I essayed this piece originally in early April 2016, and thought I could improve it......the topic? Public TV offerings in Germany and my observations of them.
Most Germans have an opinion about their public TV options. Probably ten-percent of the public will tell you that it's all crap, and they tend to avoid TV. If you got into some discussion with the younger generation....they will tell you that public TV is dismal and unwatchable, while commercial TV is somewhat limited in terms of value. It's a mixed bag, depending on who you bring this topic up with.
I will admit that the public TV crowd (ZDF and ARD) are the primary delivery vehicles for culture, opera, classical story movies, political talk, documentary pieces over the land and environment, and public discussions.
The answer from non-intellectual would go along the lines of attacking the massive nature of the public TV empire, dumping on high-cost sports contracts, and noting the declining audience rates (especially among the 15-to-30 year old age group).
The general make-up of the public TV options?
1. Das Erste (Channel One) ARD. The be-all-do-all network. Based out of Hamburg, they run a varied operation with sports, news, political chat, public-production and some viewing rights to foreign TV movies (mostly murder-cop or romance-theme). Their motto is "We are one." The budget for this network is to around 6.5 billion Euro. Presently, they employ 20,000 people across Germany. If you were looking for a network run by Star Trek's Borg....this would be it. Whatever they do....it can only be right or logical in their mind.
2. Tagesschau24. This is a public TV organization under the ARD umbrella, and it's attempt to be like CNN, but certainly NOT run 24 hours a day live. I admit....a fair portion is taped and simply repeated. It's dumped via satellite, digital and via data-streaming over the internet. No one says much over viewership and I'd personally have doubt that there's ever more than 20,000 Germans out of eighty-one million residents watching the network on a daily basis. I should note as well....two commercially-run news organizations are in direct competition with this network.
3. ONE (it used to be EinsFestival and was renamed/rebranded). They are established in Koln. They run mostly documentary pieces, news magazine formats, rock and pop concerts (taped), and cult-classic films. Oddly, just about everything they run.....came from one of the other networks connected to ARD. So, it's a repeat network....for better or worse. No one can clearly say what the audience make-up of the network is made up of.
4. EinsPlus. Originally in the late 1990s....this was EinsMuXx. Yeah....it was a catchy title. They are based out of Stuttgart, and mostly started up and run by SWR (a regional network for the southern part of Germany). Some Germans will say that it started out as a counselor and service network....living good lifestyles, wellness, medical topics, diet, focus on positive living, etc. For some reason, no one really caught onto the network. In 2009, they shifted the network to education and science programming. For some reason, no one really caught onto viewing with that slant. Around six years ago, they shifted to pub bands, young-programming which involved back-packer trips, reality focused documentary pieces, and a slant toward the 20-to-30 year old group. So far, no one says much about viewership. On a typical Saturday night....I'd have doubts that they have more than 200,000 viewers out of eighty-one million.
5. BR. Bayerischer Rundfunk. It's a Bavarian-state operation....which features some hand-me-down documentary pieces from ARD, and a number of shows or documentaries from the Bavarian state itself. No matter where you live in Germany....you can get BR. Interest beyond the Bavarian border? No one has ever done a poll to show who watches the network as far as I know. The one positive is that they do feature a nightly news piece on Bavaria news, which the local might appreciate. They also cover political topics that get hyped up in the region.
6. ZDF. Channel Two. Really to be called the sister network of ARD. Based out of Mainz. They have 3600 employees. They run a pretty wide array of programming: sports, news, documentary pieces, game-shows, movies, a handful of TV shows made for state-run TV, culture, science, education-pieces, religion and current-events updates. Embedded journalism gets uttered a fair amount around ZDF, with various reporters noted for slanted views. It's a recent trend....some will say this goes back over decades.
There is this odd history piece to ZDF, that most Germans don't realize. After creating the first network (ARD)....at some point in the late 1950s, the German government began to realize the independence that they gave ARD....was a very liberal vehicle, and frankly....turning into a Frankenstein-like network. So, Channel Two was created, with state-federal money and was to be totally outside the control of the ARD board of governors. After creation....ARD and the board took the matter to court, and the judges admitted....yeah, there is a constitutional limit and Channel Two could not exist.
Then the court did this odd step.....Channel Two could continue on but it had to be managed by Channel One. So all this effort to correct the behavior trend of Channel One....simply made Channel Two into a second Frankenstein as well.
7. ZDF-Info. It's a news documentary channel which carries taped pieces that are produced by the ZDF crew or they get via other non-German networks. News magazines are one of their top productions. If you were looking for 'slant' in German journalism....settle back over a week and watch ten hours of their production.
8. ZDF-Kulture (dead as we know it). This 'creature' was created to give just about everything possible within the world of culture....Belly-dancing, French food, the tango, etc. As you can imagine, it was highly endorsed by intellectuals across Germany. There are probably a million Germans around today who will admit that they've never watched a single minute of the network in the 2011 to 2016 period that it survived. It's market-share at the peak? .4-percent.
So as ZDF-Kulture came to be questioned.....massive pressure existed upon ARD and the governors to find and create a network for young people (14 to 29 years old). They decided that ZDF-Kulture was 'dead-enough' that they'd just take the framework, and rebuild it into FUNK.
FUNK? Well....it's supposed to be youth-orientated. You can't get it via cable or satellite. You can only get it by downstreaming it off the internet.
The budget with FUNK? Roughly 45-million Euro. The criticism of FUNK? Early on, some folks said it was tasteless and without 'respect'. Then some folks said that this was the desire of the crowd watching it....that they didn't want the 'crap' that ZDF and ARD pumped out.
I've probably watched a dozen hours of FUNK and would say that it's like you went to a dozen teenagers to suggest they produce their own material and standard....then that's the general outcome of most of FUNK's shows. They have featured Doctor Who, and continually talk about ideas for a science fiction series (but way out of their budget). Viewership? Total unknown.
9. ZDF-Neo. Based out of Mainz. Neo was supposed to be this network which would bring the 25-to-40 year old group back to German public-run TV. It was going to be a mixture of reality TV, documentaries, interviews, late-night entertainment, cheaply produced but seemingly real soap operas, US TV shows, US movies, and anything that younger adults enjoyed. Their market-share is .6-percent. Older American TV shows like Hart to Hart even played for a while....to attract oddball viewers. On some rare occasions, they've found hot non-German productions which pumped their market-share to 1.6....but those success stories are few and far between.
10. 3Sat. It's a network which has programming from German, Austrian and Swiss public TV. It's been around for thirty years. It's programming circles primarily around culture and magazine-format news pieces. Market-share is around 1.5-percent. They will feature a number of satire and humor shows, which makes them slightly different from most. But most of what they run....are repeats or reruns from the major networks.
11. KiKa. Kid's network for kids between three and ten. Market share is near 1.2 percent. They got noticed by everyone in 2014 when they ran this piece designed for the 10-to-12 year old age group....called Tahsin's Circumcision Ceremony....featuring some Turkish kid (age 10) who was going through the man-process, and well....circumcision was required. Needless to say....a lot of folks have asked stupid questions and there's some suspicion that KiKa is some network with a slant to it. Most German kids by age six will dump KiKa and demand to watch commercially run TV options with Japanese Anime cartoons (at least they do real-but-fake sword-play instead of that circumcision stuff).
12. Phoenix. It's basically a network dedicated to great works of political individuals in Berlin and to explain what's going on in the Bundestag on a daily basis. CSPAN? Well....yeah, it's their version of that US network. Market-share is roughly 1-percent. You could walk into a pub with a hundred Germans and ninety of them would admit that they've never watched the network...ever. Intellectuals will brag about the great use of Phoenix in introducing topics of national concern to the public.
13. ARTE. It's a network with a relationship to French state-run TV, along with several other European countries. Most of the programming is documentary pieces or artistic movies. Their market-share is 1-percent. Real intellectual-types.....watch ARTE nightly.
14. ARD-Alpha. It's the German educational channel. Science, religion, culture, language, art, music, philosophy, etc. There are various awards given for different shows on the network, but if you asked the typical one hundred Germans about it.....more than 90-percent would admit that they've never watched it. How do you get awards, with almost no one watching? Think about for a while.
15. HR. Hessicher Rundfunk. It's the Hessen regional public network. They feature a lot of local documentary or travel pieces about the state, along with news for thirty minutes every night. Their material is mostly hand-me-down programming from ZDF and ARD.
16. Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR). Leipzig-based network for central Germany (three states). They've been around since 1991 and are a product of the wall coming down and the regional old network for DDR folding into this operation. Their material is mostly hand-me-down programming from ZDF and ARD.
17. NDR. Fernsehen Norddeutscher Rundfunk. Their material is mostly hand-me-down programming from ZDF and ARD.
18. RB. Radio Bremen. The smallest of all state-run media operations. Their material is mostly hand-me-down programming from ZDF and ARD.
19. RBB. Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB). This is what formed from the old East German Brandenburg network and the West Berlin network. Their material is mostly hand-me-down programming from ZDF and ARD.
20. SR. Saarland TV and radio. Their material is mostly hand-me-down programming from ZDF and ARD.
21. SWR. Runs for the Rhineland Pfalz and Baden-Wurttemburg region. Their material is mostly hand-me-down programming from ZDF and ARD.
22. WDR. Mostly for the northwest of Germany. Their material is mostly hand-me-down programming from ZDF and ARD.
From my prospective....public-run TV is latched on and can't be modified because it's the only method that intellectual crowd of Germany can get their dose of A, B, and C (whatever they are, take your guess).
Sadly, it means you have to pay for it via some taxation device. Without any competition from the commercial world in the 1960s or 1970s....they could dictate whatever they desired. In the 1980s....competition finally arrived. Presently, it's hard to find a twenty-year old who will admit that they watch more than three hours a month from the public-run offerings. Downloadable programs via Netflix are catching on and will only increase in the future.
Taking down the tax via the court system? In recent years, that's been proven to be just about impossible. Other than a state-initiative or ballot measure to take individual state networks away from ARD and ZDF....are about the only methods left, unless the Bundestag really changes it's membership or faces a hostile public.
The most dramatic change that could be forced down upon public-run TV by it's governing board? If they ever suggested no more MEGA contracts for sports.....it's have a dramatic affect overnight. The whole sports agenda for public-run TV would dissolve to strictly winter-sports and 2nd league soccer games.
So, as an American....if you happen to be in the midst of a pub discussion where Hans or Martin are whining away about public-run TV in Germany.....give them some space because they need someone to hurl their insults against. No one else will listen.
Myself? In a normal month, I probably watch around twenty hours of public-run TV. An occasional Sunday night Tatort (cop-thriller movie), the nightly news at 8PM (fifteen minutes of real or slanted news), and once in a while a worthwhile debate on current events, immigration, or German business practices. On Wednesday nights, if you watch HR....they have MEX which is a forty-five minute magazine on groceries, cost of items, complaints about the cost of things, and anything related to the economy. Oddly, MEX is probably several times more effective than the US version of Sixty Minutes has become. The negative to MEX is that 20-percent of each episode is some repeat item from four to six months ago, and they do these over and over, and over.