European Television Pioneer Anke Schaferkordt Resigns from RTL Group

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Anke Schaferkordt

Schaferkordt, the first woman to run the pan-European broadcasting giant, will step down from RTL at the end of 2018.

Anke Schaferkordt, the German media executive who for decades counted among the most powerful figures in global television, is resigning from European broadcasting giant RTL Group. Schaferkordt announced Wednesday she's stepping down from her position as CEO of RTL's German division, RTL Deutschland and will resign from the executive board of RTL parent company Bertelsmann.

Bernd Reichart, currently managing director of RTL channel Vox in Germany, will become the new CEO of RTL Deutschland.

Schaferkordt's exit marks the end of an era in European television. The 55-year-old exec had a major effect in shaping the television business in Europe and for five years — from 2012 to 2017, she was co-CEO of RTL Group, Europe's largest commercial television conglomerate. With interests in 61 television and 30 radio stations across 10 countries, RTL is among the most powerful media groups in the world. Owned by German company Bertelsmann, it also controls production giant Fremantle, maker of The X Factor and American Idol

Schaferkordt spent more than 27 years at RTL, starting in the controlling department and rising up through the ranks, first as CFO of RTL-owned Vox, then in 1999, as channel CEO. She was among the very first international broadcasters to bet on the C.S.I. crime series, helping to spark a global boom in procedural that defined much of the television business in the early 2000s. As CEO of flagship channel RTL Television, a position she took over in 2005, she also bet big on show formats, including Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and German Idol, which drew record ratings and filled RTL's coffers. From 2005 to 2017, under her management, RTL Deutschland more than tripled its operating profit (EBITA) from €240 million ($284 million) to €725 million ($868 million).

“After more than 27 years with RTL, leaving the company is not an easy step. Given our very strong management team and the clear strategic direction we have jointly developed over many years, I believe that a swift transition is in the best interest of RTL Deutschland,” Schaferkordt said in a statement. “I am tremendously grateful and proud to have led this great company with its outstanding employees. I had the opportunity to work with exceptionally skilled and dedicated people over the years and build lasting relationships on both a professional and personal level.”

At nearly every step in her career, Schaferkordt was a pioneer: Often the first woman to hold the job. In 2013, she received the International Emmy Directorate Award for lifetime achievement. She attributed her success to a combination of a head for numbers —“I know my way around a balance sheet,” she once told The Hollywood Reporter — and an obvious passion for television programming. “I watch everything we put on air — the series, the shows, the news, everything.”

But RTL has not weathered well recent shifts in the commercial TV business. The rise of Netflix has eroded viewership at the company's free-to-air channels. Imported drama series and show formats no longer draw the ratings, or advertising revenue, they once did.

RTL Group has shifted focus to invest more in original production, through its subsidiary Fremantle, and to more into pay TV and the online video business.

But Schaferkordt will not been leading that charge. She will resign from RTL Group, effective December 31, 2018.