German newspapers are usually available in print and digital versions. The digital version typically consists of a free-of-charge website or a website where parts of the content are hidden behind a paywall-mostly in html format. Additionally, a large number of newspapers offer e-papers for subscribers. Readers have to log in to get access to the original content and layout of the print version (pdf format). The third digital product is the newspaper app, which makes most important contents available on all mobile devices. All products are offered to the subscribers in diverse bundles, such as a cross-media bundle with a printed and a digital version, typically an e-paper. However, the product diversity challenges the publishing houses, as it demands for a complex portfolio, both content- and distribution-wise.
Whereas in the early stages Internet publications served to enhance the profile of printed papers, publishing houses today are desperately searching for ways to establish paid content models such as paywalls, subscriptions, or pay-per-article. Digitisation of the media has, dependent on the target groups, led to diverse requirements and expectations towards convergent media offerings: Content is expected to be available platform-independent on different devices (TV, Internet, mobile phones, etc). Particularly, Internet users prefer multi- and cross-media offerings. Over 53 percent retrieve videos from the web or watch TV on demand, according to Media Perspektiven basic data, 2015.
To make matters worse, print and online content present the same topics, but articles in print and online differ widely, due to different media cultures and consumption habits. Hence, online contents need a lot of resources, but are not cost effective. Editorial departments have had to be fused to news desks and concentration processes will probably accelerate, offering chances for the big players like Axel Springer SE, who perch themselves to a strict focus on growth in online markets. Hence, debates about subsidies for print have gained popularity in the last decade. One result of this debate is the investigative network Correctiv, which is sponsored by citizens, foundations, and official institutions. The network recently gained attention, as it is has chosen to check fake news on Facebook. It has to be mentioned, that Correctiv was criticised for not being independent enough.
When user habits are taken into consideration, this online strategy seems to make sense. In 2016 Germans spent over two hours on the web per day. 51 percent of the German-speaking population (aged 14 and older) regularly visits digital versions of newspapers. Digital newspapers are top-ranked among the circulation of the German-speaking web and acquire a reach of over 35 million users. Along with their printed counterparts, newspapers have a total reach of 86 percent of the population. Today, 662 newspaper web offerings are available in Germany. In 2015 the circulation of e-papers reached over 780,000 readers.
Revenues from digital offerings are still marginal, but increasing moderately. In 2015, online advertising as the main source of income reached €1.4m, which is an increase of 6 percent compared to the previous year.
With respect to the German preference for news, the digital environment is no longer a market where traditional news media like newspapers can count on a monopoly. Other players, such as telecom companies or free-mail platforms are popular news distributors. However, journalistic content online is gaining viewers. According to the information platform Meedia, the top-220 news offerings reached a new record with 1.69 bn visits in November 2016. Top-ranked is BILD.de (with more than 336m visits), followed by Spiegel-Online, a very successful outlet of the famous political news magazine Der Spiegel, not only large in figures, but also as an important agenda setter.
In terms of the digital broadcasting strategy, public-service radio and television particularly offer a wide range of podcasts and on-demand consumption modes. In order to fulfill their mandate and function in society, they have adapted to current global consumption trends. Public-service media has invested in media centers (Mediatheken) and a diversification of special interest programs. The media center of the most viewed program ZDF, for instance had about 2.3m visits per day in 2016, according to the report of the chairman of the television company. The Mediatheken allow for licence-fee payers (in fact all those residing in Germany) to watch online and adapt the linear programme to their consumption habits, ie by using time-shifting modes or on-demand viewing, for free.
In fact, ZDF commissioned an expertise in 2016 in order to benchmark major challenges in the context of mediatisation and online life-worlds. In the same year, ZDF, in cooperation with ARD, launched the first online-only offering for a young audience: FUNK. The channel, which is a multi-platform product, is also designed as an experimentation lab for new formats and contents that could be later applied in the main programmes.
The global shift from linear to digital and the according changes in consumption patterns are reflected clear-cut in the age group of those 14-29 years-old, among whom average viewing time as well as main residence time in traditional linear television is in decline. In this particular age group average consumption is only 183 minutes per day, of which 12 minutes are consumed online. Twenty years ago TV had a reach of 60 percent among the younger audience, while in 2015 only 46 percent were reached on an average day. Youngsters between the age of 12 and 19 prefer online media use, which reflects in the usage patterns of 200 minutes spent online daily, 113 of (mostly linear) television and 83 minutes of radio according to the Jugend, Information, (Multi-)Media, (Youth, Information, and (Multi-)Media Study - JIM 2016).