Television Industry Hollywood? Nein, Danke

German TV producers are increasingly turning their backs on Hollywood. Instead, they want to invest in new domestic shows.
Hollywood just doesn't get the picture anymore. Picture source: Fox Broadcasting CO., RTL [M]

When LA Screenings, the world's largest international television market, opens its doors this Tuesday, top-level program executives from some 70 countries will head to California to scour the US TV networks' latest blockbusters.

The program heads of Germany's private TV channels will be among them, but expectations are low. "Spoils over the past years didn't live up to our hopes," said Frank Hoffmann, program chief of RTL, who will join the meeting for the eleventh time this year.

The many offers by US production companies such as Warner, Fox, Disney, Universal and Sony no longer seem to capture Germans' imagination.

"TV shows by the big studios have especially lost their importance for us as mainstream channels, as they attract significantly less of an audience," Mr. Hoffmann explained. "Unfortunately, the rule 'whatever works well in the States, also works well in Germany,' doesn't apply."

The RTL manager has drawn his conclusions, cutting US fiction content on his network to a mere 10 percent. Instead, Mr. Hoffmann and other TV executives decided to increasingly put their money on domestic productions. RTL in-house productions during prime time hours, such as the popular cop show Cobra 11, are gaining a 17.5 percent market share.

"We can see including even more in-house productions into the program next year," the TV boss said.

The beneficiaries are German production houses, such as Ufa, which, just as RTL, is owned by the Bertelsmann publishing group.

German shows simply better reflect the reality of life among our audience. Wolf Bauer, Co-head of production company Ufa

"For five years now, we don't see any US TV productions suitable for the mainstream crowd," Ufa co-head Wolf Bauer told Handelsblatt in a recent interview. Not only the private, but also the state-run TV channels ARD and ZDF are asking for more content "made in Germany," Mr. Bauer said - "simply because these shows better reflect the reality of life among our audience."

While the 100 most successful US TV show episodes reached 3.8 million German viewers five years ago, that number dropped to 2.9 million in 2016. In comparison, Germany's all-time favorite RTL soap opera "Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten" (Good Times, Bad Times), which has enjoyed an avid following for 25 years now, was watched by 3.2 million people last year.

RTL now wants to build on that success, with Mr. Hoffmann saying that the channel has commissioned the production of five local drama and one sitcom series. "Hardly before have we ever invested this passionately into in-house productions," he explained, declining to reveal how much the company invested into the new push.

Industry experts estimate that each episode of a German TV show costs between €400,000 and €1 million ($440,000 - $1.09 million).

German TV executives seem emboldened by the uptick in domestic demand.  Instead of purchasing the rights to US shows, Mr. Hoffmann has signed a new partnership deal with NBC Universal, allowing RTL to jointly produce with the US media company.

Mr. Hoffmann believes the change spells great opportunities for Germany's domestic production market. "These are interesting times for Germany's creative industry," he said. "And given the growing demand, it becomes harder and harder to win over the best actors, authors, cameramen or directors."

Hans-Peter Siebenhaar is Handelsblatt's correspondent in Vienna and specializes in media and telecommunications coverage. To contact the author: [email protected]