Thomas Rabe, the CEO of RTL Group and Chairman and CEO of RTL parent company Bertelsmann, has big ambitions for the pan-European broadcast giant. In an RTL shareholders’ meeting in August 2021, Rabe announced that Fremantle, RTL’s production division known for producing popular entertainment formats like X Factor and American Idol, had plans to significantly expand its revenue. Rabe stated that Fremantle would aim to raise its revenue by €1 billion ($1.1 billion) over the next four years, reaching a target of €3 billion ($3.3 billion) by 2025.
To support Fremantle’s expansion, RTL provided the necessary funds for a buying spree, allowing the company to acquire several independent production companies in the past three years. Some notable acquisitions include Element Pictures in Ireland, the producers of acclaimed series Normal People and Oscar-winner The Favourite; Lux Vide in Italy, the producers of Netflix’s Medici; and Abot Hameiri in Israel, the group behind the hit show Shtisel. Through these acquisitions and many more, Fremantle ventured into the realm of drama and scripted production, expanding its expertise beyond non-scripted entertainment.
Fremantle’s expansion also includes investment in independent films and documentaries. The company has backed projects from renowned directors such as Pablo Sorrentino (The Hand of God), Luca Guadagnino (Bones and All), and Yorgos Lanthimos (Poor Things). Additionally, Fremantle acquired majority stakes in 72 Films, producers of the BBC documentary series The Elon Musk Show, and Wildstar Films, known for producing National Geographic’s America’s National Parks. These endeavors have established Fremantle as a global drama powerhouse and earned it the title of The Hollywood Reporter’s 2023 international producer of the year.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Rabe shared his insights on why RTL continues to invest in Fremantle and the significance of drama in the company’s global strategy. Rabe emphasized that premium content and storytelling are central to Fremantle’s core. Collaborating with talented storytellers and international stars has been key to their success. In 2022, more than 15% of Fremantle’s revenue came from partnerships with streamers worldwide. To replicate this success in the documentary genre, Fremantle established a new global documentaries division and acquired documentary production companies, further diversifying its output.
Rabe highlighted that Fremantle’s flagship entertainment formats, such as America’s Got Talent and American Idol, have remained successful. These shows have surpassed prime-time averages of respective TV networks in the US. In the UK, Fremantle produces leading entertainment shows like The Apprentice and Britain’s Got Talent. In Germany, their production company UFA creates successful formats for RTL Deutschland’s linear TV channels, such as the long-running talent show Deutschland sucht den Superstar. Overall, Fremantle’s expansion and diverse output in entertainment, drama, film, and documentaries have positioned the company as a creative global content powerhouse.
Exploring the appeal of expanding into drama, documentaries, and independent film, Rabe emphasized that premium content and storytelling are fundamental to Fremantle’s mission. Although these ventures may involve higher risks and lower profit margins compared to non-scripted television, they have proven to be rewarding in terms of recognition and awards. Notable examples include The Hand of God’s Oscar nomination, Bones and All winning two awards at the Venice Film Festival, and The Eight Mountains receiving recognition at the Cannes Film Festival. Fremantle’s documentaries have also garnered acclaim, with projects like Arctic Drift and Shadow of Truth winning multiple awards and finding success with streaming platforms like Netflix and the BBC.
In addition to the artistic and creative rewards, expanding into scripted content allows Fremantle to partner with top creatives, strengthen relationships with streamers worldwide, and build a valuable content library. Although these ventures require more capital and involve higher risks, Rabe believes they are instrumental in achieving Fremantle’s ambitious goals and contributing to the growth strategy of the RTL Group.
Overall, Thomas Rabe’s vision for Fremantle is one of expansion, diversification, and global collaboration. By investing heavily in content production and strategic acquisitions, Fremantle aims to become a leading player in the global entertainment industry.