Worldwide Entertainment Tapping German TV's Global Potential

German TV could take on the world if it got proper public funding, the makers of the international hit spy series “Deutschland 83,” told Handelsblatt.
Quelle: dpa
Actors Jonas Nay (left) and Ludwig Trepte during the filming of international hit "Deutschland 83."
(Source: dpa)

High-quality television made in Germany has global potential and should get more state support, said the two managing directors of UFA, the film company that turns 100 this year.

“Our productions are gaining increasing international attention. That gives us growth opportunities,” Wolf Bauer, who will step down in September after 26 years in the job, told Handelsblatt in a joint interview with Nico Hofmann, UFA’s co-chief since 2015.

“But what we really need in the future is the creation of globally competitive conditions for Germany as a production site. Especially support for big TV drama series as exists in Great Britain, Italy, France or the Czech Republic.”

He said TV was five times bigger than the cinema movie industry and was growing. “We need an effective industrial policy for the moving picture industry. We have enough top talent in this country and can compete in the global market in terms of creativity and entrepreneurialism — but we need a decent business environment.”

“Deutschland 83,” about an East German border guard who is planted in the West German military as a spy, was made by UFA and recently won an Emmy award. It is an export success for German television, becoming the most-watched German-language TV series in the world in 2016.

TV is getting ever stronger at the moment and is gaining in creativity and power. Nico Hofmann, UFA co-managing director

UFA, a subsidiary of publishing giant Bertelsmann, is producing a follow-up series, “Deutschland 86,” in partnership with fellow Bertelsmann units RTL and Fremantle, and also with the U.S. online retailer Amazon. UFA also made the World War II miniseries “Generation War” which won an Emmy in 2014.

“TV is getting ever stronger at the moment and is gaining in creativity and power,” said Nico Hofmann, who from September will be UFA’s sole managing director. “All the big directors around the world are turning to TV productions. That’s a real revolution that started in the U.S. several years ago.”

“To be able to keep up internationally and to compete with foreign productions, German producers lack money and political support — especially in high-quality productions,” he said. “That’s why we have to film our big productions abroad with German money.”

Wolf Bauer (left) and Nico Hoffmann.

He said the six-part historical drama “Charité” about the famous Berlin hospital, due to be shown from March by public broadcaster ARD, was filmed in its entirety in the Czech Republic with a budget of more than €8 million, or $8.6 million.

“Politicians in Berlin are still exclusively staring starry-eyed at cinema instead of fathoming what an economic factor German television can be in this country and for the whole world: a market worth billions,” said Mr. Hofmann.

Mr. Bauer said that in the last five years the U.S. had produced no TV series that reached a mass audience.

“I’m referring to real mass appeal, not to ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Homeland.’ Those are excellent programs that are very popular especially with smaller target audiences, but in the end they’re niche series that get only very small market shares in free TV.”

He said Germany’s public networks ARD and ZDF and also private broadcasters such as Sat 1 and RTL increasingly need homegrown productions that reflect the lives of German viewers.

The company was founded in December 1917, during World War I, and later churned out propaganda movies under Hitler.  UFA will explore its role during the Third Reich in a conference this year as part of events to mark its centenary.

“Every fictional story, every report and every entertainment format influences the attitudes of viewers and shapes the way they see the world,” said Mr. Bauer.

“This influence can promote the values of an open democratic society or the ideology of a totalitarian regime. The Nazis knew very well how to use this influence for propaganda purposes. Incidentally, between 1933 and 1945 there weren’t just propaganda films. The bulk of the films were apparently pure entertainment that above all offered an escape from reality, which however allowed even subtler manipulation.”


Catrin Bialek is an editor covering companies and markets. Thomas Tuma is deputy editor in chief of Handelsblatt. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected]