Profits Soar at RTL Group

RTL co-CEOs Anke Schaferkordt and Guillaume de Posch

The European broadcast giant, which owns "Amercian Idol" producer FremantleMedia, booked $1.3 billion in profits in 2013, a 37.4 percent jump.

Leading European broadcaster RTL Group saw profits soar 37.4 percent to $1.3 billion (€948 million) in 2013 as TV markets in hard-hit Spain and France recovered slightly - though still down overall - and robust northern territories, particularly RTL's core German market, continuing to perform.

Revenues at RTL slipped to $8.08 billion (€5.89 billion), a 1.8 percent drop, largely due to declines at production division FremantleMedia, producer of American Idol and the X Factor and exchange rate losses. Digital revenues, however, were way up, jumping 26 percent to $324 million (€236 million).

Shares of RTL Group, trading on Frankfurt's MDAX index, opened down on the news, slipping just over 2 percent to $127 (€92.9).

RTL's numbers also got a boost thanks to a couple of one-off factors, including the reversal of a $99 million (€72 million) impairment connected to RTL Group's stake in Spanish broadcast group Atresmedia (formerly Grupo Antena 3)

“Operationally and financially, RTL Group has once again performed very strongly in 2013 and demonstrated its resilience in facing challenging economic conditions," said RTL co-CEOs Anke Schaferkordt and Guillaume de Posch in a joint statement. "With another record result from our largest profit centre, Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland, and good results from all other units, we have succeeded in growing all profit indicators – EBITA, profit margin and net result."

For the full year 2014, RTL said it expects revenues and profits to be broadly stable.

On the broadcast side, RTL remains heavily dependent on its core German market - which had a record year in 2013, booking operating, EBITA profits of $854 million (€622 million) last year, up 7.1 percent. Revenues at Dutch operation RTL Nederland were also stronger, up 6.2 percent to $141 million (€103 million). But France remains weaker, with results there weighed down by losses at new digital TV channel 6ter, which RTL launched in December 2012.

FremantleMedia's biggest formats - including Idol and X Factor are aging and slipping in the ratings in many major territories. RTL Germany's biggest show at the moment is an import from outside the group - the reality show I'm A Celebrity: Get Me Out of Here! from Britain's ITV - and RTL has bought red-hot Israeli format Rising Star for its networks in Germany and France.

But RTL is still focusing largely on organic growth in production, looking to its in-house teams to develop new formats. Last year the company made a rare acquisition when FremantleMedia took a majority stake in Danish production group Miso Film, a company that specialises in primetime scripted drama, including the crime thriller Those Who Kill. A&E Networks is working on a U.S. remake of the series, starring Chloe Sevigny and James D'Arcy.

Digitally, the company has been more adventurous, recently announcing a partnership with Vice Media to create a multi-channel food platform that will see both companies develop and produce digital content targeted at a millennial audience. RTL has also taken a minority, 26.1 percent stake in Style Haul, the leading online video network for fashion and beauty. Last summer, RTL took majority control of Canada’s BroadbandTV, the world’s third-largest Youtube multi-channel network.

RTL also controls Divimove, a similar MCN, based in Germany, which is the second-largest in the territory.
Based on its own figures, and including BroadbandTV, RTL Group says its catch-up TV services and websites attracted a total of 16.8 billion online video views last year, up 143 percent. Of those, some 6.7 billion were for FremantleMedia’s YouTube channels.

Outside of Europe, RTL has made tentative moves to expand its footprint, including launching branded channels in Asia together with CBS. The first pay channel, RTL CBS Entertainment is on air in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines while the second, RTL CBS Extreme HD, will launch end of March 2014 in Singapore.