Alexander Coridass

***Alexander Coridass***While ZDF celebrates 50 years, there is another birthday this year in the German public broadcaster’s family: its commercial arm, ZDF Enterprises, marks its 20th year in the international distribution and co-production business. President and CEO Alexander Coridass talks about the company’s many accomplishments, which are all focused on one objective: quality programming.

WS: As a commercial entity, how has ZDF Enterprises contributed to ZDF?
CORIDASS: Our main job is to generate additional income for ZDF. As a loyal subsidiary of our shareholder, we deliver all our annual profit to ZDF every year. Last year this amounted to roughly €10 million, which, for a mid-sized company like ours, is a result we can be proud of. There are two other financial streams that flow from our firm to ZDF. There is our direct investment in ZDF programs, which ranges from €5 million to €10 million. And as far as we sell ZDF programs without prior direct investment, we pay a certain percentage of our sales volume to ZDF as a compensation for the rights. So we provide three financial streams to our shareholder. Over the years, this has amounted to several hundred million euros that have gone to ZDF.

The value of ZDF Enterprises is also much higher today than it was 20 years ago. Plus, we have formed a small portfolio of subsidiaries, mainly production companies, which all amounts to a considerable corporate value for the ZDF Enterprises group.

Last but not least, through our co-productions and international partnerships, we have been able to provide ZDF with excellent programming in all genres, from Scandinavian drama to U.S. documentaries and Australian live-action teen series. All these programs have been successful on ZDF, and ZDF acquired them for a favorable price-to-quality ratio. So besides the direct financial contributions that I mentioned above, we are very proud to have provided ZDF with excellent programs and international content.

WS: ZDF has been involved in numerous co-productions. What reputation does ZDF have among international co-production partners?
CORIDASS: First I’d like to give you some figures. Each year we invest between €30 million to €50 million in new programs with money generated from our own cash flow—not from license fees collected by the GEZ from the German TV spectators. These are either projects originating from third parties or from ZDF; but I would say that in general, the major part goes into programs and third-party projects and a minor part into ZDF programs.

What co-production partners can expect is a co-producer who is willing and able to provide input into the editorial development. We want to be involved in the production process and, in return for our investment, we need to obtain the rights. There is no general pattern for co-productions; they vary from case to case. Sometimes we are just a co-financer: we let our partners do most of the job and we just give some additional financing. In other cases we are in the driver’s seat, so to speak, and are the ones who are really developing a production. One example is Alexander, about Alexander the Great, which is a project that we are carrying out with one of our subsidiaries and with Beta Film. It was developed by Gruppe 5 Filmproduktion, and we went in immediately with our development money. I met writer Michael Hirst [The Tudors, Elizabeth] in Ireland. We talked, and the project looks very promising. There is a broad range of arrangements as far as our involvement in co-productions is concerned, but our partners can always count on us to be very dedicated and fair.

WS: Over the years, what has been the strategy to broaden the ZDF Enterprises catalogue?
CORIDASS: We are extremely proud of the programming we obtain from ZDF, but it goes without saying that it is limited, as ZDF’s output is aimed primarily at the German market and is not necessarily suited for international distribution. Thus some 10 to 15 years ago we reached the decision that if we wanted to grow, to have a broader catalogue, and to enter new markets, we would need additional programming. We strive to obtain this through co-productions or distribution mandates from German or international producers. We even buy finished product. Two thirds of our catalogue has nothing to do with ZDF; it is programming we have acquired from third parties or co-produced. This is something that became necessary—it wouldn’t have been enough to just be the sales arm of ZDF.

WS: What opportunities are you seeing in digital platforms?
CORIDASS: We definitely see huge opportunities. I wouldn’t have thought that we would have such great deals with partners like Netflix and Hulu, not only for our Scandinavian crime series but also for other German programs. We talk so often about how complicated it is to sell non-American product to the U.S., but this has changed. Outlets like DIRECTV, along with Netflix and Hulu, are really very open and we’ve made very satisfying deals with them. In Germany and the rest of Europe, digital and VOD platforms are becoming more and more important. Since we have a huge catalogue, the digital world is really a great opportunity for us.