Herbert Kloiber: The Classic TV Programmer

It has been nearly a quarter of a century
since American viewers got their first inkling
of the programming brilliance that would
earn Tele München chairman Herbert Kloiber
industry praise, myriad accolades and, now,
the Brandon Tartiko" Legacy Award at this
week’s NATPE conference.

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

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.”