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German Series Creators Favor Public Broadcasters Over International Streamers in Rapidly Changing Global Market 

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Industry executives, creatives and international buyers came together to preview an exclusive selection of upcoming high-end German series at the Up Next: Germany showcase at the Berlinale Series Market, the dedicated serial content arm of the EFM running between Feb. 19-21. 

Four projects were selected for the showcase: Dystopian drama “A Better Place” imagines the aftermath of a revolutionary state-led program that eradicates all German prisons. Directors include Anne Zohra Berrached (“24 Weeks,” “Two Mothers”) and “Capernaum” editor Konstantin Brock. Studiocanal TV handles world sales on the French-German-Austrian co-production. 

“Young Berlusconi” is a three-party documentary trailing the early stages of Silvio Berlusconi’s career and his pivotal role in revolutionizing commercial television in Italy and across Europe. “Goodbye Darling, I’m Off to Fight” director Simone Manetti helms the series, with Arte on board as the German broadcaster and Mediawan handling world sales.

ZDFneo brought two series to the event: “Love Sucks,” an unconventional vampire love story that marries “Romeo and Juliet” and “Twilight” to tell the tale of two lovers driven apart by a dark secret; and “Krank,” a tense drama about the emergency department of Germany’s toughest and most overcrowded hospital.

“Love Sucks” is created by “Dark” screenwriter Marc O. Seng and directed by Andreas Prochaska (“The Dark Valley”) and Lea Becker (“Höllgrund”). “Krank” is directed by Alex Schaad (“Skin Deep”) and Fabian Möhrke (“Eichwald MdB”), with an ensemble cast led by Haley Louise Jones (“Dear Child”). The medical drama was originally commissioned by Sky Germany but cancelled right before principal photography was set to begin. ZDFneo swooped in to save the series, with Beta Sales boarding the project earlier this year.

Producers behind the projects approached several hot topics within this year’s Berlinale Series Market, including first rights on exhibition windows and the differences between working with major international streamers versus collaborating with national public broadcasters. 

“Nowadays, it is easier to involve streamers in co-productions. This was a positive experience for us,” said Raffaele Brunetti, who produced “Young Berlusconi” at B&B Film. The documentary series partnered with both streamers and public broadcasters, with Netflix, Arte and ZDF taking different territories for the show, which features a wealth of archival footage plus testimonials by Berlusconi’s notoriously secretive friends and collaborators. 

“The market changed completely in the last 18 months,” emphasised the series producer Christian Beetz, CEO of Beetz Brothers Film Production. “Some of our partners like Paramount have disappeared and it’s difficult with Disney right now. You have to decide at a very early stage where to go — if it’s a worldwide deal with a streamer or collecting public broadcasters worldwide. In old times, [broadcasters] would never allow collaboration with the dark side,” and by “dark side,” Beetz means major streamers.

Several participants at the showcase highlighted how the days of believing public broadcasters to be creatively prohibitive are gone, and that broadcasters such as ZDF are currently the ones pushing the envelope and changing the creative landscape for European productions. “ZDF was the last place we imagined we’d have the show,” said “Love Sucks” creator O. Seng. 

“When we met with ZDF for the first time, we truly understood their love for the show. My idea of this gigantic German broadcaster was totally wrong. They took us to the limits of where we could go with violence, sexuality and the dark themes we touch with the show,” O. Seng concluded.

The team behind “Krank” is particularly grateful for ZDF considering how close they came to having to shut down the project days before arriving on set. “We had 200 people on the payroll, and a 950 square meter hospital built. Cancelling was not an option, but we had four weeks to find another partner,” said Henning Kamm, managing director at Real Film Berlin and one of the series producers. “Our partners at Sky were amazing and trying to make it happen but we were always facing what was going on in London and Philadelphia.”

The move from streamers as an instant first option was also highlighted by Komplizen Serien’s Jonas Dornbach, who produced “A Better Place.” “We fell in love with the project immediately and knew it wasn’t something for a streaming platform. We thought we had to structure it wider and start a co-production.”

Studiocanal Series managing director Nicolas Loock said it is still difficult to finance German series internationally, but “A Better Place” served as a great showcase of how a clear concept can lead to successful co-productions and help projects get made in an ever-changing market landscape. 

This model, however, still presents one unsolved issue: who gets first exhibition rights. When it comes to “A Better Place,” negotiations are still ongoing between the territories involved in the co-production. “At the end of the day we just want to protect the show, so it’s a work in progress.”