ORF-Enterprise’s Armin Luttenberger

ORF-Enterprise represents a robust catalog of factual programming covering wildlife, history, people and places, social issues, science and so much more, allowing it to keep up with the ever-increasing demand from broadcasters and platforms for high-quality unscripted fare. Armin Luttenberger, head of content sales international, tells TV Real about trends in the factual space right now, FAST channel opportunities and financing strategies that are driving the company’s business.

***Image***TV REAL: What types of unscripted programs are you seeing the most demand for currently?
LUTTENBERGER: We are experiencing high demand for our blue-chip titles in both the nature and wildlife and history segments. Both product categories are offered under the renowned UNIVERSUM brand, which has stood for top quality for over 35 years. On the other hand, our broad portfolio of documentaries also enables us to serve market players, such as FAST offerings, that have a need for a high volume of journalistically outstanding productions. Maintaining a balance between volume and quality is what distinguishes us as a distribution unit belonging to ORF—a public-service entity. At the upcoming edition of Sunny Side of the Doc, we will offer insights into the latest additions to our portfolio and focus on our blue-chip UNIVERSUM History brand, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year.

TV REAL: What do you see as the biggest area for growth within the factual genre?
LUTTENBERGER: In addition to the highly successful titles in our blue-chip segments, which traditionally consist of one-offs and multiparters, we have successively developed our catalog toward miniseries and long-running series. These include, for example, Wildlife Orphanage and Family in the Wild. In this way, we can appeal to broadcasters and platforms that require consistent output, even in large volumes. FAST offers are an important piece of the puzzle here, enabling us to be successful with our programs not only in individual slots on linear feeds, but to offer entire program bundles with a significant number of hours.

TV REAL: Let’s look further at FAST opportunities. Are certain kinds of programming better suited for this than other platforms?
LUTTENBERGER: From our experience, FAST offers are programmatically following in the footsteps of content that previously took place on pay channels. The great art, in my view, is to work with strong partners to define meaningful collections and offer viewers consistently high-quality and carefully curated content on FAST channels. We want to keep the audience confident with our documentaries and ensure significant dwell time, with positive effects on the monetization of channels that are supplied with our content.

TV REAL: As production techniques and technology keep getting better and budgets are pushed even higher, what are some of the ways financing for these high-quality factual programs is coming together?
LUTTENBERGER: Cooperation is the be-all and end-all for maintaining high-quality standards in a constantly evolving environment. For decades, the ORF team has relied on successful cooperation with international partners. This is the only way to ensure the audience’s quality expectations in the long term. Broadcasters and platforms alike have recognized that producing originals is game-changing and are therefore willing to pool resources with like-minded partners to keep production value high. As a distributor, we are committed to providing consistent, high-quality output season after season and to offering technical and narrative in our portfolio as well. UNIVERSUM, for example, sees itself as part of an international network of co-production partners who are there for each other. Only in this way has it been possible to maintain the quality of wildlife documentaries for 35 years.

TV REAL: Wildlife documentaries have always been popular, but there have been a slew of titles focused on or featuring a specific species lately. What do you think is driving that trend?
LUTTENBERGER: The long-standing tradition of storytelling in nature films is also constantly evolving. In addition to the content-related component (for example, the commitment to increasingly addressing the preservation of our habitat, the maintenance of ecosystems), the aforementioned possibility is character-driven storytelling. Viewers appreciate it when they can accompany a main character through the film—as in a feature film—or, in the case of wildlife, an animal with whom they can laugh, empathize and sympathize. Apart from these character-driven stories, there will be more films in the future that focus on the preservation of our planet’s fauna and flora from the perspective of scientists and profiled conservationists who spend their lives in and with nature. The voices and expertise of representatives of Indigenous peoples will also be heard more strongly. The days when “blue chip” only meant “pure animal film untouched by human” are probably over. The term must be seen more broadly. Civilization and wilderness have been moving closer to each other. ORF’s head of the natural history unit, UNIVERSUM Nature, Gernot Lercher, likes to say: “Blue chip, yes, of course that’s a term I can relate to. Especially when it comes to cinematography and storytelling. Blue chip, that must mean: Outstanding, striking, valuable. Documentaries that stand out from the crowd in their appearance.”

TV REAL: What are some of the qualities a wildlife doc focused on a single species has to employ in order to compete in a crowded space of blue-chip natural-history programming?
LUTTENBERGER: Since there is hardly anything left that has not been filmed, it can only ever be a matter of finding a new approach. James Cameron was not the first to make a film about the Titanic, but he was probably the first to think that a sinking ship alone is not enough. There needs to be more.

Thus, there are dozens of high-quality documentaries about lions and leopards on the market that all show more or less the same thing. Standing out from the crowd is a great art—and that is defined solely by profound storytelling and a unique visual language. Will and Lianne Steenkamp, who have been accompanying leopards and lions in Africa for many years for UNIVERSUM, for example, have chosen to tell animal stories over years, even generations, of animals. Those who, like these two, take the time to do so and are able to do so naturally achieve extraordinary results as far as behavior is concerned, but also the many small and large dramas that can only be depicted over a long period of time. Their new documentary Desert Phantoms, which will be on the market in early 2024, will prove that once again.