Mario Sixtus in an interview “Our Target Group is Clearer These Days”

Mario Sixtus

Mario Sixtus has been reporting on digital trends for eight years now. His “Elektrischer Reporter” series began life as a video podcast for a newspaper, but has now become a weekly TV magazine programme about cyberculture – while Sixtus himself has his own TV production company in Berlin.

Mr Sixtus, in your guise as the “electric reporter”, you have been exploring the latest trends in cyberculture for many years. What does your series hope to achieve?

“Elektrischer Reporter” attempts to explain how the world is being transformed by digitization in general and by the Internet in particular – at both the micro and macro levels. What is the impact of digital media on our working lives now that we are free to work just about anywhere we choose in the world? How is it that the financial crisis has allowed bitcoins, an alternative method of paying for goods and services on the Internet, to become a digital phenomenon? Or to put it quite simply, how do people who enjoy knitting sell their homemade tea cosies these days? Online, of course.

How do you come up with the topics for your programme?

A lot of it is simply stuff we come across out on the streets or on the Internet. We track trends online and are always looking for the people behind them and the experts who research them: entrepreneurs, academics, authors, or indeed those who are closely involved in a particular Internet phenomenon. Then we interview them; most of our features are based on these interviews.

We take a more intelligent approach!

And are issues like ePaper and copyright laws for publishers aimed at a mass audience?

At first, our target group was not all that clearly defined. We simply made our podcasts and were confident that somebody would find them interesting. Our target group is clearer these days: we don’t make our programmes for the cool 25-year-old Internet nerds who attend the Re:publica conference and talk about Edward Snowden, we make them for their parents.

One peculiarity of your programmes is the unconventional way you use old archive material to illustrate them. How did that idea come about?

The reasoning was entirely pragmatic: the images are in the public domain and can be used for anything you want, without having to spend money on licences. I simply took individual archive images and stuck them together by association, which seems a bit silly now, looking back: if a report included the words “Looks like you’re on the wrong track there”, I would show a picture of a train. These days we take a more intelligent approach and have a whole team of freelance staff who are given the scripts from a particular report – they then trawl through archived film material in search of a suitable image.

Sometimes I feel the urge …

“Elektrischer Reporter” started out as a one-man show. Now you have several authors working on the programmes that are made by your own production company. Looking back, was this a logical development process?

When [TV broadcaster] ZDF got seriously involved, it was unrealistic to think that I could make the programme on my own. I needed a team and a proper company that could enter into contracts with a public service broadcaster. I suddenly found myself in a world of bureaucracy I never even knew existed. I guessed that quite a bit of form-filling would be involved, and that indeed turned out to be the case. Nowadays I work with five permanent staff and around 20 freelance authors, cameramen and media designers.

Is it you who decides which topics will feature in each programme?

Yes, I play the part of editor-in-chief. When an author proposes a suitable topic, I briefly discuss it with ZDF and then commission the author to go ahead. I hardly produce any features myself any longer because I simply don’t have the time.

Isn’t that something you regret?

Sometimes I feel the urge to get out there and do an interview and some research. Perhaps we’ll get the staff structures in place sometime in the future so that I can do it again.
The “Elektrischer Reporter” programme: “Biometric identification, fair business management and pulp fiction”

At least you still present the show – in your inimitable, rather stiff manner.

That’s a role I sort of created for myself. It’s my way of paying tribute to the TV presenters of science programmes in the 1970s. I grew up with iconic figures such as Professor Heinz Haber and Hoimar von Ditfurth. They were scientists who hadn’t necessarily been taught how to present so they appeared awkward in front of the camera.

Although its style of presentation has remained the same, the format of the programme has changed quite visibly.

Over the years, our programme gradually – almost without our realizing it – became more and more TV-like. Early episodes were still very experimental. These days archiving material is only used for a very precise purpose, and the narrative style of the reports is similar to what we are used to from other TV programmes. This is something we resisted rather at first, but that’s just silly – after all, we are making a TV programme.