Wednesday, March 22, 2023
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ZDF Studios’ Katharina Pietzsch

With its expansive slate, from high-quality preschool animation such as Grisù to compelling live-action tween and family fare such as Heirs of the Night, ZDF Studios has positioned itself as a flexible and reliable partner to kids’ media producers, broadcasters and platforms across the globe. Amid seismic shifts in the marketplace, Katharina Pietzsch, Director Junior, offers up TV Kids Weekly her insightful perspectives on where the kids’ business is today and how ZDF Studios is navigating fast-evolving trends.

TV KIDS: What trends most impacted your business in 2022?
PIETZSCH: Overall, 2022 was not an easy year for our industry, and we saw several major shifts and changes throughout the year, including kids’ content being moved from linear first to online only for a lot of our partners—both in the commercial as well as the public-service broadcasting space—often accompanied by budget cuts. There were some big changes in editorial policies with major industry players and budgets being redirected or cut, sometimes leading to production stops, the discontinuation or the pulling out of shows. Inflation and shortages in the availability of talent and crew (among other factors) led to significant increases in production costs. Despite these developments, 2022 was still a good year for us, and we ended on a high. Following the great success of our hit series Surviving Summer, which launched on Netflix worldwide last summer and went into the top ten series chart in 42 countries, we got the go-ahead for season two at the end of last year and have just started production along the Great Ocean Road in Australia.

TV KIDS: How do you see those shifts affecting your kids’ distribution business in 2023?
PIETZSCH: On the distribution side, some of our established funding models for co-productions and client partnerships have changed considerably over the past months. As mentioned, there were a number of shifts in clients’ needs and budgets—some of those with major industry players and affecting well-established partnerships.

As the market becomes more fragmented and rights needed by clients and partners are changing, we need to be flexible when thinking about the financing of a project and when selling rights to it. Some partnerships might not work like in the past, and some negotiations may become more difficult than they were before. Established business models will be challenged and might change, but great new opportunities exist.

So, “thinking outside the box” will be our key premise for 2023, and we are looking to expand our business with new partners from all over  the world while also working on expanding our long-term partnerships and established relations.

TV KIDS: What growth opportunities are you pursuing this year?
PIETZSCH: We are constantly working on expanding our portfolio and are always looking for more great kids and family shows.

Live-action series for the tween and teen audience have been major contributors to our success to date, and we are looking to invest even more into content for these audiences. There is a big demand for high-production-value drama series. Following our success with the likes of Surviving Summer, Heirs of the Night and Mako Mermaids, we are working on expanding our portfolio in this genre.

While continuing to work on great new projects with our well-established partners, we also collaborate with a handful of selected producers and creatives on developing original ideas ourselves. So, rather than waiting for great project ideas to be brought to us, we actively work on creating or co-creating original ideas and IP. We are also expanding our investment into projects at very early development stages, co-funding further development and bringing our extensive editorial experience and knowledge of the market and its needs.

The aim is to bring an even more exciting lineup to the market this year, and we will start looking for co-production or commissioning partners for a number of really exciting projects soon. We can’t wait to share them with our clients!

TV KIDS: How are funding models changing as the marketplace gets more fragmented?
PIETZSCH: Funding continues to be a challenge for everyone, and the trick is to get the right partners together—and right on different levels. As well as the financials, the rights needed and taken by each partner need to be aligned, as well as the editorial line. It is essential that all partners share the same creative vision for the project.

As mentioned, we have seen some well-established and successful partnerships change or end, but we have also seen some great new models.

With increased production budgets on the one hand and budget cuts and restrictions on the other, there continues to be a great demand for working together and sharing costs.

Some global partners are willing and able to carve out or hold back in certain territories and on rights if the overall model makes sense to them. At the same time, partners from smaller territories with limited acquisition budgets are increasingly interested in coming on board a project early to secure content that would otherwise end up in a multi-territory deal and just not be available to them at a later stage.

We see public-service broadcasters in Europe expressly working together to co-fund projects—in a way uniting their forces to compete with some of the global competition.

Having said this, there will still be full commissions on certain major brands and programs as exclusivity is a major USP, but these might be even harder to get the green light for and, as we already saw in 2022, more volatile.

TV KIDS: What other trends do you expect will be shaping the kids’ content sector in 2023?
PIETZSCH: Content-wise, we feel there is a need for programs that help kids make sense of what is happening around them and in the world—now more than ever, as the past few years saw kids having to face and deal with really difficult issues. Although Covid is finally mostly under control in large parts of the world, there is a war in Ukraine, the highest inflation in decades, an energy crisis and natural disasters caused by climate change, to name but a few. And this is on top of the typical issues and problems children face growing up. There’s a lot to take in and comprehend, and it’s important to help kids understand and deal with these issues.

Ideally, our programs will show children that they are not alone with their worries and fears, that other kids are facing the same problems and issues and that there are ways to deal with them or maybe even make a change. With all the bad news, we want to send a positive message, educate kids and put things in context, but also empower children and give them a voice.

In this respect, I believe that fantastical or magical themes will continue to be a trend, helping kids “escape” from the harsh realities of their daily lives or the bad news of the day, giving them opportunities to dream, imagine, travel, go on adventures or explore, even if just virtually and only for a little while.

About Mansha Daswani

Mansha Daswani is the editor-in-chief and associate publisher of World Screen. She can be reached on


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