Exclusive Interview: TMG’s Herbert G. Kloiber & Herbert L. Kloiber


PREMIUM: Herbert G. Kloiber, Tele München Group’s (TMG) chairman, and Herbert L. Kloiber, the company’s managing director, speak to World Screen about the kind of programming that is best suited to today’s multiplatform world.

WS: Tell us about your production business. What do you have in the pipeline?
HGK: Our drama production has been a healthy business for 45 years. In addition to our miniseries based on bestselling Rosamunde Pilcher novels, we are producing miniseries based on the books of a much younger, hugely popular British writer, Cecilia Ahern, who wrote PS, I Love You. They are either 2×90 minutes or 3×90 minutes, produced in English. We also have the upcoming [biopic] The von Trapp Family: A Life of Music.
HLK: This year marks the 50th anniversary of the blockbuster movie The Sound of Music. In Germany, Austria and Switzerland we are going to release The von Trapp Family: A Life of Music theatrically on November 12. Lionsgate is our partner in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. They are currently developing their own release strategy. In each market it’s probably going to be a little different.
HGK: The big project for us next year is Richard Lionheart. That will be either six 1-hour episodes or 3×90 minutes. The script is written by Guy Burt, and we have been developing it for about a year and a half now. It follows Richard from the Third Crusade to his shipwreck on the Italian coast, his years as a captive in Austria, his escape and his return to France. It’s a big [project], with a budget of approximately $18 million. It’s an event production with key international partners.

WS: Are broadcasters are still looking for big events?
HGK: German broadcasters are very much into German history, both pre-World Wars and post-World Wars, and all sorts of historical family dramas. Someone was recently trying to do the Helmut Kohl story, which actually got stopped by his lawyers, but a lot of history is being reenacted. International miniseries have to be high-profile events that warrant special programming in order to make the cut.

WS: What other productions are you doing?
HGK: We have a company called Odeon, which generally produces only for German networks—mostly one-hour procedurals, seven or eight of them a year. It’s a $60-million purely domestic production business. We also do other lighter entertainment and non-scripted programming; that area is growing without having the same amount of visibility that some of our other productions have. The only segment of the market that seems to have become overheated is the licensing of feature films. We’re looking at dollar-to-euro parity down the road. [Product that was once acquired with an exchange rate of] $1.30 or $1.40 to the euro is probably going to cost dearly, and the 20- or 30-percent margin you need in case of failure is being eaten up by the exchange rate.

WS: Are you acquiring less studio product and doing more co-productions and co-financing of projects?
HLK: We are now much more directly involved with producers and agencies. We co-produce or cherry-pick shows that we buy either for the German-speaking market or even for our TM International world sales arm. We’ve found that that is the better route for us and we have done a lot of these shows in the last year or two. We’ve participated in two U.S. network shows: Crossbones for NBC and Black Box for ABC. Then we partnered on the miniseries Tut, which had great ratings on Spike. We did Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, a BBC prime-time miniseries that aired very successfully. We are doing The Shannara Chronicles, a new MTV show that got amazing reviews at Comic-Con, and the miniseries The Night Manager, which is currently shooting for BBC and AMC.  We are trying to do more and more of those and trying to find procedurals if possible. We find we get more traction outside the studio system than through output deals.

WS: Is Hollywood product having a hard time finding a home because a lot of the shows are serialized?
HGK: It all gets sold through output deals, but when it comes to air it is disappointing. You can hear nothing but German TV executives bemoaning the bad start of whatever show was the hot [property] at the last May Screenings. RTL, VOX and RTL II have continuously put on shows that have fared well in the U.S. and have multiple seasons, [but programming executives had to stop airing them] after six or eight or ten episodes because the series just weren’t performing. Therefore, I think the days of TV output deals are numbered, and the days of large portions of U.S. tele­vision fare making it to the top-tier broadcasters will also come to an end in the foreseeable future.
HLK: There is more you can do on the digital and pay-TV side with serialized product, and we have deals with every platform. We control exploitation further, both physically and digitally, through our home-entertainment arm, Concorde, and we see that as a growing market. We are buying those shows selectively, but not for the money that the U.S. is looking for, taking into consideration the near-parity between the dollar and the euro we have at the moment. It will take some time until people realize that a lot of these well-made, expensive shows have a hard time finding a home in the German market, where most value still comes from free TV.

WS: Is Netflix already producing original programming in Germany?
HLK: Not for now. They have said that eventually they want to do a German original, but I think that they are pretty far from it.

WS:  Would you see them as a potential partner?
HLK: Absolutely. Through our production units, Odeon or Prisma or Concorde, we are pitching them ideas and shows, as probably a hundred other German production companies are! And they will maybe do one in two years. In the meantime, we are already good partners with Netflix. We are good partners with Amazon and Sky. We love to do business with all, and hopefully at one point will do an original, German or not.
HGK: We are talking to Roy Price [the VP of Amazon Studios], for example. He has [an affinity] for the Spike Lee- and Woody Allen-type movies, which our theatrical division has been doing for more than 35 years. We have the original Spike Lee movies, and we acquired more than 15 Woody Allen movies over the years. Roy and Herbert, Jr., are having conversations about drama projects and cooperating in the international market on some of these big features, but so far there is no totally clear-cut strategy on Amazon Studios’ part as to what kind of release pattern is best for them strategically. Naturally there will be some experimenting until the right mix crystallizes.

WS: Tell us about other TMG businesses.
HGK: Dear to my heart is always our classical music segment. It’s the 10th season of New York’s Metropolitan Opera [transmitted] live into cinemas [in Germany and in other territories]. We have more than 100 productions that are available in Ultra HD and are subsequently distributed to TV and VOD. That creates a niche that a lot of the pay services like because it helps them attract a different type of subscriber. I’m still on the board of the Met and we are still doing a fair amount of work for them and with them. We are producing a few other operas and concerts mainly out of Cleveland but also out of the Salzburg Festival.