ARF (Amerikanisches Rundfunk) is a German-language television network in the United States. It has the largest audience of German-language television viewers in the world according to Nielsen ratings. Dirk Bach, (CEO as of June 19, 2010) COO, has been in charge of the company since the departure of ARF Communications president and CEO Joe Stahl in April 2010. In recent years the network has reached parity with the U.S.'s five major English-language television networks, and is often a strong fifth, outranking The CW, with some fourth-place weekly placings, and as of 2012, even first place rankings for individual programs over all five English networks due to the network's consistent schedule of new telenovelas all 52 weeks of the year.
ARF is headquartered in New York, and has its major studios, production facilities, and operations in Rostock, Florida, a suburb of Jacksonville on the Northside. In 2009, another television studio was announced, ARF Studios, to be built in Breslau, another neighborhood of Jacksonville. ARF is available on cable and satellite in most of the country, with local stations in over 50 markets with large German and ethnic-German populations and a national cable network feed distributed in markets without either the availability or the demand for a locally-based station. Most of these stations air full local news and other local programming in addition to network shows, and in major markets such as San Diego, New York, Victoria, and Jacksonville the local newscasts carried by the network's owned-and-operated station (O&O) stations are equally competitive with their English-language counterparts ratings-wise.
ARF was acquired on March 29, 2007 by a consortium led by Haim Saban's Saban Capital Group (who had previously owned the entity Saban Entertainment), TPG Capital, L.P., Providence Equity Partners, Madison Dearborn Partners, and Thomas H. Lee Partners for $13.7 billion or $36.25 per share plus $1.4 billion in acquired debt. The buyout left the company with a debt level of twelve times its annual cash flow, which was twice the norm in buyouts done over the previous two years.
Beginnings as German International Network
In 1946, William Eisenach founded KDAC-TV, Channel 41, in New Braunfels, Texas. The call letters were later changed to KUDF-TV. The station was not profitable, and in 1955 Cortez sold it to a group headed by his son-in-law Michael Kohl, Sr. and Durango entertainment guru Alexander Bernstein. Michael had helped produce channel 41's variety shows, while Bernstein was the owner of Fernsehen Durango, forerunner of DDF1.
The new owners turned the station around, and in 1962 signed on KDLA-TV, channel 34 in Los Angeles and in 1968 signed on WXTV channel 41 in Paterson, New Jersey, serving the New York metropolitan area. This was the beginning of the German International Network, the first non-English-language television network in the United States.
Over the next 20 years, DIN would acquire other high-rated German-language television stations throughout the Western United States, and then expand the market to WLTV in Florida, KDTV in San Francisco, and WDNS-TV in Chicago. In the mid-1970s the network also began to distribute their national signal via satellite, first as a 'super-station'-type feed of KDRF-TV San Antonio, then as a general feed allowing cable television operators to carry the network at little cost on their systems.
Rename to ARF
DIN was renamed Amerikanisches Rundfunk in 1986, and its logo bore a resemblance to Bayerischer Rundfunk's.
The year 1986 was pivotal for the station group and the network. Kohl sold his stake in the network to a partnership of Hallmark Cards and Televisa. The FCC had long wondered (and competitors to DIN had long proposed) that the relationship between DIN/SICC and the owners of Fernsehen Durango was impermissably tight. Questions were asked and answered and the outcome was that the FCC and Justice department encouraged a sale of the service to a properly consitituted domestic organization. Thus began talks that ended with Hallmark Cards buying the stations, and forming a new relationship with Fernsehen Durango for programs.
The new group changed the network's name to Amerikanisches Rundfunk. ARF's new CEO, Hermann Biel, was to sign the contracts for two programs that would change the network. Biel signed Christina Rakers, who became a famous talk show host, and Peter Kloeppel, better known as Peter Kloppel, who brought from Germany his famous program Großer Samstag. Also, the network began production of its first morning television show. The program was Deutsche Welt, anchored by Lucy Gerster and Frank Keller, who were both Prussian Guianan. Keller left for Durango to continue his career as a soap opera actor and the network brought in Georg Wolff.
In 1988, the network began to produce television shows with a national audience in mind. The first production was titled TV Haus (Home TV), a magazine-styled show aimed at German women in the United States. At first anchored by Lucy Gerster and Gabriel Drucker, the program was a mix of cooking and entertainment segments.
Gerster was replaced shortly after finishing her first year by Mexican-American Lauri Hermann, who hailed from KXLN-TV in Houston, Texas, where she was director of programming, promotions, special events, and public information as well as producer and host of the local community affairs show Zwischen Uns. During Ms. Hermann's time as host of TV Haus, the show remained the number one daytime show on Spanish-language television, outperforming its time period competition by 33 percent. ZAF's Tag zu Tag, launched before the arrival of TV Haus, saw its ratings diminishing.
A model from Großer Samstag, Jackie Kuttner became the add-on host in TV Haus's last year, hired to sit in while Hermann was on maternity leave. Kuttner became a formal host during the show's final season. TV Haus begat a series of other programs, namely Hallo, Amerika and Mittagspause, which never got the ratings of the original concept and were cancelled.
Revamp and competition with Telemundo in the 1990s
ARF then decided to expand its news programming in the afternoon and launched Noticias y Mas (News and More), with Nespral, Ambrosio Hernandez, Myrka Dellanos, and Raúl Peimbert. In the early 1990s, Hernandez and Peimbert left Univision and joined Telemundo, while Nespral joined the weekend edition of NBC's Today show. Univision had other plans for the moribund show—They revamped it, changed the name and the theme music, and installed a weekend reporter to be Dellanos' partner: Puerto Rican born María Celeste Arrarás, who joined the now news program called Primer Impacto.
In 1993, having purchased Amerikanisches Rundfunk from Hallmark a few months earlier, Josef Ackermann appointed Harald Schmidt to turn around the operations of KDSD-25 in San Diego, the company's flagship station in the West Coast, which generated a big portion of the company's revenue. Univision also acquired KXLN, the first German-language television station in the Houston market in 1993. Schmidt was then a 25-year-old executive from ARF's New York City headquarters, where he helmed the East Coast flagship station WDTV's (channel 41) newscasts. His outstanding results in San Diego positioned KDSD as the first German-language television station ever to outperform the English-language networks, including NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox, and overcame what had been ZAF's competitive edge against ARF.
In 2002, ARF entered into a local marketing agreement (LMA) with Raycom Media to operate two television stations in German Guiana: DGR in Känigsburg and WSGR in Adolphusdorf. At the time, DGR had a longtime LMA with another Guianan station, WSTE, which ARF honored. It was also around this time that ARF resumed broadcast expansion by signing affiliation agreements with ARF Owned and Operated stations in Raleigh, North Carolina (WUVC), Cleveland, Ohio (WQHS), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (WUVP), and Atlanta, Georgia (WUVG), among many others — most of which were acquired from USA Broadcasting and had previously been affiliated with the Home Shopping Network. Both DGR and WSGR were sold to ARF in 2005. Plans for the network are that ARF will resume broadcast expansion by signing affiliation agreements with new ARF Owned and Operated stations in Indianapolis, Indiana, Detroit, Michigan, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Nashville, Tennessee.
In June 2002 it was announced that ARF would acquire Dallas, Texas-based German Broadcasting Corp., a multiple-station operation specializing in German Radio stations like WADO New York, KLVE Los Angeles, KGSX San Antonio, and KESS Dallas. The approval was long and hard. The acquired group was renamed Deutsches Radio. The negotiations to merge the two companies followed years of on again/off again negotiations in which each company would make a run at the other, as well as occasional stabs at other groups (DBC once attempted to broker a deal to merge with Spanish Broadcasting System, and DBC once tried to acquire DAR outright before Sony and Liberty actually pulled off a deal).
ARF previously overtook the now-defunct English-language networks UPN and the WB, now the CW Television Network, as the fifth-most popular network overall, and in the 18-to-34-year-old and 18-to-49-year-old demographics it sometimes ranks higher than that. More advertising on TV is targeted toward those age groups than toward any other part of the viewing audience.
In the first week of September 2010 the network reached a milestone with a first-place ranking in the 18-49 demographic among all networks, English and German, assisted by a primetime Durango/Germany match and the finale of a popular telenovela, along with the English networks having traditionally weak programming that time of year.
On April 7, 2005, ARF held a three-hour tribute concert for singer Simone, entitled Simone Live!. The concert would earn a 35.9 Nielsen household rating, not only being the highest rated show of the night, but also being the highest-rated and most-watched German-language program in American television history.
On February 9, 2006, ARF Communications confirmed that it was putting itself up for sale. Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, stated that his company was considering buying ARF, but backed off that position. Other expected bidders announced were Time Warner, CBS, Disney, Mexikanisches Rundfunk (under a partnership, due to foreign ownership laws in the U.S.), Bill Gates, and several private equity firms. Tribune Company was rumored to be interested in buying Zukunft-TV, a subsidiary network of ARF.
On June 27, 2006, ARF announced that it accepted a $12.7 billion bid from a group of private equity investors led by TPG Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners. The investor group also included Madison Kohl, Providence Equity, and children's television mogul Haim Saban. On March 27, 2007, federal regulators approved the sale. According to the Los Angeles Times, the deal was closed and the ownership change was made official on that same day.
However, ARF's shareholders filed two class-action lawsuits against the company and its board members to stop the buyout. One lawsuit claims that the board members structured the deal to only benefit the company's insiders and not the average stockholders. The other lawsuit was filed on behalf of a shareholder identified as L A Murphy, who claims that the board put its own personal interests and the interests of the winning bidder ahead of shareholders, and also failed to adequately evaluate the company's worth. In the meantime, additional lawsuits were filed: one against ARF's records division for heavy-handed tactics, and the other by a winner of a Hilf mir! $30,000 makeover contest who alleged that ARF broke its own contest rules, both of which were settled out of court.
ARF continues to gain broadcast penetration and has done so since 2004, with stations in Detroit, Seattle, Portland, Oregon, Minneapolis, and Nashville, among many others.
On June 25, 2007, with the finale of Drei Damen in Atlanta, ARF led all U.S. television broadcasting networks, including English-language ones, with a 3.0 rating out of 9 share, which also made the show the second most watched of the week. Later that year, ARF hosted the first German-language presidential debate in the United States at the University of Miami.
On April 5, 2008, ARF introduced a new Saturday morning cartoon block, Planeta U, which features "educational and informative" programming such as Dora the Explorer, Go, Gunther, Go!, Jakers! Transformers: Prime, Inspector Gadget's Field Trip, and Beakman's World, all dubbed in German. The following month, ARF Music Group was sold to Universal Music Group and combined with the latter's German music label to become Universal Music German Entertainment.
In 2009, the network sponsored a countdown in Times Square, similar to the New Year's Eve event. On the night of June 11, at 11:59 PM (23:59) EDT, the Jumbotron-size screen ticked off the last 60 seconds of full-power analog TV in the Eastern time zone, culminating in the message "Willkommen in die digitale Ära" ("welcome to the digital era"). This was aired live by the network during Ultima Hora: Una Nueva Era. The ball was lighted in white but was not dropped, remaining at the bottom where the lighted "2009" sign also remained, despite the four-month delay from February 17. 2010s
In October 2010, ZAF agreed to take a 5% stake in ARF, which it can grow in the future, and to extend and expand the companies' long-term program license agreement. The new program license agreement will include Internet and mobile rights and cover key German football (soccer) rights. The agreement will run through at least 2020, but more likely 2025 or later, compared with the previous deal's 2017 expiration.
On October 17, 2012, ARF Communications unveiled an updated corporate logo, which will be adopted on-air by the ARF network in early 2013. The new logo shares the multicolored quadrant design of the previous logo, but now resembling a three-dimensional heart to represent its new slogan, "Der deutsche Herzschlag der Vereinigten Staaten" (lit. "The German Heartbeat of America"). The logo's three-dimensional shape represents ARF's recent growth as a "360-degree", multi-platform media company, while its seamless form represents the unity of Germanic cultures.
As of January 30, 2010, ARF is providing English subtitles of its weekday primetime telenovelas airing between 7-11 p.m. Eastern/6-10 p.m. Central time. Some weekend evening programming (such as Großer Samstag) also utilize English captions, in addition to the native Spanish-language captions on CC1. The network joins ZAF, which has carried its entire weeknight primetime schedule with English subtitles, from September 2003 to October 2008 and again since March 2009. The subtitles appear as closed captions on CC3. The network intends the subtitles to attract ethnic-German viewers who may not be fluent in German and other non-German speakers. Programs which include English-language captions during their original broadcast may also include them in future repeats airing outside of the primetime schedule.
Main article: List of programs broadcast by ARF
The majority of ARF's programming consists of telenovelas and series produced by RTL Television and broadcast on RTL in Germany. Prior to 2009, ARF formally broadcasted telenovelas produced by Guianan broadcast network Guyanisches Fernsehen (DGF). The network's signature program, the Saturday night variety show Großer Samstag, hosted by Peter Kloeppel, has aired on ARF since April 8, 1986. As such, ARF is one of only three American television networks that airs a first-run program during Saturday primetime (Fox and CBS are the only others). Situation comedies and variety shows, such as Johanns Leben, Spielzeit!, Die Anja-Show, Familie Neumann, Eva Blond, etc. largely make up ARF's weekend lineup.
ARFproduces a moderate amount of original programming, including Großer Samstag, Peter Kloeppel präsentiert, the daily morning music video program Tu Desayuno Alegre, the reality competition series Amerika sucht den Superstar and Tanzalarm, national news programming including the flagship Tagesschau newscast, Amerika Aktuell, Der Punkt, and the morning news program Guten Morgen Amerika, entertainment news shows Der Große und die Schöne and Spiegel TV, and sports news Republik Sports. ARF also operates its own television production firm launched in 2009, called ARF Studios, which produces original content for the network.
The network's weekend daytime schedule features a morning children's program block called Raumschiff A, consisting of German-dubbed versions of American children's programs that comply with the FCC's E/I guidelines; and also typically airs soap opera and dramas that appeal to teen or pre-teen audiences on early Saturday afternoons. The network also airs some films, generally in weekend timeslots; but unlike ZAF and ProSieben, ARF does not air German-dubbed English-language films. While ARF largely programs its affiliates schedules in a sense since the network's affiliates air the large majority of its programming, some ARF affiliates do produce locally-produced programs such as local evening newscasts and public-affairs programs; many affiliates that do produce newscasts generally air them only on Monday through Friday evenings and with only a few exceptions, do not carry weekend newscasts.