Although Germany’s primarily licence fee funded public channels ARD and ZDF together still achieve television ratings about 40%, they face increasing competition from the well-financed private broadcasters. Repeatedly, they were defeated in the acquisition of films or sport coverage rights.
But behind the curtain of competition between the still growing number of private channels, the power is concentrated in the hands of the Kirch family and the Bertelsmann group, both holding an incredible amount of shares in the major channels. The Kirchs have shares in SAT1 (43%), PRO7 (47.5%), PREMIERE (25%), DSF (24.5%) and KABEL1 (21.4%), whereas Bertelsmann has got shares in PREMIERE (37.5%), RTL (37.1%), VOX (24.9%) and RTL2 (7.8%). Moreover Kirch and Bertelsmann do not just own television channels, they are also among Germany’s biggest production companies, film and licence traders.
During the past, this concentrated power has been watched by the political parties with objection regarding to the possible misuse of public opinion. But in recent months, Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and oppositional Social Democrats (SPD) seem to agree that only strong German broadcasting companies can prevent American groups such as Disney from taking over the German market, which would be seen as a danger for media jobs in Germany.
There are common plans of loosening broadcasting law, allowing single persons or companies more interests than at present, where majority shares are forbidden. In the future, owing one channel up to 100%, a second up to 50% and every further up to 25%, will be allowed. The only limit is supposed to be a total market share of 30%, but regarding to a present 40% share of the public channels, this would represent a 50% portion of the private market. Critics question whether this can be an effective limit to prevent too much concentration in the media market.
© April 1996 by Jens Barkemeyer