ZDF Enterprises, a key production-distribution component of one of Europe’s biggest public broadcaster powerhouses, Germany’s ZDF, is set to operate under the new name of ZDF Studios.
Effective from April 1, the title, announced by ZDF Enterprises President and CEO Fred Burcksen on Monday in Mainz, captures much better ZDFE’s current business reach, scale and ambitions.
“We are a studio, we cover all elements of our industry, from early development to longtail sales. The new name fits our business model much better and reflects our production and distribution expertise,” Burcksen said.
ZDF Enterprises was launched in 1993 to handle worldwide program distribution as new content-avid private TV networks sprang up in Europe and beyond and also to deal with the business affairs of the acquisition of programs from around the world. Since then, however, ZDFE has diversified energetically.
Its brief now covers national and international production where it works all parts of the value chain from initial concept to development to production as well as successful marketing. ZDFE also offers its services to third-party public and private television broadcasters, independent producers, streaming platforms and other customers and partners.
Selling, buying producing and marketing for ZDF would in itself be a major task. In Jan. 2022, the German public broadcaster, with regard to scripted and unscripted series, was working on 73 new unreleased commissions, a number only beaten in Europe by the BBC (196), France Televisions (137), Channel 4 (90) and Arte (89), according to an Ampere Analysis study. It has been a market leader in Germany over the last decade.
Since 1998, when it bought 100% of Hamburg’s Network Movie Film-und Fernsehproduktion, currently one of Germany’s strongest production companies, as Burcksen pointed out to Variety, ZDFE has also built up a network of 28 affiliated production companies, some with interests in distribution, like Amsterdam-based Off The Fence.
The portfolio investment includes a 49% stake in Bavaria Fiction, acquired in 2007, 49% in Moritz von Kruedener and Robert Franke’s Intaglio Films, an operation put through in 2018 and, a year later, 49% in Peter Nadermann’s Nadcon. In its most recent participation, ZDFE bought 49% of Studio Hamburg Production Group’s Real Film, producer of Netflix hit “Unorthodox.”
Upcoming shows include environmental thriller “The Swarm” from Beta Film and ZDF Enterprises’ joint-venture Intaglio Films, which was set up to develop, finance and produce English-language scripted dramas for the international market. “Game of Thrones” executive producer Frank Doelger, who heads up Intaglio, will executive produce.
“Under the new umbrella brand ZDF Studios, we’ll be able to bring our network of affiliated companies even closer together. We’re a group of companies working for our shareholder, ZDF, and for our partners as well. With consolidated turnover of around €240 million [$273.6 million] in the year 2020, we’re one of the largest production groups in Germany and rights distributors in Europe,” Burcksen said.
“Since it was established, ZDF Enterprises has achieved a great deal for the ZDF Group. With creativity, ingenuity and efficiency, the group has become a major player in the fiction and non-fiction arena. The new name ‘ZDF Studios’ makes it instantly clear that this is a media industry company,” added longtime ZDF head Thomas Bellut, director-general of ZDF and chair of the supervisory board of ZDF Enterprises.
ZDFE also has a sense of corporate identity. Since the beginning of the century, ZDF Enterprises has invested in global content, with a focus on Scandinavia. In 2007, ZDF Enterprises co-produced Danish series “The Killing,” which ZDF aired in Sunday in second prime time to stellar ratings.
“I really admired the courage of ZDF’s editorial department to pick up a great series that was, however, a 20-hour show about just one crime case,” said Burcksen.
“That was basically the starting point of a lot of exciting international investments. So on the one hand, there’s definitely been a large interest to cooperate in original storytelling, in good co-productions. On the other hand, it’s also part of the DNA of the network and of ourselves: Being interested in other people’s stories as well.”
Part of that go-ahead drive has seen ZDF and ZDFE drive into ever edgier fare. Given that ZDF Studios is a subsidiary of ZDF and also produces for other broadcasters and platforms, the escalating demand for high-end series will mean that ZDF Studios can be expected to grow even more its production volume, Burcksen said.
ZDF Studios is also keen to support independent German production companies, putting up if necessary development moneys and support.
“ZDF Studios is not done yet,” Burcksen said. “We are organizing ourselves, we are rebranding. But every day we wake up and look for the next good story. That’s the bottom line. That’s what we live for: The next good story.”