Interview with Thomas Rabe

12.03.2021, Luxembourg, RTL Group

In an exclusive interview, Thomas Rabe, CEO of RTL Group, talks about the Group’s reaction to the coronavirus crisis, strategic priorities and the financial results.

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Thomas Rabe, CEO of RTL Group

Looking back on 2020, how was the year for the Group?

Thomas Rabe: 2020 was a year of both unprecedented challenge and major achievements for RTL Group. We reacted promptly to the worldwide spread of the coronavirus disease, placing the highest priority on the health of our employees and on protecting our businesses. 

The full-year results for 2020 show that we managed to strike the right balance between implementing cost and cash-flow countermeasures, maintaining our market positions and investing in the future of our businesses, in particular in streaming and advertising technology.

RTL Group’s three-priority strategy – core, growth, alliances & partnerships – has remained unchanged, I am very pleased to report that we have made major progress in all three priorities.

How has the coronavirus outbreak affected RTL Group and its business units?

Thomas Rabe: At the beginning of March 2020, we registered first cancellations of advertising bookings, as well as postponements of productions. This trend accelerated with the introduction of wide-ranging lockdown measures across Europe in later March. At this time, we moved to compulsory working-from-home measures, with very few exceptions.

Despite these challenges, our TV channels, radio stations, streaming services and websites continued to operate without interruption, registering significantly higher reach and usage.

Throughout the year, RTL provided information and entertainment to millions of people who faced extraordinary disruption to their daily lives.

M6's news show Le 1945. Photo: © Wlad Simitch / M6

The strong ratings of our news shows and information magazines demonstrated again: when it matters, people turn to TV. And they could rely on the dedication and professionalism of our news teams who covered the crisis from all angles with live broadcasts, specials and documentaries.

I am also pleased we have been running many initiatives such as awareness campaigns for social-distancing measures, thank-you messages for the daily heroes of this unique crisis, and economic support for those businesses hardest hit by it. For example, RTL Nederland offered free advertising to small and medium companies when the country re-opened in May 2020. And the Ad Alliance ‘click & collect’ campaign in Germany has encouraged consumers to support local retailers and restaurants by buying things online and picking them up.

All employees showed great team spirit and solidarity – physically distant, but in a way closer than ever and cooperating even more. Together, in our response, we were able to confirm the relevance of media, and were able to contribute to society in a meaningful way.

The Ad Alliance ‘click & collect’ campaign in Germany has encouraged consumers to support local retailers and restaurants by buying things online and picking them up.

RTL Group recently announced the transformation of the RTL brand. Can you tell us more about the ‘RTL United’ project?

Thomas Rabe: We are working on implementing a comprehensive redesign and repositioning of the RTL brand. We will sustainably strengthen RTL as the leading European entertainment brand and harmonise the brand architecture across the entire RTL Group – from the corporate brands to the channel and format brands, and across all digital platforms.

The focus is on ‘one RTL’ brand that stands for positive entertainment, independent journalism, as well as inspiration, energy and attitude.

We have planned the roll-out of this transformational project for the second half of 2021, starting with RTL Group and RTL Deutschland, and then gradually across the other European RTL families of channels. As part of the plan, TV Now will become RTL+, a clear statement of our ambition to build national streaming champions.

Addressable TV (ATV) is said to be one of the biggest growth opportunities for European broadcasters. How is RTL Group tapping into the market?

Thomas Rabe: Addressable TV enables advertisers to continue to make the most of TV for what it has always been best at – creating brand awareness with massive audience reach in a high-quality, brand-safe environment. At the same time, advertisers can use new data-driven capabilities to target audience segments that are more likely to generate a specific business impact and, ultimately, measure that impact. In essence, ATV will grow available inventory, attract new advertisers – for example local and regional advertisers – and achieve higher CPMs (Cost Per Mille).

In Germany alone, the market for addressable TV advertising is expected to grow to more than €500 million by 2025 – with RTL Deutschland taking approximately €200 million of this market.

Advertising technology remains a strategic priority for RTL Group.

To transform our business successfully, two factors are particularly important. One is higher reach, in both linear and non-linear TV. The second is better monetisation of our reach, through targeting and personalisation – and this requires state-of-the-art advertising technology and data management. With our European ad-tech companies Smartclip and Yospace, we have made significant progress in building an open European ad-tech platform and in tapping into the high-growth market of addressable TV advertising.

RTL Group’s European ad-tech companies Smartclip and Yospace.

You have expressed your conviction that partnerships are more important than ever. Could you give some examples?

Thomas Rabe: Our Ad Alliance in Germany reaches nearly 99 percent of all households. The Bertelsmann Content Alliance in Germany comprises seven Bertelsmann content businesses that invest a total of more than €2 billion in content every year. In 2020, we created a Bertelsmann Content Alliance in the UK and at the beginning of 2021, RTL Deutschland and Gruner + Jahr started a process of exploring closer collaboration.

We believe that there is a strong case for in-country consolidation in the European media industry, in particular in TV. We at RTL will continue to review options for such consolidation and the creation of national champions to compete with the US tech platforms.


For more information about the RTL Group Full-year results, click here.