Nicola Bier, chief of the FDP Party, wrote a fine essay piece on Focus today. Topic? The long delayed public statement on public TV in Germany, and the taxation that allows it to function. Basically, your 17.50 Euro per month that carries this. It is a lengthy piece (in German) but worth a read.
The general feeling by a number of Germans is that ARD and ZDF, the two public networks heading the effort...have become into a state....within a state. No one can really control them. The managers hired....are there to keep the current system going....as is.
I've sat and watched enough of the efforts, and come to ten basic observations of public TV (both critical and positive):
1. No one can be honest about the cost factor in public. What they end up paying for the Olympics, or soccer games, or for a two-hour move....cannot be admitted in public without angering people. The sad truth is clear about salary, pensions, and allowances. None of those can ever be talked about. The fact that you could have a regular Tatort criminal movie (on Sunday nights), where one episode is filmed for around 1.2-million Euro and another (same length) for 450,000 Euro.....cannot be explained.
2. Most kids/young people between 15 and 25....don't watch public TV. They watch streaming TV or private TV. My son, age 27....would tell you that he hasn't watched public TV since 2005. Chief reason? They can't make anything of interest for him. For these folks, in a matter of ten to fifteen years....there will be enough voters around to demand the tax to disappear. ARD/ZDF are well aware of this problem and trying to find ways to entice young viewers to return.
3. The need for two huge news departments to exist between ZDF and ARD? It cannot be explained. Both carry basically the same news....with the same slant. The mere suggestion that one of these need to be terminated, or they be merged? Oh heavens, that would totally impossible.
4. Live forums? They do a fairly good job of weekly live forums, with clever guests. If you wanted to know the facts to some top five-political topic of the week.....these forums work. If you go and ask a hundred adult Germans about viewing them....probably less than one-third are frequent viewers. From the under-25 group....probably less than 10-percent.
5. For the roughly 150 TV movies made each year for ARD and ZDF? They generally fall into four familiar patterns.....(1) murder mystery, (2) light-hearted or fairly dramatic love triangle, (3) historical piece, and (4) rural or Bavarian comedy. Science fiction? Never. Heavy dramatic piece on corruption by some political figures? Very rare. I will admit I probably watch forty of these per year and would give a thumbs-up for half of them.
6. The effort of ARD, ZDF and the fifteen-odd sub-networks to be an all-in-one delivery system? It creates a very tough system for success. They are basically trying to cram something into each week to make a dozen different types of viewers happy.
7. 2013 to spring 2016 with the immigration crisis. Basically, the two networks became a cheerleader team, and triggered probably a quarter of the population to be alienated and frustrated with the tactics used. In twenty years, I think that university professors will pull a hundred hours of 2015 coverage and use it to teach students how not to produce propaganda pieces.
8. The balance of commercial TV networks against ARD/ZDF. This is the curious thing. If you talk to working-class people....they all have their favorite shows on the private networks that they watch...some of them US-produced comedies or science fiction. The sophisticated or culturally elite? They primarily watch only ARD and ZDF. It's a strange balance that has been created.
9. The governor's board that oversees ARD/ZDF? Somewhere between fifty and seventy folks are on this board, and it goes across a wide selection of society. I'll admit that I've only seen one of the board members in the past twenty years in some forum situation, and some people suggest that the board is mostly there to rubber-stamp what the two networks want to do. On some rare occasions....they will punish leadership for some bad decision-making, but that is rarely heard about.
10. The odds of the 17.50 Euro a month increasing? It's a hundred-percent chance....the real question is whether it'll occur in 2019, or maybe 2020. The increase? No one will talk much over this. My guess is that it'll go up one single Euro, and follow with a second Euro in two years.