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Television Stations in Germany

German TV viewers have a choice of 145 channels. The main feature of the TV landscape is its dual system of public and private broadcasters

© picture-alliance/M.i.S.-Sportpressfoto

Germany is the world champion exporter – also in the television business. Its TV productions are internationally popular and have earned the country a reputation for quality programming. At the same time, the German television market is one of the most competitive in the world. One special characteristic of the TV landscape is its dual system, which divides the market into public and private broadcasting. Germany is home to some of the biggest TV stations by international comparison: the two public broadcasting groups ARD and ZDF and the two privately owned TV groups RTL and ProSiebenSat.1. ARD is an alliance of nine regional broadcasters jointly operating the nationwide service Das Erste as well as their regional channels. It reaches about 35 million TV households in Germany. Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) is the second nationwide public TV channel.

Both the public and the commercial channels offer a full service – from news and current affairs programmes to TV series, television movies, feature films and light entertainment. The range of channels offered by ARD and ZDF is complemented by speciality offerings such as Phoenix (documentary channel) and KIKA (for children), as well as international stations like Arte (a Franco-German cultural channel) and 3sat (a cultural channel run in collaboration with Austrian and Swiss tele­vision).

The private media group RTL Deutschland belongs to the European RTL Group and is owned by media giant Bertelsmann. It runs RTL, RTL II and VOX, among other channels. ProSiebenSat.1 is owned by financial investors KKR and Permira. The group, which runs SAT.1, ProSieben and Kabel Eins among others, merged with the European SBS Group in 2007. The main pay-TV provider is Sky Deutschland, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. ARD and ZDF are financed by licence fees, which are payable by every citizen who has a serviceable radio or TV set. They also generate advertising revenues. However, ARD and ZDF are only allowed to show advertising between 5 and 8 p.m., Monday to Saturday. In 2008, ARD’s revenue from licence fees amounted to 5.35 billion euros, which it also used to finance its regional stations. ZDF, which has no radio arm, received 1.73 billion euros. The public stations’ ad­vertising revenues (including radio) totalled about 500 million euros per annum before the economic crisis. The commercial free-TV stations earned another 4.9 billion euros from advertising in 2006. Unlike Britain, there is little controversy in Germany on whether the commercial channels should receive some of their revenue from the licence fee. The private stations have shown little interest in this possibility, since it would involve restrictions on their programming: public broadcasting stations in Germany have an obligation to provide what is termed a basic information service. By contrast, as from 2010 the private channels will be allowed to earn additional revenue from product placement in their series, shows and sports programmes. This is a con­sequence of the EU’s new directive on media services. The ban on product placement will continue to apply to ARD and ZDF.

ARD’s joint nationwide service came out top of the latest viewer ratings. In 2008, Das Erste recorded a market share of 13.4%, followed by ZDF with 13.1%, RTL with 11.8% and SAT.1 with 10.3%. RTL generally topped the ratings among 14- to 49-year-olds, an important target group, with a market share of 15.7% in 2008. However, it will soon be feeling more competition from ZDF. The Mainz-based station launched its new digital channel ZDFneo in November 2009. The aim is to attract more younger viewers with its own comedy formats and successful US series and thus to build on its hitherto low market share of 5% in this target group, which is so important for advertising revenues.