Thomas Ebeling

This interview originally appeared in the MIPTV 2014 issue of TV Europe.

ProSiebenSat.1 Media is one of the leading media groups in Europe and reaches some 41 million households in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Today it comprises a bouquet of free-TV and pay-TV channels, digital assets and a production-and-international-distribution unit. But the roots of the company lie in the two stations that give it its name. SAT.1 launched in 1984 offering programming for the entire family and was the first commercial station in Germany. ProSieben followed in 1989 and from the start went after younger viewers with a menu rich in American blockbusters and TV series.

Since then, the group has added a number of free-TV stations: kabel eins for viewers 25 to 45, sixx for women 20 to 39, SAT.1 Gold for women 49 to 64 and ProSieben MAXX for men 30 to 59. Rounding out the linear offer are the pay-TV channels SAT.1 Comedy, kabel eins CLASSICS and ProSieben FUN. While each targets a specific slice of the viewing audience, taken together they offer advertisers broad reach, which has been key to the financial success of the group.

Complementing the linear channels, ProSiebenSat.1 Digital operates a number of digital assets meant not only to attract consumers that like to watch wherever and whenever, but also help diversify the group’s revenues. The dig­ital offerings range from the subscription video-on-demand portal maxdome, which is Europe’s largest online video library, to the advertising-supported platform MyVideo and the websites and, which provide programming, games and more.

Another key unit of ProSiebenSat.1 is Red Arrow Entertainment Group, which is dedicated to developing programming for the international market. With production companies in numerous countries around the world, including the U.S. and the U.K., Red Arrow’s goal is to tap into revenues available from the entire value-added chain: from the development of shows, international sales and production of formats.

On the occasion of SAT.1’s 30th anniversary and ProSieben’s 25th, ProSiebenSat.1’s CEO, Thomas Ebeling, looks back at how these stations changed the German TV landscape and ahead to further growth for the entire group.

TV EUROPE: ProSieben and SAT.1 are celebrating important anniversaries this year. What did SAT.1 and ProSieben bring to the German audience at a time when the TV market had been dominated by public broadcasters ARD and ZDF?
EBELING: On January 1, 1984, at 9.58 am, SAT.1 went on air as the first German TV channel from a cellar studio, breaking the public TV monopoly. At that time, SAT.1’s rights catalogue was still very small and its technical reach was just a few thousand TV households. But this all changed very rapidly and SAT.1 brought a previously unknown diversity to television in this country. For example, the station established breakfast television, which is the most successful morning shows to this day. ARD and ZDF did not follow with their own morning format until 1992. As in many other areas, the private stations were pioneers here.

TV EUROPE: How has ProSieben connected so well with young viewers?
EBELING: ProSieben is the clear market leader among young target groups. Particularly among 14- to 29-year-olds, ProSieben reaches three times as many viewers as the public stations ARD and ZDF combined. This is due to the station’s very clear positioning. ProSieben started in 1989 as the first German station concentrating on U.S. fiction and was the first station with 24-hour programming. The biggest blockbusters are shown on Sundays on ProSieben to this day. U.S. series like The X-Files and ER quickly captivated the young audience. At the same time, the channel positioned itself very clearly with its own productions: Young magazine shows like taff, which is still on air today, or the first and still successful daily science magazine Galileo. ProSieben remains the first port of call for young entertainment television: shows like Got To Dance, The Voice of Germany and Germany’s Next Topmodel excite young viewers. Over 15 years, entertainer Stefan Raab has become Germany’s most respected entertainment personality. ProSieben also has Germany’s greatest entertainment hopes, the popular hosts Joko&Klaas, under exclusive contract.

TV EUROPE: What is the strategy for growing the broadcasting businesses in Germany: ProSieben, SAT.1, kabel eins, sixx, SAT.1 Gold, ProSiebenMAXX? Are there plans to launch more stations?
EBELING: In recent years, we have consistently launched new growth projects in our TV business. First, of course, with the new stations such as sixx, SAT.1 Gold and ProSieben MAXX. In 2013, they won more than 60 new TV advertising customers, which we mainly brought in from the print segment. I am convinced that the German-speaking TV market offers us potential for more stations. In addition, there is a second very important mainstay in our broadcasting segment: HD station distribution. In contrast to the U.S., German stations pay for cable network operators and other distributors to transmit their programs. With our HD stations, we have reversed this model for the first time. HD is a true growth market; in 2013, the number of ProSiebenSat.1 HD subscribers climbed 51 percent to 4.2 million TV households. This business offers us enormous advantages: we have established a recurring source of revenues for the long term, which is independent of the economically sensitive advertising market.

TV EUROPE: How are you serving viewers programming online and on demand? How have maxdome and MyVideo been received by viewers?
EBELING: maxdome is the largest video-on-demand portal in Germany with a market share of 35 percent and a million active users. Our major USP [unique selling proposition] is that maxdome comes pre-installed on 70 percent of all Smart TVs. In addition, we have launched our own app for Apple iOS, which is available on smartphones and tablets. maxdome is also available on Android. Video is the major driver on the Internet—56 percent and counting of all users in Germany regularly watch online videos. ProSiebenSat.1 is in an excellent position here. We have a good library of program rights with professional content, large parts of which we can utilize online. Our second strong digital entertainment brand is MyVideo. The advertising-supported platform reaches eight million active users and 40,000 premium video views per month. In the last two years, we have rapidly increased our amount of web-only content. At the same time, we successfully established Studio 71 last year, our own multichannel network, which already had 100 million video views in January 2014.

TV EUROPE: With what other businesses are you diversifying your revenues?
EBELING: We use the reach and advertising power of our stations to penetrate new markets with strong growth prospects in a targeted fashion. For example, this includes the digital commerce business. In recent years, we have built up a ventures portfolio with more than 70 investments and partnerships. In 2013, we acquired several strategic majority interests in the travel market and thus built a complete house of travel. With our commerce platforms, we now offer the entire travel cycle, from booking flights, hotels and rental cars to local climate data. We invest in holdings that target a mass market and that we can quickly provide with reach via our TV stations. By the same principle, we will build up additional commerce clusters, for example in fashion or home and living.

TV EUROPE: What have been some of successes of Red Arrow Entertainment?
EBELING: In 2013, we sold programs to more than 180 countries. Our U.S. show The Taste went to more than 80 countries. We developed new formats like Married at First Sight with the potential to become international hits. Furthermore, we significantly expanded our fiction portfolio and will film with international stars like Judi Dench or Dustin Hoffman in 2014. In Germany, we are producing 100 Code, Sky Germany’s first original production. We have also developed our access to the growing digital platform market: We produced Bosch, a pilot for Amazon that recently went online. Now the users are voting whether the pilot will go to series. Take a look at the website. The comments are very, very positive. For Netflix, we are currently filming the third season of our hit series Lilyhammer.

TV EUROPE: What is the strategy for growing the program production and sales businesses?
EBELING: Our most important goal is the expansion of our presence in the Anglo-Saxon markets and the growth of our English-speaking production portfolio. To this end, we will establish additional partnerships with top creatives like Mark Burnett and, where it makes sense, acquire additional investments. In a short space of time, Red Arrow has successfully built up 14 international holdings in nine countries. After a strong phase of expansion, it is now about realizing synergies and economies of scale between the individual production companies. At heart, however, it is of course always about one thing: producing successful television for the world.