Beatrice Cox-Riesenfelder, the managing director of ORF-Enterprise, talks to World Screen’s Anna Carugati about what the company is known for and trends she has been noticing as of late.
In 1999, ORF-Enterprise was set up as a 100 percent subsidiary of Austrian pubcaster ORF. Since 2010, ORF-Enterprise has been merchandising international rights for television programming and footage sales of ORF as well as independent producers. The company’s catalog contains a variety of feature films, TV movies, series, music content, formats and documentaries, including history, nature, science and wildlife docs from Universum, ORF’s most successful brand. These offerings are aimed at television channels, producers, VOD platforms and DVD merchants in Austria and around the globe.
WS: What is it that buyers have come to expect from ORF-Enterprise?
COX-RIESENFELDER: Our strength is, of course, factual, natural history, the Universum strand. [Since they are] internationally co-produced, these programs travel around the world. We are also investing in the programs, because like every broadcaster, ORF has a tight budget and would rather invest in local productions than international ones, which is a problem for us as a distributor because we need international programs. Therefore, we need to help each other out. Natural history really is something that can travel the world and is easy to subtitle or even to make language versions of because animals speak a universal language. So that’s much easier than dealing with comedy or drama.
Universum also has a history slot where we buy international productions. For example, we are doing Maximilian of Mexico—The Dream of Empire together with TV Unam in Mexico. That’s a well-done story that can travel the world because it’s not only Austrian-Mexican history, it’s also a nice love story. And Beta Film and ORF together with ZDF have made a two-part feature, Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne, as well. So as a co-production partner, ORF has a feature—a miniseries or a two-part film—and then produces the documentary as well. That’s a model that works well for the channel because [these are] really big stories.
What we are also known for with buyers is classical music. ORF as a public broadcaster still invests in those programs, not too much, but we still [do so] on a continuous wave. We have concerts like Christmas in Vienna, which is a very popular concert that travels, and some operas; standard programs that come out every year. We have clients from all over the world—especially in Latin America—who are constantly buying the same content. It’s a small community, but they’re very loyal.
WS: Are there any particular trends you have been noticing recently?
COX-RIESENFELDER: We have a lot of clients that we have been working with for a long time, but we have seen in the past few years a lot of new buyers coming in, especially from VOD platforms. This was not the case before because while there were VOD platforms, it was always a revenue-share model, so it was not interesting because it was loads of work and no income. Now we have the impression, especially in the last year, that there are bigger platforms and they all are willing to pay lump sums or at least flat fees. They do package [deals], and that’s fine for us because although you earn less money channel by channel, you have more volume and more possibilities in one territory. So it pays off, for example, to do a language version, which was always the question—which to do first: get a sale first and then do the version? Or is it because you have a version that somebody would buy a program? Sometimes it’s second because there’s the availability of a French version or an Italian version or an English version, therefore they would go for the program, which they would not usually do because we are not known, for example, for fictional programs like the BBC is. We cannot compete with those English-speaking broadcasters that produce for the world. We produce for the Austrian and German markets, and sometimes that’s difficult to sell for a good price.
We see something that we have already experienced coming from the U.S.—talent agents looking for scripted format rights. We already have pilots we have pitched to CBS, FOX, and produced together with Sony. They never made it into series production; however, it is still a big thing because who would have thought three years ago that an Austrian format would be [considered in the U.S.]? But just because one channel rejected it doesn’t mean that someone else might [not pick it up]. There is always hope, and there are so many outlets. So we work with Paradigm, EuropaCorp, and other companies like that, who do the job for us to find other partners.
Our newest series, which was so successful in Austria and Germany, is called Suburbia—Women on the Edge. It’s a little bit like Desperate Housewives [in that it’s about] women who are dealing with their husbands and there’s sex and crime. We have been offered to make a pilot and have a scripted format because it’s so well written. However, for the U.S. market, you would need to adapt it. The Europeans are also looking for localization of series that already exist, which is a new thing for us. Up until now, it was only the U.S. market.