When I was asked to describe my ‘impressions of the last decade,’ my first thought was: Hmmm, how do you answer that in a couple of minutes? After giving it some consideration, I started thinking it might be a good occasion to reflect on what the changes of the past 10 years have meant for (I) our industry; (II) the company I work for; and (III) myself, personally.
I) The major upheavals are clearly obvious. From an economic point of view, I feel the most important changes involve the growing relevance of financial investors as owners of broadcasting and production corporations. From a technological standpoint, digitalization tops the list. It’s still impossible to fully evaluate the effects of these two phenomena, but they have already profoundly changed the media landscape and will continue to do so.
What else? The Internet bubble; fusions, of which many failed and a few succeeded; the launch of many specialized stations and theme channels; the noticeably growing importance of documentary productions. It wasn’t all too long ago that many documentaries were produced for us$50,000 to $100,000; today it’s not unusual for them to have budgets that parallel those of TV movies and even feature films. And let’s not forget the new formats such as docusoaps, docudramas, jungle shows, etc. that cover the full scope of interests and quality, from incredibly suspenseful to trashy. What they all have in common is that they contain an element of play, as well as emotion, excitement and a personal touch.
II) ZDF Enterprises is obviously part of this general development, and has helped shape it in several domains. We have expanded our commitment to coproductions and we have been setting up production companies (or investing in them), especially in the field of non-fiction programs. Firms such as Hartmut Klenke’s doc.station (Bismarck, Schleyer, zoo docusoaps) and Uwe Kersken’s Gruppe 5 (Super Comet, Update, Die Germanen, Die Geschichte des Judentums, China’s Great Wall, The Forbidden City) have set milestones in the field of documentaries, both nationally and internationally. At the same time, we have also increased our investments and marketing activities. International broadcasters and producers have entrusted us with their distribution mandates. Thanks to the high-quality ZDF programs covering the entire documentary palette, from archeology to nature and wildlife, and from culture to contemporary history – such as the internationally successful series originating from the workshops of Professor Knopp or Peter Arens – we have positioned ourselves as an enterprise that ranks among the most renowned, innovative and trustworthy players in the documentary market.
III) And what have these past 10 years meant to me personally? First and foremost, the encounters with fascinating people and projects, with authors and producers passionate about their visions and who let themselves be infected by our enthusiasm, and with broadcasters and editors who want to offer viewers something truly exceptional.
Of course, it is not always easy to maintain the balance between economic considerations and the demands of content. Failure is also part of the business. Nevertheless, the successes we’ve had in the past 10 years in the strategy and programming of documentary projects are among the most satisfying of my career.