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Action Germany

The German TV market is widely considered to be the second most important in the world after the US, thanks to a booming local production sector, numerous spots for acquired product in primetime and the networks’ ability to pay big money for shows.

Germany is the land of the mini-series, the big-budget event TV movie. Audiences love catastrophic action movies, particularly with explosions and natural disasters, which makes it an important territory for distributors with this type of product in their catalogue. "Historically, Germany is the second largest market outside of the United States, but in reality it’s as big as all of the other European markets put together," says Joel Denton, president of production and distribution at RHI Entertainment.

Like RHI, SevenOne International, the worldwide distribution arm of broadcast group ProSiebenSat.1, also has a lot of miniseries and distributes around 80 new titles per year. Its current line-up include The Tornado, The Bridge and the €9 million-budget Treasure Island. Meanwhile, ZDF Enterprises, the distribution arm of public broadcaster ZDF tends to concentrate on miniseries and TV movies with an historical flavour such as The Miracle of Berlin and Gustlav.

Alexander Coridass, CEO, ZDF Enterprises, says: "There are some German companies such as UFA and Bavaria Media that have reached a level of production that can compete with production companies anywhere in the world."

Action Concept is one of this new breed of production company. Formerly a stunt company, Hermann Joh’s outfit produces successful TV movies such as The Clown and long-running action series Cobra, as well as daily drama 112.

"A lot of people say that Germany is car country, Schumacher country. We have no speed limit on some parts of the highway. Because of this mentality, if you do an action series with helicopters and cars and high-speed chases, you’ll be successful," Joh says.

But locally produced content has been overshadowed by US acquisitions in recent years. Shows such as Disney’s Desperate Housewives and Fox’s action series 24 (which recently moved from RTL2 to Pro7) have attracted record ratings for RTL and ProSiebenSat.1’s terrestrial networks.

Tom Toumazis, EVP and MD, EMEA and Canada at Disney-ABC-ESPN TV, which has an output deal with ProSiebenSat.1 as well as equity stakes in broadcasters RTL2 and Super RTL, says: "In recent years, there has definitely been a sea-change in the international perception and success of US series, seeing them go into primetime, compete against and often beat local content. Also, the quality of US TV has risen and risen in recent years – the writing teams, the movie-scale production values, the ambition – and that makes it harder for local series to compete."

This has caused local producers many problems. Action Concept’s Joh says where a local show will cost around €1 million per episode to produce, hit international acquisitions like forensic drama CSI cost around €350,000 to acquire. "In the past no one watched US series, they were only on small cable networks. But lately, locally produced shows are nearly completely gone. This is a real disaster, most of the production companies that I used to work with don’t exist anymore," says Joh.

The main terrestrial networks place big international series and miniseries at the core of their schedule. As a result they often acquire at an early stage. "It’s a competitive market and they know what they want, so they are usually a presale partner at the script stage," says RHI’s Denton. RHI recently sold its big-budget NBC series The Last Templar to Pro7 as well as Tin Man to RTL and Flash Gordon to Tele Munchen.

Germany is also a major market for factual content. Major broadcasters have well placed documentary slots; Super RTL has revamped its primetime schedule to accommodate a doc slot and acquired a raft of Nat Geo content, while distributor Cineflix has inked a number of programming deals with major nets. It has sold 6x1hour disaster docudrama Trapped to public broadcaster NDR, Windfall-produced Huge Moves to Kabel Eins and 20x1hour series Mayday to RTL. "It’s the first time they’ve done a factual entertainment deal for five years and it’s for a weekend primetime slot," says managing director Paul Heaney.

Local producer Spiegel TV, part of the Der Spiegel publishing empire, has been producing factual content since 1988 and operates a number of blocks across networks where it places its own shows as well as acquired programming. It has three blocks totalling nearly four hours per week on Vox, operates one half hour slot on Sat.1 and has a 45 minute slot on RTL. Elvira Lind, head of acquisitions and sales, says that is has produced series such as How to Build a Rainforest and U-864: Hitler’s Last Deadly Secret for these slots as well as acquiring shows such as Discovery Canada’s Explorations, TVF’s Cold Killer and Granada International’s Naked Science.

Another major facet of the German market is the popularity of international formats. Broadcasters are very keen to produce local versions of worldwide hits; RTL’s version of Granada International’s I’m A Celebrity… (Ich Bin Ein Star) has smashed audience averages, while ProSieben has made seven seasons of Target’s Popstars.

Stefan Oetze, managing director at Granada Produktions, a German independent production company owned by ITV, says: "[Germany] is one of the largest net importers of formats in the world. There five big terrestrial networks and the second tier of channels such as Kabel Eins, Vox and RTL2 are all growing."

RTL has just commissioned a pilot of general entertainment format Saturday Night Takeaway and a local version of Target’s format Ten Years Younger, while Sat.1 has produced two seasons of British comedy Hale and Pace and RTL2 has remade Palm Plus’ Dutch format Rehab with local producer Blue Eyes.

Public broadcaster ZDF has just finished airing the second season of Portman Film&TV ‘s drama format Doc Martin and is in discussions to remake seasons three and four. Anke Stoll, head of acquisitions at Portman, says: "I can also see Stephen Fry’s Kingdom, Tracey Ullman’s sketch show State of the Union and ITV’s Collision in Germany. If a show’s successful in the UK and it has an internationally friendly script, it’s less risky for the Germans to do. They will probably explore even more scripted formats in the future."

The number of formats coming out of Germany, however, is modest. SevenOne International is one of the few German distributors selling formats to the worldwide market; it has sold its Brainpool-produced gameshow Beat The Star to ITV and its Keshet originated format The Successor (aka The Next Uri Geller) to Russia’s RTR. Meanwhile, ZDF Enterprises has successfully sold gameshow format Wetten Das? to a raft of international broadcasters, most notably to US network ABC, where The Gurin Company is producing a local version – Wanna Bet? – with its original UK hosts Ant and Dec.

One of the main reasons formats have not travelled is the terms of trade between producers and broadcasters. Currently, broadcasters (which tend to fully finance programmes) keep the international rights to series.

To combat this, a number of major producers have recently joined forces to create the Alliance of German Producers’, a trade body similar to PACT in the UK. Granada’s Oetze says: "It’s been quite a struggle to get everyone together. You can only lobby if you’re very powerful, but we are on a good way to see some changes."

However, other producers says it could be five years before any notable changes occur. "It will be painful but we will get there. It’s important that creatives are in charge of their ideas and that they get paid for them," adds one producer.

Understandably, broadcasters (and their wholly owned distribution arms) are not keen on such changes. ZDF Enterprises’ Coridass says: "You can’t have your cake and eat it too. The broadcasters pay 100% of the budget so it’s normal they get 100% of the rights. If German producers would like to change that by only getting paid part of the budget we can talk about sharing the rights."