ZDF Documentaries in Top League of Premiere Programs Worldwide
Director General Markus Schächter: International Network Guarantees Highest Quality and Key Role in Television Market
ZDF and its marketing subsidiary ZDF Enterprises have established themselves over the past year as one of the most important providers of documentary programming on the world market. This was the verdict of ZDF’s Director General Markus Schächter as he presented an assessment to the station’s supervisory board of its performance in the sphere of documentaries.
Today the ZDF Enterprises marketing catalogue contains approximately 4,000 programs, covering a broad range of subjects from contemporary history to nature and wildlife productions and including historical, cultural and scientific documentaries. Schächter: "As a result of its commercial strategy for an international documentary network, the ZDF organisation has entered the top league of premiere programs worldwide." Alongside news and magazine features, talk-shows and special event broadcasts, documentaries now form "the central pillar of ZDF information programming” at the best transmission times. Thus documentaries have become "a core element of popular, essential television", which are "interesting, innovative, very popular and socially stimulating".
The Director General of ZDF considers lavish, high-gloss documentaries of great importance in the competition to attain a quality image with viewers. Over the past year almost three-quarters of German viewers have come to regard documentaries as one of the most important and popular program types. Moreover, this trend can be seen throughout the world, claimed Schächter. After news programs and features from their own regions, viewers feel that documentaries have the greatest significance in their own interest rating for television.
Surveys also show that ZDF enjoys the best reputation for its balance of historical, cultural, scientific and wildlife documentaries, which is the happy consequence of years of consistent effort to consolidate the company’s position, according to the Director General. The position ZDF holds has long been recognised at international level, as seen for example in spring when the reputable Banff Foundation in Canada awarded a “Television Oscar” to the company. Schächter: "We know our strengths: we have the highest possible executive skills in the realm of high-quality documentaries, and we have the best production partners throughout the world. Consequently in future documentaries will continue to play a key role in the ZDF program profile."
The huge program success and excellent reputation that ZDF can claim today is due to a great extent to the "courageous policy pursued ever since the 80s" of showing premium documentary programming at prime times on Saturdays. In addition to the distinctive afternoon slot for documentary series, it has also been possible to establish Tuesday evenings as a central, popular transmission time for high-quality documentaries, said Schächter. "Today ZDF documentaries have an excellent reputation all round the world, and when it comes to international production and distribution networks, we are the first company in Europe that springs to mind for renowned partners such as Discovery International, Channel 4, Mediaset and History Channel."
In addition to comprehensive partnership and territorial agreements, the market position ZDF enjoys has been strengthened by individual arrangements with broadcasters such as BBC in Britain and NHK in Japan, and with distribution and production companies such as Télé Images International, S4C and France Télévision Distribution. These co-operation arrangements, which have been cultivated over years, mean that ZDF viewers are assured of exclusive access to some of the most attractive productions around the globe.
Within the German television scene, the ZDF documentary narrative form now "drives development throughout the industry". Thus new forms of narrative structure and cross-genre applications have been established by ZDF program executives which provide the viewer with entirely new perspectives.
In the view of the ZDF Director General, these include the establishment of the docu-soap in Germany, a mixture of documentary report and serial narrative (for example, "Operating Theatre – Destiny in Hospital", "Caught by the Homicide Division"), but also the rediscovery of the docu-drama, a modern variant of the earlier documentary feature ("The German Game", "The Uprising"), and the consistent development of new formal techniques, such as the re-enactment of historical events within historical documentaries ("To Hell with God’s Blessing”, for example, a feature about the Thirty Years’ War) as well as the practice of focusing on less familiar parts of the world with opulent and atmospherically intense travel features ("Russia’s Coasts – Russia’s Longing", "America’s Wild West").
Schächter: "The intense creative development of the documentary as instigated by ZDF has made the entire genre more gripping and accessible for the television public. We have thus set the standard for modern informative television – and not only in the national television market."
When it comes to the immediate future, Schächter foresees the expansion of contemporary subjects to include the more recent history of Germany, a continuation of region and profession based docu-soaps, more documentary future projections and new methods of presenting wildlife documentaries.