In the course of my career, I have discussed the structure of the German media market with international broadcasters countless times. The magnitude of differences in the business models, legal regulations and media market regulations between individual countries is striking. I have never encountered a set of structures and regulations comparable to that of Germany in other countries — 10 public broadcasting corporations with various regional programs, the ARD common program and ZDF form a public broadcasting system unlike that of any other country. All privately financed media corporations automatically stand in heavy competition with this strong public broadcaster.
Based on previous experiences in discussing this topic with my international colleagues, I feel the need to give a short overview of the German media market at this point.
Before we continue, a short retrospective of German history is in order.
After end of World War II, the victorious Allies quickly rebuilt broadcasting services in the four occupation zones they controlled. Before the new stations could be handed over to German society, the Allies needed to develop a new organizational structure for the broadcasting system. This new medium was intended to function largely outside of government control. Since both a private commercial model such as the American one and a state-controlled public broadcaster model were out of the question, the broadcasters in the three Western zones were placed subject to a constitution similar to that of the BBC in Great Britain: Broadcasters were founded as public institutions in which neither the state nor private individuals could own shares, with pluralistic supervising committees retaining control. Representing as many demographics as possible, the broadcasting council was intended to guarantee impartial information-based programming portraying a variety of viewpoints and expressly including political content. Long-term financing was to be secured by charging households a fee.
However, the public broadcasting monopoly was already controversial in the 1950s. It became even more so when the state broadcasters began broadcasting a regular television program with the ARD, in addition to their radio programs in 1954. The private sector soon declared its interest in a second television program. This group included advertising agencies and newspaper publishers. The latter in particular made allegations of unfair competition between the press, which was dependent on distribution and advertisements, and the public broadcasters, who were financed by fees.
The second public broadcaster Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) was founded as a television program only and began broadcasting in 1963. The third programs of the state broadcasting corporations gradually followed with a regional programming mandate beginning in 1964.
The monopoly of the public broadcasters did not last long. Changing technology led to greater broadcasting capacity, making new programming offerings possible. In the 1970s, cable and satellite made new transmission methods available, thereby solving the issue of terrestrial frequency limitations. In 1981, the constitutional court recognized the legality of private broadcasters in principle; however, the state governments retained the choice of whether or not to ratify the law.
In a spirit of cooperative federalism, the state governments were able to come to an agreement at the end of the 1970s to undertake four pilot projects to test the technological, organizational and content-related modalities of an expanded programming schedule and to gauge public acceptance of the same. Jan. 1, 1984, is considered to the be beginning of private broadcasting in Germany. On this day, the Anstalt für Kabelkommunikation (AKK), based in Ludwigshafen, first broadcast programs produced in cooperation with private programming providers.
Today, there are more than 20 public television channels and more than 60 radio channels available for free in Germany.
In the course of the privatization of the broadcasting sector, an enormous expansion of electronic media in Germany took place in the following years. This change extended to the number of operators, the range of programming and usage by listeners and viewers. There are more than 300 radio channels available in Germany today, including approximately 250 private ones. Each state has at least one private state broadcaster as well as regional and local ones.
Digitalization in the past decades has led to a significant expansion of television programming. The increase in broadcasting capability made room for numerous additional offers. Today, there are more than 400 largely free-to-air television channels in Germany (including foreign channels).
This multitude of both comprehensive and specialized programs in addition of the public channels has resulted in Germany boasting a globally-unique range of free television channels.
In addition to the deregulation of the media landscape, technological changes were in the offing as well. After digitalization of broadcasting began in the 1990s through the use of DVB-S (satellite) and DVB-C (cable), the nationwide terrestrial digital broadcaster DVB-T and the digital radio standard DAB began to be introduced in preparation for the future discontinuance of analog transmission. After a pilot phase in 2009, regular TV broadcasting in HD format began in February 2010. The ARD and ZDF began broadcasting their main programs in HD format from satellite for the Winter Olympics. Finally, on April 30, 2012, at 3:00 a.m., the analog signal transmission from the ASTRA satellite was silently retired.
IP-based digitalization of analog telecommunications networks made another technological revolution in the world of broadcasting possible. A digitalized telecommunications network makes it possible to transmit digital television signals, telephone and internet data. Transmission over internet protocol includes a feedback channel, which is what really made interactive television in the form of internet TV or IPTV possible for the first time. In addition, the limit on the number of available channels no longer applies either. As a result, new parallel media such as on-demand TV via multimedia libraries emerged through the internet. This technology enables time- and location-independent media use and is no longer limited to the television broadcasters’ programming. New service providers such as YouTube and new media corporations such as Facebook, Twitter and Netflix are competing for consumers’ attention. At the Internationale Funkausstellung of 2007, the ZDF debuted its multimedia library as one of the first of its kind. Today, the ZDF’s multimedia library provides access to HD media content not only to PCs, but also to all mobile devices and SmartTVs connected to the internet.
Technology is developing at lightening speed. New transmission formats (UHD, 4K, 8K), new screen sizes and “unlimited” mobile network bandwidth available everywhere and at all times require attractive and current content. Media corporations such as the ZDF must be prepared for this demand. The internal production processes must be organized in such a way as to make all videos at all workplaces available to editors for revision at all times. Rapid preparation of the current reports regarding all distribution methods is essential for surviving the competition with established and new media corporations. In order to reach these goals, it is absolutely necessary to integrate internationally leading technology partners in the projects. The ZDF is well-known and appreciated by the broadcast suppliers of the media sector for intensively maintaining decade-long partnerships, thereby getting in on the ground floor with all innovations. The innovations of digitization will continue and help us to tell stories in the future.