• Overview

Whether you call it fernsehen, télévision, or television, RTL Group is probably involved. One of Europe's largest TV companies, RTL controls or has stakes in about 40 channels in 10 countries, including M6 (49%-owned) in France and its flagship RTL Television in Germany. The company is also a major producer of TV content through UK-based FremantleMedia, known for such programs as American Idol (and local versions in more than 50 countries), The Unteachables, and The X Factor. RTL also has an interest in more than 30 radio stations throughout Europe. Media conglomerate Bertelsmann owns about 90% of the company.

RTL's television operations, which account for about three-fourths of sales, have suffered from the downturn in the global economy and its negative effect on advertising. In response, RTL has tried to cut costs through restructuring efforts at its TV networks. The company has also focused on diversification efforts to lessen its dependence on advertising-supported media. In the UK, RTL in mid-2010 decided to exit the TV business altogether: it sold its former Channel Five network to Richard Desmond's Northern and Shell for €125 million ($160 million).

In addition to its broadcasting arms, RTL is focused on expanding its TV production business. FremantleMedia has built on its successful talent show franchises (Idols, Got Talent) to license new formats such as Hole in the Wall (based on a Japanese game show) for broadcasting around the world. The company is also keen to boost its presence in the lucrative US television market, where it acquired a 75% stake in reality-TV creator Original Productions (Ax Men, Deadliest Catch) in 2009. FremantleMedia accounts for about 20% of RTL's business.

Bertelsmann has on and off signaled its readiness to fully acquire the company as a wholly-owned subsidiary. Such a deal would eliminate the costs of maintaining RTL's public listing and separate reporting. However, the German media giant was most recently rebuffed from making a $1.7 billion offer in 2007 citing uncertainty about how Luxembourg's securities laws might affect the takeover attempt. RTL Group accounts for more than a third of Bertelsmann's sales.

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