Keynote: ZDF’s Nicole Keeb


Nicole Keeb, the head of international co-productions, development and acquisitions for children and youth at ZDF, discussed her programming strategy at the TV Kids Summer Festival before being honored with a TV Kids Pioneer Award.

In conversation with TV Kids’ Kristin Brzoznowski, Keeb kicked off the session by discussing the vital role kids’ content plays on the German pubcaster’s services, with coverage for young ones delivered on weekends on ZDF—nine hours in total each week—and on KiKA, a joint venture with ARD, every day. On ZDF, “ZDFtivi is our brand for children; it works like a channel within a channel. We entertain but also inform because we are public television and rely on public funds, so we feel we have to tackle special issues and topics; that’s our task and what we love to do.”

Read excerpts from the session below and watch it in its entirety here. Stay tuned at the end for a special festival closing message from Anna Carugati, the group editorial director of World Screen.

“Linear TV on ZDF and KiKA is still very important,” Keeb continued. “The audience appreciates it and the numbers show that. We are scheduling for younger children on the weekends on ZDF series like Maya the Bee and Vic the Viking and others and then get slightly older through the day with titles such as Lassie, Mia and me and other big properties.”

Keeb also discussed the success of ZDF’s digital portfolio with young audiences. “Up to 20 percent of ZDF’s views in our mediathek [VOD service] are created by the kids’ and youth department. That’s great, taking into account that we just transmit during the weekends. This means that our programs are appreciated by our audience.”

She also stressed the range of the ZDF kids’ offer across different platforms. “Find Me in Paris we’ve put on linear TV on ZDF and KiKA and that was more for the younger children, but then we put it on mediathek as well and reached teenagers, preteens and families who appreciate to binge-watch and be independent regarding the choices of when they want to watch what. We decided to do something for parents with smaller children, early preschoolers, because we knew that there’s a need for safe programs for this [age group], so we have developed a certain part of mediathek for those small children and their parents: ZDFchen. It is a curated part of mediathek, and it’s a safe place. In addition to that, for the older target group, we are producing a web series, [Lik meg], an adaptation of a well-known Norwegian format from NRK that covers problems at schools, coming-of-age, preteen topics. A weekly summary of Lik meg will be shown on linear TV on KiKA and ZDF.”

On the role of acquisitions versus commissions, Keeb said, “We need both. Maybe in the future [we’ll need] a little more co-productions because we need to set themes and topics for the shows we want to have for ZDF, tailor-made for us and our audience. Acquisitions are needed as well. If a show is well made and we feel that it fits into our portfolio, we are happy to acquire it. Due to German regulations, we are not allowed at the moment to bring overseas acquisitions to mediathek, which limits the possibilities to reach our audience. Therefore, we are buying more from Europe and local producers, but if there’s an outstanding U.S. show, for example, that we’d love to have, then we are able to create a linear event around it. It’s always a question of the project.”

Keeb said she seeks out “high-profile shows in live action and animation—warmhearted, well-told stories with three-dimensional characters, fresh and funny designs in terms of animation. At the moment, our preschool shelves are quite well packed, but of course, if something is outstanding, we are happy to be part of it anyway. We appreciate programs for the whole family. We want the kids, parents and grandparents in front of the screen, be it a TV, laptop or mobile phone. The topics should show diversity as well as in their cast and crew. The formats are flexible—7-minutes, 11-minutes, 24-minutes—specials, movies. A certain amount of episodes help to create awareness for the program.”

Co-productions are critical to the lineup, Keeb added. “We not only invest in co-productions, but most importantly, we are giving our editorial input. I see my role as somebody who finds ideas, books, topics, themes that would work perfectly for ZDF and then find the international partners to realize those shows or topics and bring together German and international partners. This happens very often with the support of ZDF Enterprises, which helps us to make an impact on the market. It’s helpful to realize those special series and programs in close connection to European channels like the BBC, Sky UK, France Télévisions, TF1, Rai Ragazzi and others, but also Disney, Netflix, ViacomCBS, HBO and Hulu, with whom we are working as well sometimes. We are open to discussions with everybody.”

Keeb continued, “The results of those cooperations and long-term partnerships are about 80 projects per year.” These include, on the live-action side, the second season of The Bureau of Magical Things from Jonathan M. Shiff, Find Me in Paris and Theodosia with Cottonwood, Silverpoint with Zodiak Kids and Mia and me (an animation hybrid) with Studio 100. In animation, there’s Robin Hood and Pinocchio with ON kids & family, Tobie Lolness with Tant Mieux, Grisù with Mondo TV, Klincus with Showlab and Zoom—The White Dolphin from Marzipan Productions, among many others.

Keeb was then asked about her current wish list. “Since we are so successful with our program selection up to now, we would rather stick to the same strategy. We’d like to continue series such as Robin Hood and continue to develop shows out of heroes and legends, modern adaptations, free interpretations of big names. We’d like to do another big hit series with the BBC, who we worked so successfully with on Wolfblood and The Worst Witch. Of course, we always hope to continue our fruitful co-operation with our Australian friends and colleagues like Jonathan M. Shiff, the ABC, Joanna Werner and Suzanne Ryan, just to name a few.”

Nonlinear rights are important when evaluating new kids’ offerings for ZDF. “Attractive programs need to stay as long as possible in our mediathek VOD service,” Keeb said. “We do need exclusivity for certain titles, but on the other hand, we are flexible and creative regarding windowing solutions for other titles. It is a learning process—what makes the most sense for the specific program, and in the end, what serves us and our audience best.”

Reflecting on her career in the kids’ media industry, Keeb noted, “It’s an honor to work for children; it’s the best audience in the world. They are close to my heart. We take it very seriously, and we love to do it. There are big advantages as well, because we are able, as ZDF, to develop long-term partnerships creatively and that makes the work fruitful and wonderful. I personally very much enjoy working with creatives and talents all over the world; it’s a privilege.”