Leonine Studios CEO Fred Kogel Talks Next Steps For German Group, Slowing M&A Activity & Local Market Weakness: It Will Come Back Zurich Summit

Leonine Studios founder and CEO Fred Kogel has said he does not expect his Germany-focused content group to expand much more in the near future, after four years of rapid and continuous growth.

The veteran film and TV exec was talking about the journey around the creation of Leonine Studios in 2019 in an onstage conversation with CAA Media Finance Co-head Benjamin Kramer at the Zurich Film Festival’s finance and industry-focused Zurich Summit on Saturday.

Kogel will be feted with the Zurich Film Festival’s Game Changer Award on Sunday, following in the footsteps of Pamela Abdy, Patrick Wachsberger as well as Michael Barker and Tom Bernard.

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“There are many companies who drop by Leonine at the moment who say: ‘Can we be interesting for you in the German market?’,” said the veteran exec.

“There are always two questions for us: ‘Who is the talent and what kind of programs they do, are they really good?’ Secondly, let’s look at the balance sheet. Then the question is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. At the moment the question is more ‘no’,” he said.

Launched in early 2019 on the foundation stones of the Tele München Group and theatrical distributor Universum Film as an integrated production, distribution and licensing group, Leonine Studios currently gathers just over 20 100%-owned brands.

These range from production companies such as feature film-focused Wiedemann & Berg Film (The Lives Of Others, Girl You Know It’s True), non-fiction specialist gebrueder beetz Filmproduktion (Juan Carlos: The Downfall Of A King) and series powerhouse Odeon Fiction (The Seed) to Leonine Distribution (The Expendables 4, John Wick: Chapter 4) and Leonine Licensing which oversee a vast library of films and series.

“The market does kind of have consolidation behind it in Germany. I would say we have a very good group of companies around us. So only if there is something very specific, very decisive would we go for it. We have the financial firepower to do it. There’s a constant lookout for good companies… but it’s not so easy anymore,” said Kogel, explaining were no longer “obvious choices” not connected to other groups.

While M&A activity may have slowed down, Kogel said the company was still continuing to sign individual talents, noting the recent hiring by gebrueder beetz Filmproduktion of international doc expert Martin Pieper from public network ZDF.

Kogel said one of next steps for the company in 2024 would to focus on its position in the German market as well as pursuing a more European strategy with sister Paris-based content group Mediawan.

“They have 60 to 70 production companies… We are a European studio so we will have to see what we make out of it. These are the next steps: being the number one in Germany and always trying to focus on the German market for Leonine and working on the more European aspects.”

Touching on wider trends for film and TV content in Germany as well as globally, Kogel said the German market was going through a difficult period but that he was optimistic in the long term.

“Sky as you know quit their local productions so with high inflation, high dependency, Germany is in regression, the market is weak, but it will come back, everything goes in circles,” he told.

Another trend he suggested was streamers reining in attempts to make local productions with global appeal.

Talking about the future for premium TV content he said: “It depends on the streamers on whether they still want to go from local to global, or local to local. This will be reflected in the budget. If you ask me today, my perception is they want to go local to local and not local to global anymore,” he said.

“I think we will see that – at least with some of the streamers – some parts of the budget will be reduced because they say that first of all it has to work in the local market. Apple is a little bit different but doesn’t produce so much, at least not in Germany, and not for the moment.”

On the global front, he said it was impossible to forecast future beyond six to eight months but that he felt more consolidation was on the cards.

“There will be constant change that’s for sure. Will there be a huge consolidation in the streamer markets? In my opinion, yes. Will there be further consolidation in the German media market? Yes. In the end, how many huge production groups will there be? I can’t give you the answer. I think there will be less than today.”

The Zurich Film Festival runs from September 28 to October 8. Its one-day Zurich Summit is organized in cooperation with CAA Media Finance.

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