Bertelsmann-controlled RTL Group offered no let-up to media woe as it posted what it admitted was the biggest interim loss ever reported by a European media group.

The pan-European broadcaster lost E2.2 billion ($2bn) before tax in the first half of 2001, and delayed its planned equity offering in light of current uncertainty in the markets.

RTL wrote off E2.4bn for the first six months of 2001, E2.2bn coming from a plunge in the value of Pearson TV. The unit, now named Fremantle Media, was purchased in a stock transaction last year, when valued at E4.7bn. RTL blamed the fall on “a deterioration of the equity market valuations and the restructuring of the US drama business.”

Adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) for the first half tumbled 15%. However, RTL would not predict the scale of the drop in the second half, though chief operating officer Ewald Walgenbach cautioned: “We expect that … it will get worse.”

Claiming the group had “outperformed” rivals in terms of audience and market share, chief executive Didier Bellens warned that the advertising outlook had deteriorated further over recent months. RTL pointed to a 1.3% first-half contraction in the German ad market, 7% in the Netherlands, 9.6% in the UK and 3.9% in France.

Nevertheless, executives said that RTL, with around E2.5bn of credit, is still looking for acquisitions. One such potential purchase is the minority stake held by United Business Media in British broadcaster Channel 5 - already majority-owned by RTL.

News sources: Financial Times; The Times (London)