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German Giant Bavaria Looks Ahead to Changing Media Landscape

Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Bavaria Film continues to move forward as a modern film and television group while looking back on a legacy that has shaped Germany’s cinematic landscape.

Established in 1919 as Münchener Lichtspielkunst near Munich, Bavaria’s history spans silent film and talking pictures, the onset of television and the modern digital era. Among the countless films that have shot at Bavaria’s studios are such diverse works as Elia Kazan’s 1953 thriller “Man on a Tightrope,” Robert Wise’s beloved “The Sound of Music” and Oliver Stone’s eye-opening “Snowden.”

Today one of Germany’s main film and TV producers and a leading provider of studio services, Bavaria ranked fourth last year among the country’s top producers in terms of production revenue. Fremantle’s UFA was at No. 1 with €240 million ($273 million), followed by Constantin Film, Studio Hamburg and Bavaria with $176 million.

Bavaria, which generated total annual sales of some $285 million last year, is active in all aspects of content production and distribution. Despite its illustrious cinematic past, however, its attention in recent years has been squarely on television, where it boasts some of the country’s most successful TV series.

That is changing, however. Bavaria is intensifying its feature film production activities. Last year the company appointed Markus Zimmer as CEO of Bavaria Film Production, the group’s main feature film division. Zimmer, who spent two decades at Tele München Group as a producer and head of theatrical distribution before stepping down in 2016, will oversee development of in-house feature film productions, and serve as the contact for international producers who intend to shoot in Germany, or are looking for co-financing partners in the country. Zimmer fills a position left empty since the 2014 departure of Uschi Reich, Bavaria’s former head of film production.

“We are working on a slate of diverse genres,” says Achim Rohnke, Bavaria’s group managing director. “Bavaria was very well positioned in family entertainment with Uschi Reich and we will certainly be there again. We are also looking at other genres with an eye towards commercial projects.” Rohnke is retiring in March and Bavaria has appointed TV exec Iris Ostermaier as the next CFO.

On the TV front, the company has enjoyed massive success with World War II series “Das Boot,” one of its most recent high-profile productions. Marking the first collaboration between Bavaria and Sky Deutschland, the ambitious miniseries is part of a rising tide of German TV productions driven in part by the arrival of subscription VOD players like Netflix, Amazon and Deutsche Telekom.

“The entry of Amazon and Netflix has created a resurgence in the industry after years of a staid, unchanging market,” says Bavaria CEO Christian Franckenstein. “With Netflix and Amazon, the whole structure has been forced into movement. We have seen an immediate effect by gaining new clients. The indirect effect is much more noticeable for the industry. Sat.1 is producing series again; RTL and Vox, they are all sharpening their profiles via fictional content. For the production industry, it is a very noticeable effect. Overall demand is rising, the entire sector seems to be fully occupied. Even prices have begun to increase, however not sufficiently to cover cost increases.”

Bavaria has traditionally worked closely with Germany’s public networks as its shareholders include regional pubcasters WDR, SWR, MDR and BR, but it is embracing the new opportunities presented by the booming market. Bavaria partnered with Netflix, Austria’s ORF and Satel Film on the upcoming “Freud,” and with Amazon, Deutsche Telekom and France’s Telfrance on the comedy series “Deutsch-Les-Landes,” which will stream exclusively in Germany on the telco giant’s Magenta TV platform. Last year it completed the series “Arctic Circle,” an international co-production for Finnish outlets Elisa Viihde and YLE.

“We are meeting the demand for new content from all of the main platforms,” says Franckenstein. “We are gaining experience just like we gained very positive experience with Sky. These are different types of clients. We come from the traditional area of commissioned productions and our crew is adjusting to the different demands of our new partners.”

With the current trend toward high-quality series, the German government’s recently increased federal film and TV production funding is likely to boost business. Franckenstein points out that in 2019, the industry will have access for the first time to $170 million in film and TV funding from the combined pots overseen by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media.

“It’s a very good message for the TV industry. Everything is moving in the right direction,” says Franckenstein.

Millions more in production coin are available from nine other federal and regional subsidies. Franckenstein notes that Germany’s myriad funding options may pose a challenge to international producers.

“It’s not always easy and we know that our foreign partners need reliability and transparency. Bavaria is very competent in this area and we are happy to help.”

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