ZDF Studios: Lighting a Spark


ZDF Studios’ Jan-Frederik Maul on the value of early involvement and localization.

Germany-based ZDF Studios has been distributing series for preschoolers, kids aged 6 to 10 and tweens under its own name, for the ZDF channel or for third parties since its inception in 1993. Distinguishing itself in the kids’ content space, the company prioritizes early involvement in the titles that join its catalog. “Getting involved in top-quality kids’ programs, to us, comes first and is something that we just don’t compromise on,” says Maul, director in ZDF Studios’ junior department. “We invest in captivating stories with international appeal, which often are brand- or book-based.”

Key to ZDF Studios’ strategy as a distributor is offering different language versions of the titles on its slate. “We have a campaign slogan: ‘We speak your language,’ and we take that quite literally!” says Maul. “As of today, we have 20,000 episodes of live action and animation available in 25 languages ready to broadcast.”

Brands such as “H2O—Just Add Water and The Bureau of Magical Things are deliverable in more than 20 languages,” he adds. Furthermore, ZDF Studios holds several hundreds of hours in specific languages for its key markets.

As part of its localization strategy, ZDF Studios’ junior department reinvests in dubs for its brands, supporting their marketability and extending their shelf life. “We leverage the overall number of distributable content and are able to generate sustainable revenue streams,” says Maul.

Taking a proactive approach, ZDF Studios’ junior department often handles producing language assets first to unlock potential. In this context, Maul points to the high school musical drama #LikeMe, which has found success in Belgium on VRT. For the Flemish-language series, ZDF Studios invested in the production of English-language songs and dialogue first. “We are pleased to see that these efforts paid off and we could make this series travel to a lot of places internationally,” says Maul.

ZDF Studios’ junior department can credit for its success the thousands of ready-to-air hours of kids’ programs it boasts in its catalog. “When it comes to TV and VOD sales, we are able to make our clients benefit directly from relevant cost savings in their dubbing budgets,” says Maul. “We have established ourselves as a reliable one-stop-shop for localized, high-profile kids’ and family content.”

On the horizon for ZDF Studios’s junior department is more investments in new shows as it prepares to launch the CGI animation Grisù, co-produced with Toon2Tango, Mondo TV and ZDF. The company is also set to spend a seven-figure amount on different language versions of its series, focusing on such live-action productions as The Bureau of Magical Things, Hoodie and Heirs of the Night.

“We will also invest in stocking up our regional portfolios, with a particular focus on the Italian, Spanish, French and Central and Eastern European markets,” says Maul.