The German-speaking media market is comprised of about 100 million people in Europe. Next to Germany and Austria, large parts of Switzerland speak German as do German-speaking minorities in other EU countries such as Belgium, Denmark, and Luxembourg.
The country has a long tradition of mass media and is one of the most dynamic media markets in the world. This is reflected in the consumption patterns of media users, who have an average media use of 9.5 hours per day.
Today’s media landscape is coined by history. While mass media became a tool of the dictatorship during the Nazi era, the post-war media system started anew under democratic signs. This was based on the principle of press freedom, which is stipulated in the Basic Law (constitution) of 1949. Until 1990 the country was divided into Western and Eastern Germany, while after the reunification it has become a federal state with sixteen different Länder (federal states), with the broadcasting system organised accordingly. In the 1990s Easterners in the unified state were served with specific print titles, which can be seen in the patterns of media usage that still differ between the East and West. Today, the major print production centres are located in the “old” West and newspapers of the former GDR do not exist anymore or are usually controlled by Western companies. Broadcasting is integrated into the Western dual system with few newly-founded regional public-service media (PSM) outlets within the Eastern federal states.
The media landscape is characterised by a long and deeply-rooted tradition of the press, with the first newspapers having emerged about 400 years ago. Despite a changing landscape due to other competitive players in the advertising market, like broadcasting and digital media, the periodical press today still plays a major role in disseminating political background and local information, encouraging analysis and critique, forming opinions, educating, counselling, and entertaining, as Klaus Beck (2012) describes.
High levels of press circulation are ensured by regional and local subscription papers, which are complemented by nation-wide quality newspapers (ie Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) and yellow press titles (ie Bild).
Press enterprises are independent entrepreneurs, basically financed by advertising and subscription revenues. Compared to broadcasting, the state intervention in the press is confined to a discrimination-free media policy and a fiscal privilege of the press enterprises (including a lower turnover tax and subsidised forwarding costs). Due to market concentration, five large companies have a highly-diversified range of print-and other products that dominate the newspaper market: Axel Springer SE, Südwestdeutsche Medienholding, Funke Mediengruppe, DuMont Schauberg, and Madsack. According to Horst Röper in Media Perspektiven 5/2016, the “big five” acquired a market share of over 42 percent in 2016.
Political parallelism in the press is traditionally low since 1945 in Western Germany. The journalism profession has since achieved an effective self-regulation and established ethical standards, which were set in the Presscodex of the self-governed Presserat (Press Council). However, recent events of common concern, like the Ukrainian crisis or the refugee influx, provoke claims from civil society, criticizing ethical standards and “swarm-journalism”, where too many journalists too often report the same issue in the same manner. Some journalists, meanwhile, reflect publicly about their role and function in society and describe their profession as too dominated by the worldviews of white, middle-class, well-educated, male protagonists. Although press circulation is high, radio and-predominantly-television consumption still ranges above the average compared to other European countries, with daily television consumption summing up to an average of 223 minutes per person. Interestingly, the viewing figures of TV audiences are approximately twice as higher than those of German-speaking Switzerland and about one hour more than those of Austria.
The broadcasting sector is characterised by a dual system of public-service media (PSM) and commercial broadcasters. public-service broadcasting was installed by the allied forces after World War II following in its basic structure and mandate the example of the British BBC. Since then, broadcasting has become an important employer. Currently, about 24,000 people are working in PSM, compared to about 13,600 in commercial TV and over 4,000 in commercial radio.
The Federal Constitution stipulates that the sole responsibility for broadcasting rests within the states of the Federal Republic as part of their “cultural sovereignty”. Because of this, the public-service broadcasters are a creation of the Länder, which act either individually or together (in agreements). The federal system is reflected in the decentralised broadcasting system, with eleven PSM networks in the Länder broadcasting with a nationwide range: Nine broadcasting stations collected under the roof of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Consortium of public broadcasters in Germany - ARD). Furthermore, one television-only station broadcasts with nationwide range, the Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), as well as the radio-only broadcaster Deutschlandradio. The broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) is an exception in the sense that it is based on federal legislation and designed to provide public diplomacy services (radio, TV, and internet-based) in German, English and 30 other foreign languages. With the recent refugee influx, DW also offers mother-tongue information for migrants.
The typical public-service broadcaster is set up as an independent organisation and financed primarily by licence fees that are paid by households. Advertising is restricted to a few windows through legal means. The public-service broadcasting institution (Anstalt) usually provides a region of one or more federal states with public-service radio and/or television. For example, NDR is the joint corporation for the four Northern federal states (Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern).
The state’s regulatory role in shaping the face of Germany’s broadcasting sector is more dominant than in the print sector. However, the state sets the regulations and legal means that guarantee that PSM are distant-of-state. Inside the regional PSM networks, co-governance with the involvement of so-called socially-relevant groups, a mix of organisations and interest groups that should represent the society’s diversity, is a strong principle. The composition of the groups was timidly adjusted in 2015 following a verdict from the Federal Constitutional Court.
Commercial radio and television were only established with the liberalisation of the broadcasting market in 1984 in (Western) Germany, after long debates about its possible negative influence on society. Until then, PSM had a monopoly in the broadcasting sector. Today a large number of commercial television and radio stations are well established and are mainly consumed by younger audiences. Pay TV is less popular , but new streaming services, like Netflix, attract new audiences, particularly with their invention of high-quality contemporary drama series.
The German media users seem to rather prefer traditional linear media (press, radio and television) over internet-based media. However, the growth rates of internet usage are enormous, specifically among the youth. Therefore, PSM try to keep up with the digital challenge and make their content accessible via online media centers and on various social media platforms like Youtube and Facebook.
The producers of quality journalism in the press, however, have difficulties in benefiting from this development. New challenges and changes in the German media system will, hence, be inevitable in the near future.