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German television networks are increasingly looking for locally produced sitcoms and factual programmes - which is driving the domestic indie sector after a period of decline.


Over the past two years, the German television market has been quietly changing from being primarily an importer of international formats to a respected exporter of them, with some of its shows crossing over to territories including France, Canada, China and Sweden.

Sony Pictures Television (SPT) Germany's MD and senior VP of production Astrid Quentell , who has been with the company since June 2009 following a four-year stint at Eyeworks, says German broadcasters are becoming increasingly interested in homemade content. This, in turn, is helping to drive the national production renaissance and the country's performance abroad. Scripted content is back in vogue as networks look for high-quality drama and comedy - genres that have become central to SPT's production business in Germany, she says.

"The whole business is going up again. The economy was quite down two years ago, and the TV market suffered along with other industries," says Quentell. "But more recently, there has been continual growth and vibrancy in the market and there's high demand for scripted content. Scripted is back." She also points to the opening up of markets across Central and Eastern Europe, which has boosted demand for content and led to greater foreign opportunities for German producers.

SPT Germany is working on a sitcom pilot for RTL, the first the commercial net has commissioned for some time, Quentell says. "There haven't been any German sitcoms for years - they're quite expensive to make and lots of trials didn't work so well," she explains. US imports have traditionally been successful in the territory, but now demand is growing for home-grown comedy.

The SPT pilot has only just gone into production but Quentell reveals it is in the tradition of successful older German "real-life" comedies, which have included award-winners such as Salto Postale and Lukas. Also in production at SPT is comedy telefilm Das Comeback (The Big Comeback), which will air late next year on pubcaster ZDF, and a second series of sketch show Four Singles, which returned to RTL2 on September 25. Both shows follow telemovie CIS (above), a spoof on US drama CSI, which aired on RTL in May and has been nominated for a German Comedy Award.

"Comedy is what our partners are looking for at the moment," explains Quentell. "With comedy, when times are rough, people look forward to seeing something that makes them laugh. And as the economy starts to lift people need to be motivated. Laughing out loud helps."

However, there is also growing demand for German-produced "scripted reality" shows, a genre that Quentell believes only really works in the territory. These programmes look like docusoaps but have been pre-planned and scripted and are ratings winners, while demand for non-scripted factual content is also on the rise.

"People do commission a lot more original factual programming (than anything else) because factual works well; it depends more on local talent," says Quentell. This, in turn, has bolstered domestic output and led production houses such as SPT to diversify. And Quentell points out that while some international formats work well in every territory, there are plenty that don't, forcing the German industry to come up with its own IP.

"We have long-standing relationships with broadcasters, but we've worked to build new strong relationships over the past year, too. It's a big priority for us," says Quentell. "We want to have the trust of everybody and let everybody know we can do everything. It's important for us to diversify."

The German market is increasingly different from the US market, which has five big networks and a consolidated structure, and Quentell believes that there is less programme diversity and less demand for factual entertainment stateside. She claims that only the really big formats can work over there, but while demand for factual and comedy programming rises in Germany, a key priority for SPT Germany has been to diversify its output. "The most important thing is that we are covering a wide range (of content); we can't grow the business in just one genre."

While it is hard to pin down the exact percentage of imported formats compared with original development produced by SPT Germany, Quentell says it is "roughly 30% remake and 70% original," but insists that the figure can change to 50/50 depending on the commissions it receives.

The production house is currently working on a remake of US reality show Plain Jane and is pitching a German-made version of US health talkshow format The Doctor Oz Show - already adapted in Russia and the Arab territories.

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