RTL's Co-CEO on the Trouble With 'American Idol' and Why She Loves 'Downton Abbey' (Q&A)

Anke Schaferkordt

Anke Schaferkordt, the 2013 International Emmy honoree, discusses her management style and reveals why she's not really a fan of "Duck Dynasty."

This story first appeared in the Nov. 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

She’s the most powerful woman —arguably the most powerful among the top five executives, male or female — in European TV. As co-CEO with Guillaume de Posch of leading European commercial broadcaster RTL Group, Anke Schaferkordt, 50, oversees more than 50 channels across 10 countries and assets that include production giant FremantleMedia (American Idol,The X Factor) and RTL CBS Asia Entertainment, RTL’s new joint venture with CBS Studios through which the companies will launch thematic channels in Southeast Asia. Schaferkordt sat down with THR to talk about the problems facing Idol, the future of linear TV and the next global hit.

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Do you have a particular management philosophy?

I don’t know if I’d call it a philosophy, [but] I definitely see myself as a team player. TV is a team sport. I do what I say, and I follow the rules that I lay down. If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s people who don’t practice what they preach. If the company has rules, I have to be the first to follow them. It’s a question of attitude.

Music talent shows are a core part of your business, but ratings for Idol and others have suffered in the U.S. and worldwide. Of course we see lower ratings for the established talent shows — after so many seasons, it’s not surprising.  But talent shows are still a phenomenon worldwide: If you just look at the top 10 formats, there are always two or three talent shows in that list, in every country. I think we still have to have a focus on talent shows while constantly refreshing them creatively. In the end, they all tell a classic heroic journey. And the combination with music is so powerful. I still love to watch them, and I think audiences will too.

What’s the next big thing in TV?

That’s what every channel, every production company worldwide is looking for right now. Our production company FremantleMedia is investing heavily in format development for that reason. We generally see a return to shows for the whole family — ones that everyone from Grandma to the kids can watch together. But at the moment I don’t see the next big thing, the next Idol, on the horizon.

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You’re famous for watching almost everything, from dramas to soaps to reality TV. What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?

I could say Duck Dynasty to surprise everybody, but it’s not true. I’m not really a fan, but there are times when I’ve laughed out loud because it’s so bizarre. If I had to name a show I watch obsessively, it’d be Downton Abbey. I love the ensemble and the way — just when you think you understand a character — there’s a twist that reveals another aspect you wouldn’t have imagined.

Will we still watch linear television two to five years from now?

Yes — definitely. Look at the U.S., which is several years ahead of Europe when it comes to VOD. Linear TV is clearly dominating in the U.S. despite the strong growth of on-demand. But nonlinear television will gain in importance in Europe as well and long-term will become a significant double-digit share of the market. … But it’s funny. The same questions were being asked 10 years ago: Will there be TV in 10 years’ time? And of all the traditional media, TV has been by far the most successful in adapting to the digital world.