Gerhard Zeiler, 43, will succeed him. Mr. Zeiler is director at the government-owned Austrian TV station ORF and has been praised for increasing ad sales in Austria.
Mr. Thoma has been general manager of RTL since its inception in 1984 and is credited for its success. RTL has been profitable for many years. It had sales of $1.28 billion in 1997, an increase of 9.2%, and profits of $97 million, up 16.8% on the previous year.
Insiders suggest Mr. Thoma's premature departure from the general manager job is related to his criticisms of Bertelsmann's digital ventures, which he has said are a waste of money.
Mr. Thoma was one of Ad Age International's "Marketing Superstars" in 1993.
Copyright April 1998, Crain Communications Inc.