Five key takeaways from Germany’s Seriencamp Festival & Conference

LR: Nick Edwards & Marc Smerling

At the beginning of 2023, an existential fear loomed over the industry – how bad was this going to be? Six months later, much of what was predicted has come to pass.

In Cologne, where the Seriencamp Festival and Conference has relocated from Munich, execs from the key studios and platforms in Europe and beyond gathered to figure out how to navigate and thrive in the most choppiest of waters.

Can The Alliance weather the storm?

Following the carnage in the streaming sector, public service broadcasters and their traditional commercial rivals were seen as a safe harbour from the storm but now even they are looking at drastic cuts to their programming.

So it was a timely to reflect on the fifth anniversary of the formation of the Alliance, the co-production initiative between Europe’s PSB powerhouses: Germany’s ZDF, France’s France Television and Italy’s Rai.

Following a tremendous overspend that didn’t produce the return Hollywood thought it would, people have woken up with a huge hangover

Marc Smerling

Initially conceived as a means to weather the threat posed by the streaming giants, the broadcasters are now also battling economic headwinds. The Alliance’s strategic response reflects the move to safety that is taking place everywhere. The main drive of future programming lies in “ambitious family entertainment,” said Simone Emmelius, SVP of international at ZDF Fiction.

Christian Rank, head of development & production at Miso Film, noted that whilst the small high-end, sophisticated sector of the Danish industry is “doing OK,” he senses that “ordinary TV are series challenged.” Rank pointed out that non-premium shows are operating on smaller budgets and becoming “less challenging” in their storytelling and aesthetic values.

Social stories hold more value than ever

Hans-Jørgen Osnes, head of international drama financing at NRK, gave a telling insight as to why he believes Norway’s PSB continues to create a high quality and successful slate, that travels, during these turbulent times. He explained how their creative teams often think about “how to strengthen democracy” when conceiving of a project. When people feel their democracy is under threat, these shows resonate.

The Alliance also declared the importance of telling socially important stories during troubled times, teasing how the scripts for their much anticipated Bellingcat drama, The Kollective, are at an “exciting stage,” according to Morad Koufane, head of international scripted series at Frances Télévision.

Maximise Europe’s global strategic advantages

Seriencamp’s array of speakers and topics sought to explore where strategic advantage could be found. Perhaps the most significant of these areas was pointed out by Marc Lober, the former Lionsgate exec who is now an international format, programming & production consultant. “Europe has the strongest co-production market in the world these days,” he pointed out, highlighting the potential of this burgeoning model and its return to prominence.

Innovative podcast potential

Anna Phelan, head of development at Novel, one of the largest (and independent) podcast companies in Europe, explained why she was in town and reflected the increasing confluence betwee audio and TV.

“We’re not limited to English-language countries and cultures,” she said. “Stories that blow up in the US are often so covered – we want to find gems that this audience hasn’t come across yet.”

Developing the IP of podcast documentary series into scripted and features is the most lucrative growth area in the sector. “Linking arms with the right folks to navigate the industry feels more paramount than ever,” added Neil Krishnan, head of film & TV at Novel.

Cracking chronology

Marc Smerling, creator of HBO’s Capturing The Friedmans and landmark docuseries The Jinx, as well as a series of successful long-form narrative podcasts (such as Firebug, which will be adapted by Dennis Lehane (The Wire, Blackbird) kicked off the festival with a masterclass that considered storytelling telling across the mediums.

He also reminded delegates that the industry is cyclical.

“Following a tremendous overspend that didn’t produce the return Hollywood thought it would, people have woken up with a huge hangover,” he said. Despite the sense that Hollywood has “turned the lights out, studios are trying to figure out how they can streamline their operations so they can afford to do the projects they want to do. But that is going to take a minute – eventually people will start making stuff again.”

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