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ORF-Enterprise GmbH & Co. KG

Programming Profile

Natural history, crime drama top ORF-Enterprise’s new slate


Gernot Lercher from Austrian public broadcaster ORF and Armin Luttenberger of its commercial arm ORF-Enterprise discuss the changing market for natural history content, new sources of production finance and the new titles on the company’s C21 Digital Screenings playlist this week.


With its internationally respected natural history strand Universum now entering its 35th year on-air, Austrian public broadcaster ORF has changed the way the world sees wildlife documentaries. The strand has since expanded into other factual genres, such as history, but nevertheless has natural history at its core.


This long relationship with the blue-chip wildlife documentary industry puts ORF in a unique position to discuss the changing market for this genre of programming. It’s a market that Gernot Lercher, head of ORF Universum/Natural History, says is very buoyant, given the growing international interest in ecological issues.


Gernot Lercher, ORF

“Demand for blue-chip wildlife documentaries is still strong,” he says. “But our clients are also demanding content that focuses on topics that reflect the protection of nature and wildlife and yes, also programmes that address environmental crimes and ways to solve these issues in the spirit of our only home – this planet Earth.”


But with the arrival of streamers, the cost of making wildlife shows that cut through is obviously rising. “Certainly, big landmark productions cost a fortune and it often takes a year or even more to successfully close a budget,” he says.


But he adds: “Big doesn’t always mean success on the screen or on the market. There are also natural history productions that can be managed with a modest sum of money. It’s always the story the counts.”


Armin Luttenberger, ORF-Enterprise

ORF Universum is known for delivering both kinds of content: big-budget, blue-chip, landmark programming, which has been completed with the support of renowned coproduction partners from all over the globe, as well as compelling stories that are huge successes with the audiences, realised with a smaller budget – “but with the same enthusiasm,” Lercher adds.


“We are committed to continuing this path – together with our partners – and are happy to announce an increasing output for the coming seasons at MipTV.”


This mantra is one that guides Lercher’s commissioning strategy and is evident in the titles that ORF-Enterprise is bringing to market via C21’s Digital Screenings this week. The latest additions to the Universum line-up are Colombia – Wild & Free (2×52’), a coproduction by ORF, NDR, PBS, Arte and Cosmos Factory in association with ORF-Enterprise, and Hudson River Wild (1×52’), a copro from ORF, Smithsonian Networks, Skyland Productions and RanFilm in association with Arte and ORF-Enterprise.


At MipTV, the company will unveil the eagerly anticipated highlight Lake Tanganyika – Africa’s Blue Heart (1×52’/1×90’/3×45′ travelogue), a copro between ORF, ZDF, Arte, Eikon and Cosmos Factory, as well as The Egg – Bursting into Life, a copro involving ORF, Arte, WDR/SWR and Wega Filmproduktion.


Lake Tanganyika – Africa’s Blue Heart
Lake Tanganyika – Africa’s Blue Heart

“By the end of 2022 at the latest, we will deliver our Life on the Wing – Miracle of Bird Migration and Gentle & Wild, a wonderful production about the wildlife in the Alpine foothills,” says Lercher.


He hints at two more highlights: a film about the flora and fauna of Slovenia, and on the occasion of the Fifa World Cup, a documentary focusing on Qatar and asking the burning question: how is nature going to manage when temperatures are over 50 degrees?


Describing the international appeal of these new titles, Lercher says: “Some of these documentaries reflect the challenges that nature and wildlife are facing as the backdrop of climate change. Others focus on the areas of tension between civilisation and wildlife. Is there still enough room on our planet for both worlds? And if not, how can we guarantee a co-existence full of respect? These are crucial questions that should be answered in natural history documentaries these days.”


The Egg – Bursting into Life
The Egg – Bursting into Life

The new ORF-Enterprise slate is not just about natural history though. Crime drama is also in the mix, given the genre’s longevity and popularity. Armin Luttenberger, head of content sales international at ORF-Enterprise, says having a range of original series and movies from ORF on the slate proves the notion of public service can and must include many aspects of broadcasting – including entertainment.


“The great challenge is not only to reflect local aspects in the stories, but to also take into account the view of an entire world the audience is part of. After the success of Soko Kitzbuehel, celebrating its grand finale with season 20, Soko Linz is the latest product of the Austrian creative industry.”


Airing on broadcasters ORF and ZDF, the series tells the stories of a team of police investigators, operating from the Austrian town Linz – known for its steel industry as well as being a hub for the creative industries – in the cross-border area between Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic.


Qatar - Pearls in the Sand
Qatar – Pearls in the Sand

The long-running Soko crime procedural franchise, which began in 1978 with Soko Munchen and has since spun off into numerous other series, stretches to more than 2,000 episodes of drama.

Explaining that success, in particular the latest extensions of the brand, Luttenberger says: “ORF’s long-running series Soko Kitzbuehel, being part of the Soko family, has indeed been a success in recent sales seasons, achieving a sales record including the latest deals in France and Spain. The series perfectly performs as an ‘all-rounder’ even in slots and time zones that are often tricky to handle when it comes to horizontal programming with large volume.


“Compared with our other successful primetime crime formats, such as Fast Forward and Tatort, Soko Kitzbuehel has been proven to work also in earlier zones of a programming schedule – offering 270 episodes of crime investigation in the picturesque Austrian alps. A scenery that people might recognise from spending their summer or winter vacation in and around Kitzbuehel in Tyrol, Austria.”


Soko Linz
Soko Linz

Luttenberger also has some recent sales to report, to underscore the enduring popularity of both natural history and crime drama. Recent sales include Fast Forward being acquired by AXN and Atresmedia in Spain as well as Rai Cinema in Italy. Atresmedia has also picked several seasons of Soko Kitzbuehel, as has Canal+ in France, Sky in Germany, RTS in Switzerland, FTV Prima in the Czech Republic and AMC in Spain.


The new wildlife title Hudson River Wild was picked recently by RTP in Portugal as part of a nature and wildlife package, as well as by Rai in Italy and SVT in Sweden. The latter network also secured the two-parter Colombia – Wild & Free, while US-based WNET and RTP acquired wildlife doc Portugal – Wild Land on the Edge, one of Lercher’s own productions for ORF.


Reflecting on the past couple of years, Luttenberger says: “The content sales team at ORF-Enterprise is looking back on some successful years. Together with our team in Vienna and sales representatives around the globe, we have worked hard to offer the best possible service to our customers.


Family in the Wild
Family in the Wild

“By curating hand-picked programme selections from our impressive catalogue, as well as regularly updating our line-up with blue-chip titles on our state-of-the-art screening platform,, we will continue to further improve the customer experience. In this regard, our activities also include our active participation in Content.Agent, a digital search engine and B2B marketplace for the global film licensing trade.


“Furthermore, producers can profit from ORF-Enterprise’s global footprint by successfully showcasing their content in our sales catalogue. Buyers will thus continue to find high-quality content from all genres – including ORF’s blue-chip Universum Nature and History strand, which has committed to significantly increasing its output in the upcoming seasons. MipTV will kick off with a showcase of the new titles of the award-winning ORF Universum.”

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