow RTL co-CEO Matthias Dang, noting that RTL+ could prove a model for other international markets.
The RTL+ service, as pitched, would be unlike anything currently on the market: a one-stop shop for TV, music, books, magazines, and podcasts. The company says the platform’s underlying technology, combined with curation from a human editorial staff, will cross-link the offerings to provide individual recommendations for users. A viewer who watches The Allegation, which was written by best-selling author Ferdinand von Schirach, might be pointed to one of his e-books, an interview he did with Stern or a podcast discussion of his work.
RTL would not say how much its new service would cost, though it said the full version of RTL+ would launch with multiple tiers, from an all-you-can-eat premium service to lower-cost versions that would include advertising.
To feed RTL+, the broadcaster plans to triple its investment in original content, from around 200 million euro ($231 million) a year currently, to 600 million euro ($692 million) by 2026. Dang and Schäfer said the investment would go toward new commissions as well as investments in technology and platform infrastructure.
This will be a boon to local creatives: RTL+ plans to launch a new original series or other commission per week. In September, RTL signed a multiyear output deal with leading German film production group Constantin, giving RTL exclusive free TV and streaming rights of all of Constantin’s feature productions starting from January 1, 2022.
“The only thing [Netflix] is afraid of are the local players,” noted Constantin deputy CEO and deputy chairman Oliver Berben noted, quoting (without directly naming) Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who has repeatedly pointed to the challenge from regional giants.
By doubling down on local productions, RTL also hopes to make up for the loss of imported series. The supply of top-rated U.S. shows is drying up as the Hollywood studios hold back international rights for their own in-house SVOD services.
While the service is a shot across the Netflix bow, Dang noted that RTL is not trying to compete directly with the global streaming giant. RTL+ currently has some 2.4 million subscribers in Germany, a fraction of Netflix’s subscriber base. Netflix does not break out subscriber figures for individual European countries, but with around 70 million subs across Europe the Middle East and Africa, the figure for Germany, the region’s largest television territory, is certain to be several times that of RTL+.
Dang stressed that RTL+ is an “add-on, not a replacement” to the company’s core business of free-to-air television. Many of the original shows commissioned for RTL+ — including Faking Hitler, The Accusation and period epic Sisi — will premiere on the SVOD platform before airing on RTL’s ad-supported traditional network.
By 2026, RTL+ hopes to more than double its subscriber base, to “5, 6, 7 million” says Dang. The rollout will be helped by RTL’s ongoing distribution deal with MagentaTV, the streaming offering from leading local teleco Deutsche Telekom.
Together with its Dutch SVOD service Videoland, Bertelsmann’s goal is to hit 10 million paying subscribers by the end of 2026, to generate 1 billion euro ($1.15 billion) in streaming revenue and to reach profitability for both services.
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