Ex-RTL Boss Helmut Thoma Plans TV Comeback With Volks-TV

His goal is to build a regional network of commercial channels on U.S. affiliate model.

COLOGNE, Germany -- European television pioneer Helmut Thoma is planning his comeback. The former head of number one German channel RTL and the man who brought trash TV to Germany is looking to set up a national network of regional channels using the U.S. network affiliate system as a model.

Currently, German TV is dominated by commercial channels that broadcast nationally via cable and satellite (RTL, Pro7, Sat.1) and the public networks, which have two national channels (ARD, ZDF) and a network of regional broadcasters. Although the larger German cities have their own private TV channels, there is no national network of regional commercial broadcasters.

Thoma plans to change that with his new venture, Volks-TV (or People's TV). On Tuesday, the German media authority the KEK and regional licensing group ZAK gave Thoma's firm the go-ahead. Now he, and business partner Helmut Kaiser, just have to raise the more than $40 million they estimate will be needed to bankroll the network for its first two years in operation. In an interview with German paper the Suddeutsche Zeitung, Thoma said he is hopeful Volks-TV will be able to launch by the end of this year. The plan is to start with a reach of 11 million households across Germany and to expand to up to 16 million.

Thoma's tight budget means he will be entering at the bottom of the market, competing on the same dial with his old employer RTL and others who can outspend him many times over on programming. But the 72-year-old Austrian has lost none of his ambition. He is already boasting that Volks-TV will become Germany's third largest commercial broadcaster.