18.03.2021, Luxembourg/Germany, RTL Group
On 17 March 2021 the third edition of the RTL Virtual Management Meeting took place with more than 250 executives from across the Group attending online.
The agenda included an update from the Executive Committee on RTL Group’s financials, operating performance and strategy. Six speakers from the business units shared case studies on boosting RTL Group’s growth businesses such as addressable TV, expanding production of high-end documentaries and transforming Divimove into a digital studio and talent agency. The final presentation gave first-hand insights into current threats to press freedom. The Virtual Management meeting was live-streamed from the RTL Deutschland TV studios in Cologne. All the participants and crew in the studio were tested for coronavirus beforehand.
Thomas Rabe, Chief Executive Officer of RTL Group, opened the meeting with a trailer showcasing the diversity and creativity within the Group. He then welcomed more than 250 executives from across the Group as well as the members of the RTL Group Board of Directors. “Since our last meeting in September, we have made significant progress in strategy implementation and have accelerated the transformation of RTL Group. We are firing on all cylinders.”
Thomas Rabe illustrated this progress with an overview of the 2020 highlights (see also the interview with Thomas Rabe from 12 March 2020) and explained why consolidation is such an important topic for RTL Group, given the ever growing competition with US platforms such as Google, Amazon or Netflix.
Thomas Rabe: “Our answer is to scale up our broadcasting businesses. We are in no rush and we will do this from a position of strength and confidence. Scaling up can take many forms – from alliances and partnerships, acquisitions such as the full takeovers of RTL Belgium and Super RTL to larger in-country consolidation. In bigger markets, in-country consolidation would generate significant synergies which we could partly re-invest in building our national streaming champions. We are aware that there are both regulatory and cultural obstacles, but we are ready to act. Be assured that we will always act in the best strategic interest of our businesses and our employees.”
Björn Bauer, Chief Financial Officer of RTL Group, followed with an update on the Group’s financial performance: “Four elements were key to our 2020 performance: a strong rebound in the TV ad markets in the second half of 2020, effective control of our costs, strong cash conversion, as well as higher capital gains.” He explained the cost flexibility of RTL Group’s businesses in reaction to the Covid-19 crisis and extended thanks to all colleagues in the business units:
“Many thanks to all of you for finding the right balance between cost discipline while continuing to invest into our businesses.”
The financial segment ended with the outlook for the year 2021, which assumes that the economic recovery continues. Björn Bauer said: “With an Adjusted EBITA before streaming start-up losses of approximately €1.125 billion in 2021, our operating profitability will be almost back to pre-Covid levels – this is a very good signal and shows that we have the right ambition.”
Elmar Heggen, Chief Operating Officer and Deputy CEO of RTL Group, followed with a business update, showing how the Group’s largest revenue stream – TV advertising – developed on a quarterly basis in 2020.
“Once the economic environment normalised over summer, TV advertising money came back quickly – and this clearly shows the strength of TV with regards to building reach and brands.”
Elmar Heggen also shared insights into the start of 2021: “Due to the current lockdown measures, TV advertising markets across Europe registered a soft start. While the first quarter has been weaker than expected, we remain optimistic for the full-year 2021 and expect our TV advertising revenue to grow by around three per cent on a full-year basis.”
Transforming RTL Group
The meeting continued with presentations on some of the Group’s growth businesses.
Matthias Dang, Chief Sales, Technology and Data Officer at RTL Deutschland presented the topic of addressable TV and its growth opportunity in the German market.
Matthias Dang: “With addressable TV, we can combine mass reach with one-to-one advertising. Through our ad-tech businesses Smartclip and Yospace, we can deliver data via our own technology to our clients. We expect the market size to increase tenfold in the next five years to €500 million.”
Jennifer Mullin, CEO of Fremantle, together with Andrea Scrosati, COO at Fremantle, presented the opportunities for Fremantle from the growing demand for high-end factual content.
Jennifer Mullin: “Documentaries are attracting big audiences across the globe. Our ambition is to make Fremantle as successful in high-end factual as in scripted and non-scripted.”
Andrea Scrosati: “To meet the demand for high-end documentaries, we will also create a global factual team and put leadership in place before of the first half-year of 2021. Our goal is to replicate the success we have achieved in the scripted space, making factual Fremantle’s third content pillar.”
Natalie Tideström Heidmark
Tobias Schiwek, CEO of Divimove, and Natalie Tideström Heidmark, CEO of United Screens, outlined Divimove’s transformation from a multi-channel-network into a pan-European digital studio and talent agency.
Tobias Schiwek: “We merged five leading companies into one and transformed an MCN into a new generation media company that produces award-winning serial content for audiences around the globe.”
Natalie Tideström Heidmark: “We are creating the future of branded entertainment by combining storytelling, strategy, data, creation, talent, production and media into short and longform content.”
Sonja Schwetje © MG RTL D / Weigl
The last topics on the agenda were press freedom, content responsibility, and editorial independence, which are all among the Group’s most relevant corporate responsibility topics. Sonja Schwetje, Editor-In-Chief of the German news channel NTV and Chairwoman of the Bertelsmann Working Group on Press Freedom, spoke about current threats to press freedom caused by a new aggressive climate – be it at the capitol riots in Washington or at anti-lockdown demonstrations.
Sonja Schwetje: “There has been an increase in demand for high-quality news content during the pandemic. Journalists have also had limited access to decision-makers, partly due to travel restrictions or virtual press meetings, and been met with more aggression from the general public due to polarisation and general ‘Covid frustration’.“
In a video, journalists and news reporters gave first-hand insights into how the current climate in the media has affected their work.
Thomas Rabe underlined: “We all salute the work our journalists are doing out there on the streets and we strongly condemn the violence our teams are facing. The past 12 months were extraordinary. The strong ratings of our news shows and information magazines demonstrated again: when it really 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.”
Following an interactive Q+A with the participants, Thomas Rabe ended the meeting by saying: