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Bertelsmann Names New RTL Heads as Zeiler Leaves for Time Warner

Bertelsmann AG, Europe’s biggest media company, named Anke Schaeferkordt and Guillaume de Posch to jointly head its television unit RTL Group SA, replacing Gerhard Zeiler who is joining Time Warner Inc.

Zeiler, 56, is leaving April 18 after nine years as chief executive officer, RTL said yesterday. He will become president of the international unit of Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting System.

Zeiler became RTL CEO in March 2003 and made the business Bertelsmann’s most profitable unit. European TV operators such as Luxembourg-based RTL, which owns 47 television channels and 29 radio stations in 10 countries, need to focus on expanding the company’s pay-TV and digital businesses, said David Joyce, an analyst at Miller Tabak & Co. in New York.

“Europe is still behind the U.S. in terms of penetration of pay-TV,” Joyce said in a phone interview. New Internet offerings are also necessary to keep and win viewers as consumers increasingly watch TV shows via the Web, he said.

Schaeferkordt, 49, is currently the CEO of RTL’s German unit and will replace Zeiler on Bertelsmann’s executive board. De Posch, responsible for RTL’s international business, will join Bertelsmann’s management committee, a body giving the executive board advice on corporate strategy.

Streaming Competition

Turner, whose businesses include CNN, TNT and Cartoon Network, said Zeiler will oversee all entertainment and kids’ networks as well as media services outside North America. He will also handle distribution and commercial operations of CNN’s international services, and Turner’s international joint ventures, licensing and merchandising activities. He will report to Phil Kent, head of Turner Broadcasting.

RTL, which in November said third-quarter profit excluding some items rose 8.3 percent on higher advertising revenue and strong ratings for its “X Factor” and “Got Talent” shows, faces increased competition from video-streaming companies such as Netflix Inc. and Inc.’s Lovefilm unit.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings last month forecast the company will attract millions of subscribers within a few years to the Internet film and television service it started in the U.K. and Ireland.

RTL, in which Bertelsmann owns 91 percent according to Bloomberg data, dropped 1.2 percent to 73.24 euros in Brussels yesterday, before the management changes were announced, valuing the company at 11.3 billion euros ($15 billion). In the last 12 months, the stock has declined less than one percent while the 19-member Euro Stoxx Media Index dropped 20 percent.

Digital Expansion

Media businesses such as Bertelsmann, whose assets also include Europe’s biggest magazine publisher Gruner + Jahr, are trying to bolster revenue from digital and Web assets to make up for slower growth at traditional newspaper, magazine and printing services.

Thomas Rabe, who was finance chief of RTL from 2000 to 2005, became Bertelsmann CEO on Jan. 1 and has been tasked to expand the company’s digital business. Bertelsmann is looking for acquisitions after it returned to profit last year helped by rising advertising sales at RTL.

Schaeferkordt joined Bertelsmann in 1988 and became a strategy executive at RTL in 1991. In 2005, she was appointed as head of RTL’s German unit.

Zeiler is leaving Bertelsmann and RTL by “mutual and amicable consent,” the company said. Zeiler, who joined RTL in November 1998, began his career as a freelance journalist and has also worked as CEO of Austrian public broadcaster ORF in Vienna.

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