Industry Report: Animation
Animation Leading Broadcasters: ZDF Enterprises
by Arne Lohmann – ZDF Enterprises
18/04/2011 - Arne Lohmann is in charge of the international co-production for the ZDF Group, a broadcaster based in Frankfurt (Mainz, Germany) founded in 1961 and employing 3,600 people today.ZDF Group is nowadays one of the biggest broad¬casters in Europe and offers a variety of pro¬gramming: series, children’s programming, doc¬umentaries, sports, news.ZDF is a main channel which has joint ventures with other channels (KIKA, ARD, new animation digital platforms).ZDF has about 10 hours of children’s program¬ming per week (on the weekends only).
When was ZDF Enterprises founded?
The commercial company, ZDF Enterprises, was founded in 1993. It is a private subsidiary, 100% owned by ZDF. It is responsible for the ZDF world¬wide sales, the implementation of the international co-production, the acquisitions for the marketing, the online rights and the merchandising of the ZDF brands. The business mission of ZDF Enterprises is to achieve commercial success, whereas the mis¬sion of the ZDF broadcaster is to produce good animation for the children’s market. The children’s programming offered on ZDF and KIKA are free of ads, but the channels are still commercial thanks to successful brand merchandising.
That being said, the Enterprise decides to choose a show on the basis of its story and not on the basis of its merchandising plan; ZDF does not want to see the toys right away. The show needs to be inspiring for children.
Can you give us some examples of shows on air on KIKA or ZDF?
Fun with Claude is a good example of a pre-school show based on books written by David Wojtowycz. The show is about Claude, a polar bear and his family, who have left their icy Arctic home in Snowington to move somewhere that is quite the opposite - the sunny and bustling town of Bearhampton. With the help of his new friend and next-door neighbour Boris, Claude takes little 'paw steps' into understanding and discovering the wonderful world around him.
ZDF chose the show because it is about friend¬ship, learning, diversity, good topics for a public broadcaster. It is a co-production together with the Disney UK channel. It was really difficult to get the financing. A producer in the UK contacted us. We had been working with her for years and it was her first TV series as an independent producer. But because of our prior collaboration, we knew she would deliver a good quality show and it was book-based, another good point. ZDF has the worldwide distribution rights and the broadcaster’s rights in Germany. We also keep the merchandising rights, as for pre-school shows the revenues come primar¬ily from merchandising. Fun with Claude is Disney UK’s number one pre-school show. We are trying to sell it to the other Disney channels but it takes time. The first 26 episodes are done and the second half of it will soon be delivered. We are in discussion to sell the programme to Rai and Scandinavian broad¬casters. The merchandising has started but it takes longer to build up brands and to get all the licences in place. Ideally, Claude should become a classic, it is predestined to have a long shelf life.
What is the financial plan for this particular show?
There is no fixed formula concerning our finan¬cial plans. The strategy depends on how much broadcasters invest and how much the producer needs to recoup. The financial structure changes if the show is a German property that can travel to Scandinavia or to the English-speaking countries. All those elements have to be taken into account. In total, the investment from ZDF can vary from 20 to 40%. It all depends on the distribution rights that ZDF Enterprises, as a commercial arm, will have. You also have to take the other partners into account, how many there are, what we share, etc. There is really no fixed model. The TBI prices are to be taken carefully into consideration because they represent a wide global range, and at the end everything really depends on the project itself. Even with long term relationships and long term partnerships, it is different every time because the projects are different and the landscape changes.
How many projects do you finance per year?
ZDF does about 20 co-productions per year, about 15 are international co-productions. ZDF has a budget of about 60 M€ per year to invest in productions plus the investment for ZDF Enterprises’ commercial arm.
Do you feel the financial crisis?
ZDF is investing the same amount of money as in pre¬vious years, but we can feel the financial crisis, as a lot of our partners have less money to invest. The weak euro does not help for international co-productions.
Do you work with non-European partners?
Yes. ZDF has been involved in a French-German- Chinese co-production: Shaolin Wuzang. The idea came from China. Usually the ideas are European and the animation is done in Asia. In this case the idea came from Asia but it has a European feel.
What is the story about?
In old China, three teenagers are admitted into the most prestigious school of Kung fu: the Temple of Shaolin. But they don’t know that they are the rein¬carnation of three Shaolin monks who a thousand years earlier gave their lives to neutralize the worst demon. This demon is back now and the three heroes will have to destroy him while initiating themselves in the art of Kung fu. The show can rely on western programmes or movies such as Harry Potter for example. The show has a different approach; it was great to have a Chinese producer who knows the western world quite well and was able to combine European and Chinese mythologies.
How much was the budget?
The production was 7 M€, with help from the CNC (because we work a lot with French studios), investment from France Télévision, and we closed the budget with the investment of the ZDF Group. The show is distributed on the public channels in France, Germany and China, and on Rai in Italy, but it is also sold to Nickelodeon and, in some territo¬ries, to Cartoon Network. The show is number one in China, where there are 300 million Chinese chil¬dren. With a market share of 10%, the show reaches some 30 million children. The Chinese co-producer was able to have a lot of merchandising (successful books, etc.). Internationally, as far as merchandis¬ing is concerned, it was not that easy, because we only have one season of 26 episodes.
Did you work with other countries?
We also worked with India, with The Jungle Book, a co-production with the Indian Studio DQ, TF1 in France, ZDF and ZDF Enterprises. It is a classic property from the book by Rudyard Kipling, so it is quite obvious why we chose this story, it is a classic European property…
The Indian studio did a very good pitch: they wanted to tell the story their way, with their new technolo¬gies. Now they have a lot of pressure because the movie is so good and well-known, they need to be as good or better, otherwise the audience will never follow the show. But as we use new technologies, there will be a few stereoscopic elements. Right now, we are in production, we have 5 episodes ready, a stereoscopic movie is planned. There are pre-sales in place with the BBC, and in Japan. We decided not to bring more partners on board. We have two editorial teams, one in France and one in Germany, discussing things like: should Baloo wear glasses or not, which is a complicated situation.
Are you also working on adventure themes?
Yes, for example we are involved in a time-travelling series: Tempo Express. It will be an action-comedy with a big web component to teach the children some History and bring them closer to this theme. It is an ambitious programme with a lot of char¬acters, new backgrounds in every episode. We are working with a Chinese studio, Fantasia; France Télévision and Les Cartooneurs in France and the ZDF Group is on board. Tempo Express is situated in 2300, in Las Vegas, where there is this tempo express train that can send you to any period of time you want to go. The web component is very important, as in every one of our shows.
How can a producer approach ZDF and propose a show?
It is easy to approach us if you have a project. First send an email with the concepts, then if we are inter¬ested, we need a bible, two or three scripts, storylines and the usual documents in order to make our final decision. At this Cartoon Finance event in Málaga, I was able to speak with young producers and people I was not able to speak with at MIPCOM, because the agenda was already full. I always try to have 2 to 3 new contacts and I like to have a meeting stand before the meeting to check out if a certain project would be something for us. For producers, it’s really useful to see the programming schedule of ZDF to check what is in it and find out if the project is indeed suitable for this channel. It is a waste of time to have a meeting with someone whose project is not suitable.
Do you need a German studio to be involved in the project?
The funding system is not the same for ZDF in Germany as it is for France Télévision in France. We do not have the same commitment towards German producers as France does. If you go into co-production, we do not have to have a German studio involved, which can be tough for the German producers of course, but good for the international producers. But of course we try to help the German producers.