ProSiebenSat.1 Unveils Corporate Shuffle Amid Crisis

Credit: ProSiebenSat.1
Rainer Beaujean, Christine Scheffler, Wolfgang Link

CEO Max Conze is out at the German TV giant, with Rainer Beaujean, Wolfgang Link and Christine Scheffler taking up new roles on the executive board.

German television giant ProSiebenSat.1 has reshuffled its executive board, kicking out CEO Max Conze and shifting the focus from acquired and in-house fiction series to entertainment shows and reality TV.

Conze, formerly CEO of U.K.-based vacuum cleaner manufacturer Dyson, joined ProSiebenSat.1 in June 2018 and has overseen one of the worst periods in the company's history. Shares in the group, which operates several free and pay TV channels in Germany, as well global TV production group Red Arrow (Love is Blind), have plunged 83 percent since Conze took over. The stock's value has been halved since the start of this year alone.

The low valuation has made ProSieben a target for Italian group Mediaset, which this week, via its Spanish subsidiary Mediaset Espana, upped its stake in the German TV company by 4.25 percent to 20.1 percent. Mediaset has ruled out a full takeover, but is pushing for ProSiebenSat.1 to join its pan-European vehicle Media for Europe (MFE).

Mediaset has pitched MFE as a vehicle for the European TV industry to achieve scale as a means of fighting off global streaming giants like Netflix and new SVODs players such as Disney+ and Apple TV+. But French media group Vivendi, a minority shareholder in Mediaset, opposes the plan, claiming it is actually a move by the family of Italian media mogul, and former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi to tighten its grip on the company.

Conze initially made bold moves at ProSiebenSat.1, calling for the company to re-negotiate its pricey licensing deals with the Hollywood studios and shift its focus away from acquisitions of U.S. films and series towards more in-house production. But his management style was sharply criticized and his short reign saw an exodus of top management, most recently deputy CEO Conrad Albert, who, after 15 years at ProSiebenSat.1, will be leaving the company at the end of next month.

The corporate reshuffle will see ProSiebenSat.1 CFO Rainer Beaujean take on the additional position of executive board chairman. Wolfgang Link, head of entertainment at the group, and human resources boss Christine Scheffler will join him on the executive board.

ProSiebenSat.1 spun the shuffle as a strategic shift that will see the group focus more on entertainment and reality-TV formats. The company has seen success with formats, such as Red Arrow's Love is Blind, which Netflix just picked up for a second and third season, and the German version of The Masked Singer, a hit on flagship channel ProSieben. Link, whose production credits include hit formats like singing competition program The Voice of Germany, is seen as key in this move.

"The ProSiebenSat.1 Group is returning the primary focus of its operating business to the entertainment sector [with] the main emphasis is on local and live formats," the company said in a statement. "Existing investments that benefit from advertising on the entertainment platforms will continue to be developed to generate value and sold in due course under an active portfolio policy."

On Friday, Redseven Entertainment, a Red Arrow subsidiary, announced a quick-turnaround live entertainment special for German network ProSieben that will see local and international music stars, including Melanie C, Josh Groban and Germany's Scooter, perform live from the their living rooms. The show, The Great ProSieben Living Room Festival will air Friday, March 27.