While the international media industry grapples with the tectonic shifts triggered by the growing proliferation of streaming services, ZDF Enterprises is riding the wave of change by seizing opportunities, creating new business models and forging partnerships with the likes of Netflix and other digital players.
As the world sales, licensing and co-production arm of German broadcaster ZDF, ZDFE has long established itself as an independent player in both domestic and global markets and it is quickly adapting to the sector’s new reality.
The company has also expanded its sales and production operations through key acquisitions as part of its overall growth strategy.
“We have tried to embrace the changes, the disruption that these platforms have brought to the market through digitization and streaming possibilities, to recognize the opportunities rather than the threat,” ZDFE President and CEO Fred Burcksen tells Variety. “We have so far been able to profit from that.”
The company has seen recent titles picked by the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Nickelodeon in streaming deals. ZDFE has also worked with Netflix to launch shows from programming packages sold to the streaming giant. At the production level, the companies are also working increasingly close, with Netflix having boarded fantasy children’s series “The Worst Witch” as a producer, joining CBBC, ZDF and ZDFE.
ZDFE’s production subsidiaries are likewise finding greater opportunities. Bavaria Fiction, a 49% ZDFE subsidiary, is producing “Freud,” a historical crime drama featuring Sigmund Freud, for Netflix and Austria’s ORF.
The company has long been an active international player in terms of its catalog and is doing its part to meet current demand for scripted content from around the globe.
ZDFE early on recognized the potential of Scandinavian properties, producing a Kurt Wallander movie series based on the works of Swedish author Henning Mankell; the long-running crime series “Beck,” based on the novels of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö; and Sieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy.
Peter Nadermann, a former producer at both ZDF and ZDFE, was instrumental in making Nordic noir a staple of the group’s programming portfolio. He recently returned to the company after ZDFE acquired a 49% stake in his Cologne-based production firm, Nadcon Film. The company was established in 2012 by Nadermann and German entertainment group Constantin Film. ZDFE took over Constantin’s stake in January, with Nadermann holding the remainder.
Nadermann “has a good nose for great content,” says Burcksen.
Nadcon has co-produced such series as Swedish crime drama “Spring Tide,” Danish-Swedish thriller “Greyzone” and Spain’s “The Invisible Guardian” as well as Lone Scherfig’s latest feature film, “The Kindness of Strangers,” which opened this year’s Berlin Film Festival.
Nadermann also served as a producer on the international crime drama “The Team,” from Network Movie, another key ZDFE subsidiary.
Network Movie partnered with Sweden’s Anagram in co-producing the upcoming Berlin-set spy series “West of Liberty,” which ITV is selling internationally.
Burcksen notes that more original stories are emerging from non-traditional markets. “We are looking very intensively at Spain, at Central Europe, especially Ukraine. It’s an exciting development for the sector.”
Indeed, ZDFE’s international lineup, which boasts shows from both sides of the pond, includes Ukrainian thriller “Hide and Seek” from Film.UA Group, the production company behind the widely sold hit series “The Sniffer.”
Central and Eastern Europe is in motion, Burcksen says. “There is momentum. I see good possibilities. The creativity is right, the implementation is right. These are prerequisites. Today’s market wants well-told original stories, regardless of where they come from. That brought us to ‘Hide and Seek.’”
ZDFE previously handled HBO Poland’s “The Border” and had a good experience with the series, Burcksen adds.
Among ZDFE’s other current titles are French-language Canadian crime thriller “Victor Lessard,” British detective drama “London Kills” and French family drama “Beyond Appearances.”