Herbert Kloiber: The Classic TV Programmer
The multiple Emmy-winner has been a major force in international production and markets
By George Winslow -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/28/2013 12:01:00 AM
On Sept. 24, 1978, Kloiber produced a live concert from Lincoln Center with pianist Vladimir Horowitz and the New York Philharmonic that aired on NBC. The broadcast, which won five Emmys, was notable not only because a major U.S. network commissioned a young Austrian to produce the event. It was also widely aired live in stereo in Europe— an unusual move for a non-sporting event in those years—and it marked the first public performance by Horowitz in more than a decade.
“[Horowitz] had disappeared from the world for 11 years after playing at Carnegie Hall in 1968, and it took me years to convince him to do this for television,” Kloiber recalled. “Because I had been pestering the poor man for so long, we were the ones chosen to produce it.”
That persistence and determination, as well as his eye for a big creative event, have helped Kloiber build up his privately held Tele München Group into a company with revenue of 300 million Euros (about $400 million U.S.) in 2011. The firm has four broadcast TV channels and a major programming distribution, production, home video and VOD operation fueled by one of Europe’s largest libraries.
But TMG’s influence on the global TV industry extends far beyond its size, say a number of executives for U.S. television, Hollywood studios and European broadcasting. The execs specifically cite Kloiber’s award-winning productions and entrepreneurial skills. Over the years, he has been honored with the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres in France, the Bavarian Order of Merit, the Grand Decoration of Honor for Services to the Republic of Austria and four personal Emmys, including the Directorate Award from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
“Herbert has a very keen sensibility for content,” said Armando Nuñez, president and CEO of the CBS Global Distribution Group. “He just has a passion and a talent for great content.”
Despite his success, Kloiber said he got into the TV business somewhat by accident. He had always been close to his godfather, Herbert von Karajan, who was a conductor and major promoter. While Kloiber was in law school, von Karajan asked him for advice on the joint venture he had with German media mogul Leo Kirch, who ended up hiring Kloiber in 1970 in international sales.
In 1974, Kloiber was named managing director of Kirch’s Unitel, which specialized in opera and concert films. Three years later, he decided to go out on his own, acquiring Tele München.
He continued to produce classical music events, a genre that remains close to his heart. But Tele München also had the rights to Jack London’s works, and in the late 1970s Kloiber became an early proponent of large multi-territory coproductions. The ensuing adaptations of major literary classics have aired in the U.S. on PBS and on a number of other channels around the world. Also, TMG continues to be involved in about two major miniseries a year with budgets of more than $20 million, including the 2011 Moby Dick production starring William Hurt.
In 1980, Kloiber became an early player in the emerging home video business, and in 1986 he was a major investor in the launch of Sat.1, the first German commercial TV network. After selling his stake, he worked with Silvio Berlusconi, the owner of Italy’s largest commercial TV operation, on Tele-5, a channel that is now wholly owned by TMG. And Kloiber later backed the launch of ATV, Austria’s first commercial broadcaster.
Kloiber is a “true pioneer of German commercial television,” said Gerhard Zeiler, president of Turner Broadcasting System International. Zeiler, who last year became the first non- American to receive the Tartiko" honor, was hired by Kloiber in 1990 as CEO of Tele-5 and later ran Europe’s largest broadcast operation, the RTL Group.
The rise of TMG as a major European producer is particularly notable because Germany has long been dominated by a few major players, according to Jefrey R. Schlesinger, president, Warner Bros. International Television.
Kloiber, who has built up one of Europe’s largest libraries with well over 8,000 hours of content, has also partnered with some of “the largest and most successful companies in our industry,” Schlesinger added.
In 1987, Kloiber sold a 50% stake to Cap Cities/ ABC, beginning a decade-long partnership. “He was our European partner, steering us clear of investment shoals and making us both a lot of money in the process,” Herb Granath, who at the time oversaw ABC’s international investments, wrote in an email.
“Herbert is one of the last true Renaissance men,” Granath added. “[He is] equally comfortable discussing Gustav Mahler and…production values and rating demographics.”
In 1996, after Disney acquired ABC, Kloiber bought back his stake, but he continues to have close ties with major studios and top U.S. executives, many of which have done business with him for decades.
“In the last 40 years I’ve had the privilege to deal with a lot of U.S. executives, starting with Fred Silverman at NBC, who commissioned a 28-year-old Austrian to do a show for a major U.S. broadcast network,” Kloiber said. “Without being able to work with all the U.S. broadcasters and put our hands on U.S. product, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
The feeling in the American market is mutual, where executives have increasingly relied on entrepreneurs such as Kloiber to fund movies and TV programs. “He is a very important partner,” Nuñez said, “and one of the most charming people you will ever meet.”
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