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Homegrown German Survival Format ‘7 Vs Wild’ Shows That The Instagram Generation Can Achieve Success On Mainstream TV

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Welcome to Global Breakouts, Deadline’s fortnightly strand in which we shine a spotlight on the TV shows and films killing it in their local territories. The industry is as globalized as it’s ever been, but breakout hits are appearing in pockets of the world all the time and it can be hard to keep track… So, we’re going to do the hard work for you.

This week we head to the Wild West of the German online content creator community, where a group of YouTubers have forged an unexpected digital hit in a space usually reserved for traditional TV channels: adventure reality. 7 Vs Wild takes the peril and jeopardy of Alone or Naked & Afraid and gives it a YouTube twist to build communities and followers around its episodes. Amazon Freevee recently picked up rights to launch an original third season, proving digital and linear can work harmoniously together.

Name: 7 Vs Wild
Country: Germany
Networks/streamers: Amazon Freevee, YouTube
Producer: CaliVision Network 
Distributor: Quintus Studios
For fans of: Alone, Naked & Afraid, Man Vs Wild

Survival reality, adventure reality or whatever you want to call it has always been the purview of linear TV. The sub-genre propped up schedules for networks such as Discovery and A+E around the world, and the recent American and international success of Alone has proven its longevity. But no one could have predicted that the next iteration would come from the world of German YouTubers.

7 Vs Wild began life after YouTubers Fritz Meinecke, Johannes Hovekamp and Max Kovacs met while shooting a video for a mutual friend in the late 2010s. Meinecke had been active in the outdoor scene for a decade before, shooting videos for eight years, while Hovekamp and Kovacs had been making commercials, docs and promotional content since 2013.

“At that time, outdoor YouTube content was still relatively unknown in the German mainstream, despite the videos being made with a lot of passion and effort. That bothered all of us,” says Hovekamp. “That evening, around the campfire, we quickly started brainstorming together and realized that the vibe was right.”

The trio put their heads together, making and releasing various YouTube videos and channels before they landed on survival reality gold. The idea was simple: replacing well-known survivalists like Bear Grylls, regular Joes or celebrities with seven Insta-literate content creators and leaving them alone with seven items of basic equipment for seven days, filming as they go. If they could shoot compelling content for the show and their own channels, the format would grow naturally as a “bubble of community” forms, explains Gerrit Kemming of the show’s distributor Quintus Studios.

“Each one brings their reach and fan base, eager to see their favorite creator in this extreme situation,” says Hovekamp. “Anything can happen at any time, and combined with additional content on the creators’ channels, it fosters a continuous mutual support among the individual communities, eventually merging into one large group within the project. All of this happens voluntarily, driven by the motivation of each participant.”

Meinecke, with his adventure lifestyle background, was naturally nominated for an on-camera role for Season 1. “Watching only one or more professionals survive might be instructive, but it lacks relatability to the audience,” says Kovacs. “This approach wouldn’t sustain long-term mainstream appeal.”

The producers then reached out to friends with YouTube channels and followings. With basically no budget, they were relying on the self-shooting skills of their colleagues and a sense of adventure, and soon they had their cast. All development was geared towards involving the fan bases and existing communities, with announcements about the creation, development, rules, production and release all designed to to include them. “The community is involved live in every aspect and has a significant influence on many decisions,” says Hovekamp.

The low-fi first season, shot in Sweden, was a huge hit in Germany during the pandemic in 2021 — providing some of that much-needed escapism to the millions locked up at home. Season 2 involved a fresh cast and a modified format shot in Panama. The two 16-episode seasons clocked up a collective 200 million views on YouTube, establishing 7 Vs Wild as a genuine hit in one of Europe’s largest countries.

Canadian wilderness

The upcoming Season 3 is a team edition shot in the Canadian wilderness. Amazon Freevee in Germany has moved to commission the show as an original for its free streaming service through a deal with CaliVision, though episodes will still play on YouTube.

“We constantly strive to evolve and avoid simply trying to replicate the success of Season 1,” says Kovacs. “YouTube and independent work provide us with significant freedoms that are scarce in traditional TV networks and productions. We’ve utilized these advantages so far and intend to continue doing so.”

The approach “is far from the standard in entertainment formats,” adds Hovekamp.

7 Vs Wild has also drawn from the diversity of YouTube, with cast including “couch potatoes, military professionals to beauty queens,” says Kovacs. “Unlike other formats, 7 Vs. Wild is not a black box. The community actively participates and shapes each project phase,” he adds.

With pipelines of scripted programs under threat as the actors and writers strikes roll on, the opportunity for breakout unscripted formats grows — success in the U.S. is usually considered enough evidence for buyers in other countries to commit to their own versions. Fox, for example, has gone big on entertainment for its remaining 2023 schedule.

That will add more for Kemming, founder and Managing Director of Germany-based online channel creator and program distributor Quintus, which snapped up international distribution rights to the format outside Germany. He is already in contact with streamers and potential production partners internationally about adaptations.

“I tell buyers there are so many survival formats out there but the difference is we have not only the profile of the creators and participants but also the structures that come with our creators and their audiences,” says Kemming of the deal.

The challenge for linear networks is accepting the format must also play online, likely on YouTube. “You need to be willing to let the creators do their thing. They know they communities best,” says Kemming. “If you let them do that and find a smart way to direct all these communications to your service, then it’s a win-win situation. Younger audiences are on the social platforms, and this is perfect for them.” 

Content Source: deadline.com

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