LACKSCHEWITZ: BUILDING UP PUBLIC TV IN GERMANY.

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Video Age: How did you start in the business?

Klaus Lackschewitz: I started with the public radio station ARD in Hamburg in 1963. In 1969 I was offered a job with the then-centralized film department for television in Frankfurt, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ARD stations named Degeto Films, of which I have been the managing director for some time.

At the time, the department was in charge of around 100 film slots a year and now we are servicing 850 film slots on the nationwide network. I was then one of three program executives. In 1979, I became the head of programming for feature films and series -- programs mostly acquired from Hollywood. I came up through the ranks. In 1994, I became managing director, but stayed on as head of programming. So now I wear both hats: head of programming for Feature Films and Series and the managing director of Degeto, the buying arm for all of ARD, which is made up of 10 stations.

VA: Are those 10 stations evenly divided over geographic boundaries?

K.L.: Exactly. When television was introduced, the network was put in charge. At the time, there were only two public television systems, ARD and later on, ZDF. Commercial television was only introduced 15 years ago. The 10 ARD stations have regional channels of their own, which are also serviced by Degeto. Together they make up the ARD network, which is the largest public network in German. Only two departments are centralized: the news department in Hamburg and the film and series department in Frankfurt. The 10 ARD stations make programming decisions at monthly conferences.

VA: Back to 1963 ... did you start as a journalist?

K.L.: Yes. I came straight from the university. I studied in Hamburg, and I was the co-founder of the student theater group there. I was interested in film, so when I started at the radio station, I had my own half-hour program where I talked about movies, interviewed directors and had a film critics corner. I must have developed a reputation for that kind of programming, as I was asked to be one of the feature film programmers for television. Back then, we only had programming from the afternoon until 11 p.m.

VA: Was there advertising on ARD?

K.L.: To this day we are only allowed to have advertising between 6 and 8 p.m. in access time. We never interrupt theatrical movies. We also have special series that are designed for advertising and are shown during that time. Outside access time, there is no advertising on public television in Germany. We don't have to cut our movies for length. Our movies are 94 minutes and 17 seconds long, if that was the original length. That gives us an interesting edge -- even when the first-run of a current movie has been shown on commercial television. If we have the second or third run, it would be uncut and of the original length as opposed to commercial runs interrupted by advertising.

Interrupting programming with commercials has gotten almost as bad as in America -- sometimes worse -- because in Germany the interruptions last longer.

VA: What was the best moment of your career?

K.L.: The most famous deal we made, a deal that is still going on, was made in 1983 with MGM. We bought the MGM library for ARD and that was a really groundbreaking deal because we bought 1,350 movies, more than 400 hours of TV product and several thousand cartoons. The movies had a staggered release. So for 10 years we took in 70 movies per year, and for the following five years we received 130 movies per year. Each movie had a license term of 15 years. The staggering of the releases and terms gave us 30 years overall, so that deal is still going on.

VA: You paid one flat sum for that?

K.L.: We paid $80 million, but we also had staggered payments, so we paid over a number of years.

VA: At the time, was that the most money spent for a long-term deal?

K.L.: Yes. But we thought that movies would become crucial to us, as we were headed toward a 24-hour format and would really need them. The license term of 15...

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