funk by ARD and ZDF - Funking things up
Two years in the making, the web TV service and digital content network funk by German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF finally launched on October 1. The project’s working title had simply been ‘Junges Angebot’ (Young Offer) until only a couple of days before the launch.

Aimed at 14- to 29-year-olds, the digital-only network steps away from traditional TV towards online and social media platforms. Two of the pubcasters’ digital TV channels – EinsPlus and ZDFkultur – were shut down on September 30 to make way for funk, whose creators insisted from the very beginning that their youth ‘channel’ will in fact have nothing to do with linear TV. funk is more of a multiplatform network than a TV channel.

The approach ARD and ZDF have chosen to build the brand is already reflected in the name of the web video network. funk is pronounced in German, not English, and is a short form of ‘Rundfunk,’ the German term for broadcasting. The creators decided on a simple name (instead of a trendy and hip buzzword) as they intend to put emphasis on the content, not on building a brand that is forced on the market (and on the young audience).

Consequently, the new content is accessible via the funk website, but also and primarily on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. The young audience does not have to visit a new platform; the content is brought to them on the platforms they already use.

Also, on these third-party platforms the funk branding is rather subtle. Formats stand for themselves and the creators and talents take centre stage. funk branding only appears at the end of videos to make clear the content’s origins. That way, funk reaches users and can build a community through good content, and the audience can gradually build a relationship with the brand.

Content-wise, funk is offering 40 original formats at launch, with new formats to be added to the network continually. Furthermore, the service has acquired international series such as Fargo, and has launched a dedicated funk app [2]. The app not only features the licensed series but also daily selected stories that cover viral internet topics, background information on the day’s event and lifestyle trends.

What follows is a small selection of funk’s current line-up of formats and some insight into why they are of interest and can become successful for the pubcasters.

Guten Morgen, Internet! (from Studio71) is a morning show on YouTube, hosted by popular YouTube personalities Kelly MissesVlog and Sturmwaffel, which launches in November. On Mondays to Fridays at 07.30, the community can join Kelly and Freddie (Sturmwaffel) as they start the day with the latest news and headlines, funny stories and bizarre actions. Looking at the subscriber numbers of the show’s two protagonists, Guten Morgen, Internet! ought to be an immediate success: Kelly MissesVlog (1.53 million) and Sturmwaffel (958,000) are amongs the most popular YouTubers in Germany. In addition, comedian and vlogger Kelly and gamer Freddie are targeting and bringing together two groups of audiences.

Hochkant (from RBB) is a daily news format on Snapchat. Three reporters – Florian Prokop, Salwa Houmsi and Eva Schulz – share their view on the world and talk about politics, pop culture and events they are attending. The most important news of the day is shared in the morning, while selected topics are covered in more detail in afternoons and evenings. Snapchat is getting more and more popular among German millennials, but if users take a closer look at Snapchat Discover, for example, there is no German-language news content. Hochkant could fill that gap, providing news in a relatable and entertaining way.

iam.serafina (BR) is the first daily soap on Snapchat. Over the course of 14 days, 19-year-old Snapchat-addict Serafina shares her life with her followers on the app, who experience her daily ups and downs live and in real time. The daily Snapchat stories are also made available at the funk website and on YouTube. iam.serafina was an experiment – and it paid off. The first 14-day season of the daily soap has already concluded and the creators say viewing numbers exceeded their expectations. Each Snap had more than 14,000 views, which is quite remarkable for a Snapchat format in Germany. As such, the soap will continue in 2017.

Jäger & Sammler (UFA LAB/MESH Collective) is an investigative docu-format on Facebook in which three hosts – Nemi El Hassan, one of the founders of YouTube channel Datteltäter; blogger, journalist and writer Ronja von Rönne; and journalist Friedemann Karig – cover controversial topics and offer new perspectives. Each week, another topic – ranging from right-wing rap music to survivalism – is explored. Episodes are also available at funk.net and on YouTube. The docu-series does not shy away from confronting harsh realities and grievances. Produced in co-operation with ZDF political magazine Frontal21, Jäger & Sammler provides comprehensive information on Facebook and is made for people interested in politics, culture and society.

Tatort – Die Show (HR/WDR) is an interactive digital after-show for popular German crime series Tatort [10] that streams live on Facebook Live and YouTube. Every week, hosts Jessica Lange and Daniel Boschmann take turns in discussing the latest episode with the viewing community as well as cast and crew members. Tatort is must-see TV in Germany, drawing viewers of all ages in front of the TV every Sunday. Lots of them also pick up their devices to comment on the episodes on Twitter. The after-show now brings together the viewers and creators. In the US, after-shows for hit series are already common, and funk might become a pioneer in that field in Germany.

Wishlist (Outside the Club) is a 10-part scripted mystery series that follows a group of friends getting addicted to an app called ‘Wishlist.’ The app grants users’ wishes but challenges them to fulfill shady tasks in return. Viewers can watch the mystery unfold on YouTube. This is funk’s most promising scripted web series but it’s also a risk – the mystery genre is tough to crack in Germany, so the network will be hoping this show proves an exception. The series was pitched to funk by a group of German YouTubers. Both the plot and the production values place the series on another level compared with funk’s other scripted content.

As can be seen from the above, for its original formats, funk works with both unknown and popular creators to realize new ideas and content that is supposed to be interesting, critical, funny, entertaining and engaging. It falls into three categories: information, orientation, and entertainment. The distribution of the content is divided accordingly.

For entirely new projects, as well as co-operations with new and smaller YouTubers, funk has launched dedicated channels. Content that is produced in co-operation with popular YouTubers is mostly found on their own channels, where their existing fanbase and target group can be reached more easily than by launching entirely new channels.

Although funk currently operates under the slogan ‘Content is King,’ it ultimately wants to be an established brand and member of the German-speaking digital video community. With most formats, funk starts from scratch and has to compete in the market just like every other content creator.

About a month on from funk’s launch, programming MD Florian Hager stated at the Medientage München conference that it’s not quite time to “pop the champagne” in terms of clicks and viewer numbers just yet.

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