Henrik Pabst, chief content officer and managing director of ProSiebenSat.1’s Seven.One Entertainment Group, talks to World Screen about running the division, offering quality entertainment across platforms and maintaining valuable takeaways from the challenges faced in 2020.
Through the years, Henrik Pabst has gained firsthand experience of the television business across development, production, distribution and acquisitions. Early in his career, he developed and produced TV shows, particularly sports, formats and factual. He joined ProSiebenSat.1 Media’s Red Arrow Studios in 2011, where he was involved in sales and helped devise a scripted programming strategy. In 2014, he was put in charge of international distribution and tapped into the output of numerous production companies in the Red Arrow Studios family. He oversaw deals for a range of shows, from dramas like Bosch to the formats The Taste and Married at First Sight and factual hits like Galileo.
In 2019, Pabst was named chief commercial officer of entertainment for ProSiebenSat.1 Media and was elected member of the executive board of ProSiebenSat.1 TV Deutschland. As of January 2021, ProSiebenSat.1 restructured into three segments: Entertainment, Dating and Commerce & Ventures. Red Arrow Studios, as well as the digital studio Studio71, are integrated into the Entertainment segment. The group’s minority and majority investment areas have been bundled in the new Commerce & Ventures segment, which includes the investment arm SevenVentures as well as the companies of NuCom Group. The Dating segment includes the ParshipMeet Group. Today, Pabst is chief content officer and managing director of the Seven.One Entertainment Group.
WS: What motivated the recent reorganization and what’s the new structure?
PABST: In an ever-faster changing media industry, we decided to simplify things by putting our core entertainment functionalities under one roof. The Seven.One Entertainment Group combines our content, distribution and sales business all in one unit. Now, after a year in practice, we see how much we all have grown together. Today we think of projects from an end-to-end perspective. We all have the same goals. Our decision-making has become much faster. The entire organization has become more flexible. And on the whole, our way of working has become much more efficient and synergetic. But, of course, we aren’t done yet. We have reached the first milestones, but there still is a way to go for us, and after seeing the first results, we are looking forward to it.
WS: From a content perspective, what have been the most strategic steps so far?
PABST: Coming from rather U.S.-license-heavy programming grids, we are now constantly shifting our grids toward more local and live programming. We have a very close look at specific time slots that are our backbone as a broadcasting company. For instance, with our locally produced entertainment shows, we are able to reach very broad target groups—including even those young demographics that are often said to have left their TV sets for good. In 2020, ProSieben had the best prime time in five years, and SAT.1 had the best prime time since 2017.
By investing in local programming, we are able to reach the most attractive target groups for our sales business and win back viewers that may have left the TV set. ProSiebenSat.1 is concentrating on what it does best, creating great entertainment, and it pays off.
Sports rights are another important piece of our local and live strategy. We acquired a free-TV rights package to the German Bundesliga. Bundesliga is the German soccer league and probably the most popular sports rights in the country. Speaking of live sports, we managed to grow a solid and loyal audience around the NFL in Germany over the last few years. This year’s Super Bowl reached a record-breaking share within ProSieben’s key demographic.
We are well aware of our role as a broadcaster within society and the responsibilities that come with it. And that is why we are constantly increasing our socially relevant program offering, be it critical one-off documentaries like our piece on racism in Germany or specials on the coronavirus or social experiments. We see that we can use our reach to shed light on important topics and, luckily, our audience shows great interest in these kinds of programs.
That, in a nutshell, is what we’ve done on the content side. We are very happy about it. Do we still have U.S. programming in our grids? Yes, we do, and some of it is still working well. But many brands can be found on various platforms and when you do not have a program exclusively, it’s difficult to make sure the audience is going to watch it with you. But to make it clear, we still love our U.S. partners.
WS: Which shows have performed particularly well?
PABST: We have had some successful shows in early 2021, such as Stealing the Show! with German TV stars Joko Winterscheidt and Thomas Gottschalk, which captivated audiences on ProSieben with market shares of up to 20.5 percent among viewers aged 14 to 49. The Super Bowl live on ProSieben earned record shares of 58.6 percent. The 16th season of Germany’s Next Topmodel—by Heidi Klum is currently running on ProSieben with successful audience shares on Thursdays, whereas The Masked Singer recently started a new season with record ratings on Tuesdays.
WS: How are you using data to understand the audience’s preferences and to serve viewers better?
PABST: We truly embrace data here at ProSiebenSat.1. We never before had the opportunity to gain so many valuable insights into our core business. Data stands at the beginning and at the end of what we do. Data helps us select the right content for our audience. It also allows us to schedule our content across our linear and nonlinear platforms perfectly, and each day, we are getting more valuable data for our future programming decisions. It’s like a cycle, and if you get this cycle right, it is a key factor for success in our business.
WS: How are you bringing together the linear and the nonlinear worlds and what have you learned so far?
PABST: We no longer divide these two worlds at our company. Merging the linear and the nonlinear departments was one of the most important actions at the beginning of our new entertainment strategy. For us, the windowing of a specific program across linear and nonlinear platforms must always start with the program itself. As I mentioned before, data helps us make the right decisions for each program, and as an outcome, we can deliver the best viewing experience to our viewers and the best financial results for us.
WS: How did Joyn perform in 2020?
PABST: Joyn has managed to establish itself as a pretty serious player in the German streaming market. We now have over 16 million app downloads and nearly 4 million unique users every month. In 2021, Joyn will have about 20 originals, and that is on top of more than 70 TV channels and the extensive VOD catalog. That is a lot. We will continue to offer Joyn customers our whole entertainment portfolio as Joyn plays a vital part in our windowing strategy; it is our dedicated OTT destination for catch-up, bingeing, exclusive and original content.
WS: Last year was incredibly challenging, and the pandemic continues. How has the group been serving its audience during this time?
PABST: After the initial shock of being confronted with this unpredictable scenario, we quickly had to determine how to handle the new situation. Together with our top management team, we decided against cutting costs but continue to invest, which probably was not an easy decision at that time. But as we know today, it was the right decision for us. We looked into any production that was at risk. We went into dialogue with the producers, and we tried to find ways to bring our brands to the screen. And that strategy paid off. At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, everybody was looking for information, so we offered specific programs dealing with the virus. But as the lockdown continued, people were more interested in distraction, so we did what we are best at and offered our audience entertainment. That worked out very well for us.
WS: The pandemic delayed the production of many shows. How did your group overcome these problems, and how did it fill gaps for shows that could not be delivered on time?
PABST: To say the coronavirus didn’t hit us at all would be wrong, but it did not hit us too strongly on the content side. We always had enough fresh programming on our shelves to avoid a black screen. Of course, we had to adjust our ongoing productions quickly, and there might be fewer U.S. shows coming in, but we can handle that. Corona even encouraged us to organize a virtual pitch day. The event was a big success and very well received by the producers. That is why we have decided to have a second edition very soon.
WS: How are your teams working with Red Arrow Studios, and what is its role within your content strategy?
PABST: Red Arrow Studios and its related companies play an important role in our ecosystem. Our German company Redseven Entertainment is producing some of our most popular highlights, like Germany’s Next Topmodel, The Biggest Loser, The Taste and Married at First Sight. Through our close connection to the different international production houses, we are always fully aware of their local development slates. Whenever they find the next big hit, we can be sure to see it first.
WS: The pandemic also impacted advertisers. Have you seen a rebound in advertising? How has the group been working with advertisers?
PABST: When the crisis hit during the second quarter of 2020, advertising revenues dropped by nearly 40 percent. I think nearly everybody experienced this. But the third and fourth quarters came in better than expected. As an early-cyclical company, we benefited more quickly from the recovery of the economy and ad market. We know the second wave of Covid is bringing another drop in ad spend; let’s see how that goes. But throughout the crisis, the need for guidance and support among our ad clients has been great. We’ve seen a boost in creativity and corporations helping each other because we all have the same problems. Their spots maybe didn’t work any longer because of the topics, so we had them meet with our creative heads to develop spots that fit in the time of Covid. Knock on wood, that is going well because advertising is one of our bloodlines.
WS: As you look ahead, what prospects for growth do you see at the end of this year and even post-pandemic?
PABST: Covid is speeding up the shift from linear to nonlinear consumption. And as a broadcasting company, we always need to make sure that our brands are where our audience will find them. That is why we established our unit responsible for windowing at the heart of our content decision-making process. We are taking a very customer-centric approach by continually adapting to our audiences’ changing viewing habits. But regardless of Covid-19, our top priority remains the same: we simply have to entertain our audience in the best possible way.