Max Conze, CEO of German broadcast company ProSiebenSat.1 since June last year, appeared relatively relaxed about the prospect of the coming invasion of new subscription streaming players like Disney Plus into his territory when speaking to journalists at TV market and conference Mipcom in Cannes Tuesday.
“Disney will not lock away all their content,” he said, while adding that he will retain access to Warner Bros. films and TV shows through ProSieben’s output deal with the studio. While he conceded that access to Disney blockbusters like the Star Wars franchise may become more restricted, his blunt summation was: “So what?”
He suggested that the American subscription streaming giants – both existing players like Amazon and Netflix and newcomers like Disney Plus – may be in for a rough ride in Germany. “The economic models for them will be interestingly difficult because they will forego billions of distribution revenues – because these deals were very, very profitable for Disney and others – […] and they are going to pour huge amounts of money into the technical infrastructure of Disney Plus that they will then monetize for very little money.”
He is mindful of the fact that in the past Germans have been reluctant to pay for TV, as Sky has discovered. “I continue to be a fundamental skeptic as to how broad Germans’ willingness is to pay serious money for entertainment offerings, and that then by definition limits how many bundles they are going to get into,” he said.
But ProSieben will plow its own furrow, as the subscription platforms duke it out. “That doesn’t impact or bother me that much because we are doing a different thing; that’s not the fight we are in. I’m not in the Disney Plus, Netflix, Amazon fight. I want to be the broadest broadcast network translated into a digital world provider – largely free – and that makes me largely immune to the battle of the digital subscription giants Netflix, Amazon, Disney Plus and the others,” he said.
ProSieben, which reaches 60 million German viewers a week, has also been ramping up its own investment in streaming with its launch in June of Joyn, a joint venture with Discovery. The ad-supported digital platform offers viewers free access to 55 channels and 20,000 hours of content – “the broadest free offering in Europe and possibly in the world,” according to Conze. As well as shows from ProSieben and Discovery there is also content from Viacom, and public broadcasters ARD and ZDF, as well as other partners. Joyn has close to 4.5 million subscribers and aims to increase that to 10 million users in two years.
ProSieben’s strategy under Conze has been to double down on German content. “You have to make sure your content becomes even more local, because that makes it more differentiated, even more live, even more sticky, that runs the gamut [of genres], and that is available barrier free to viewers and consumers wherever and however they want to see it.”
Non-scripted shows are a particular focus for growth. The questions he is asking are: “How do you liveify the program. How do you make it more event-based, with a really good engagement component?” “The Masked Singer,” which it acquired from Endemol, has performed well. “We will constantly look at formats, but we are not seeing as many great formats as we would love to see,” he said. “We are going to staff up and invest more in our own development [of shows], and we think we have some pretty good ideas that can travel the other way.”
Conze is cool toward the idea of acquiring production companies in Germany. “What we like much more is working with top creative talent, with whom we have very deep relationships, and there may be opportunities at different points in time where we can take that working relationship and set up a joint company,” he said.
He is reluctant to lock talent into exclusive deals as others have done, and doesn’t see it as beneficial for them in the long run if those deals prevent their access to mass audiences. “I have great respect that all of them want to maximize their economic wealth, but I think they also understand that for that you have got to play the long game, and you need to be on open platforms, and not be locked behind pay walls,” he said.
Conze has also questioned the logic behind ProSieben’s continued ownership of the plethora of international production companies that sit within its Red Arrow Studios subsidiary. “The reason I am strategically looking at [the potential sale of Red Arrow] is that the international part doesn’t have a lot of synergy with my German entertainment footprint,” he said.
If ProSieben were to sell Red Arrow, “we could use that cash to reinforce our German infrastructure both on the entertainment and on the e-commerce ends,” he said.
As eyeballs move more to streaming rather than linear, there could be benefits in terms of ad revenue, Conze said. He looks at the experience of Scandinavian broadcasters to help shape the model of his business in the future. The Scandinavian TV ecosystem was disrupted far early by streaming than the rest of Western Europe. Now 30%-40% of viewing in the region is through digital and AVOD, and there has been an upside for broadcasters in that they get between 20%-50% better prices on their advertising inventory on their streaming platforms.
“Over time advertising inventory on Joyn will be more valuable than on the TV channels, because it is targetable and addressable, and so opens up a bigger pocket of the ad market,” he said.
Media laws in Germany prevent terrestrial broadcasters from selling regional and local advertising, but that doesn’t apply to digital. “Over time TV will have lighter ad loads but the ads will be more expensive,” he said. There will also be “higher completion rates” – the number of people who watch a show to the end – as there will be fewer ad breaks to disrupt viewing, and this is an important factor for advertisers.
Digital’s potential for feeding viewing data back to the company will help raise ad revenue. “As we serve entertainment to a lot of people in Germany in a way where we know what they are watching […] that intelligence and the ability to weave that intelligence together is very meaningful. First for viewers and consumers, because we can serve them with more relevant things. Second there are also business model benefits.” There is also a demographic benefit. “The digital footprint gives us exposure to much younger audiences and that is really important,” he said.