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RTL Group

Overview

This profile looks at European broadcaster RTL.


It covers -

  • introduction
  • the group
  • history
  • studies

Introduction

RTL (formerly CLT-UFA) is Europe's largest television and radio group. It operates 40 radio and TV stations throughout Europe and production and rights trading businesses.

Operations include RTL Television in Germany, RTL Radio in France, HMG in the Netherlands, Channel 5 in the UK, RTL TVI in Belgium and UFA SPORTS. The group is now a Bertelsmann subsidiary.

The RTL corporate site is here.

An indication of RTL holdings is here.

The group

RTL claims to be "Number 1 in TV and Radio Broadcasting in Europe" (with 18 radio stations and 24 TV channels in 10 countries), a global leader in content production with up to 200 programs produced in 35 countries (including the Grundy game show and sitcom group) - some 10,000 hours of programming per year - and the largest independent film/tv distribution operation outside the US. Its sports licensing arm rivals that of Kirch, now in receivership

UK media group Pearson held a direct 22% stake. Bertelsmann had a 30% stake with the Audiofina/Electrofina arm of Franco-Belgian investment group Groupe Bruxelles Lambert (GBL) - inherited its equity from the French developers of Radio Luxembourg and its sister station Radio Normandie - and a further 37% through BWTV, of which it owned 80% and German publisher WAZ owned 20%.

In December 2001 Bertelsmann acquired Pearson's 22% in RTL and subsequently acquired the WAZ stake in BWTV. Acquisition of the remainder of RTL involved Groupe Bruxelles Lambert (controlled by the Frère-Bourgeois group and Desmarais' Power Corp) gaining 25% of Bertelsmann. That was mooted as a precursor to listing of the group on the major exchanges and further diluting ownership by the Mohn family and the Bertelsmann Foundation. In 2006 Bertelsmann instead acquired the GBL interests for €4.5 billion.

History

The group is a heterogenous mix of units. Its film and television production arm dates from 1917, when the UFA film production, distribution and exhibition group was established by the German army and later absorbed by Hugenberg's Scherl publishing conglomerate.

English-language content production includes the successors to the studios established by UK commercial television channels (and the Australian Grundy company) brought together by Pearson and competing with the Carlton and Granada groups prior to amalgamation with CLT-UFA.

The latter resulted from the merger of Bertelsmann's film production, licensing and radio units with Compagnie Luxembourgeoise de Télédiffusion (CLT), the Luxembourg-based commercial radio and television broadcaster whose transmissions went over the border into France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and the UK from the 1930s onwards. For most of last century Radio Luxembourg was Europe's most powerful shortwave station: the 'borderless world' long predates the internet.

Havas, now a subsidiary of Vivendi, held a stake in CLT for several decades but sold much of its holding when privatised in 1987 and swapped the rest for equity in GBL during the establishment of RTL.

In July 2005 UBM announced the sale of its 35% stake in UK Channel Five Television to RTL for £247 million. Five was founded 1997 as Channel 5 Broadcasting, winning the licence to run the UK's fifth television channel with a £22m bid. The consortium's initial members were CLT-Ufa (29%), Pearson TV (24%), Warburg Pincus (18%) and UBM (29%). Warburg Pincus sold out in 2000, with Channel 5 valued at £1 billion. UBM and CLT each paid £61m to take their stakes to 35.37%. Pearson spent £51m to raise its stake to 29.25%. As noted above CLT and Pearson TV subsequently merged, taking RTL's stake to 65%.

Studies

There are no major English-language studies of CLT or the RTL group. For a French perspective see Richard Barbrook's lucid Media Freedom: The Contradictions of Communications in the Age of Modernity (London: Pluto Press 1995) and the overview in Raymond Kuhn's The Media in France (London: Routledge 1995).

Radio Luxembourg: The Station Of The Stars (London: Comet 1984) by Richard Nichols is a pop treatment centred on 'Lux' as Britain's leading 'pirate' radio channel.

For UFA's early history see The UFA Story: A History of Germany's Greatest Film Company 1918-1945 (New York: Hill & Wang 1996) by Klaus Kreimeier and the detailed bibliography on the UFA note elsewhere on this site.

The major French studies are Jean-Jacques Cheval's Les Radios en France: Histoire, état & enjeux (Paris: Editions Apogée 1997) and Les Années radio: 1949-1989 (Paris: L'Arpentine 1989) by Jean-Francois Remonté & Simone Depoux.