Television is the preferred medium, which is confirmed by increasing consumption patterns of preferably classical, linear TV. Viewing figures of GFK-television analysis point that Germans spent an average of 223 minutes per day in 2015 watching television. (Post-)migrant communities show similar consumption patterns.
In 1950 all regional public broadcasters commonly founded the ARD, a roof organisation under which regional public-service broadcasters in the Länder gather. These regional networks contribute according to their size to the nation-wide TV channel Das Erste (the first and longest-operating TV programme). In addition, each regional broadcaster independently organises a regional programme (so-called Third Programme). It offers thematic content and issues related to the region and more (local) culture, as well as education-oriented programming.
The Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (Second German Television- ZDF) was founded in 1961 (the first program aired in 1963), was based on a legal agreement of all the Länder (ZDF-Staatsvertrag) and is located in Mainz. ARD and ZDF jointly offer a number of special interest channels: Arte (in cooperation with France), 3Sat (in cooperation with Austria and Switzerland), Kika (for children), and Phoenix (news, events, and documentaries. Furthermore, ARD and ZDF offer a range of online special interest channels, such as ZDFneo (entertainment), ARD alpha (education), or the joint online-only channel FUNK (for the youth).
During the last decades the fragmenting audiences are reflected in an ever-increasing number of television channels. Since the new millennium the amount of commercial programmes with a nation-wide range more than doubled, from 60 to 152, including 55 freeTV and 84 pay TV channels, according to KEK. In addition, 231 regional or local channels, respectively, are licensed. The number of public-service channels declined slightly from 23 to 20 programmes, which is basically the result of the merging of the regional broadcasters ORB (Ostdeutscher Runfunk) and SFB (Sender Freies Berlin) into RBB (Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg) and the discontinuation of the digital programs EinsPlus and ZDFkultur to create the jointly organised online youth program FUNK.
The fragmentation of the market and audiences coincides with an increase of traditional linear TV consumption. In fact, consumption has grown since the year 2000 from an average of 190 to 223 minutes per day. Public-service programs benefited most from this development, while private programs distinctly lost market shares. In 2015 the average shares of the popular commercial programs RTL and Sat1 dropped to single-digit patterns, similar to those of 1988. At the same time, the share of Pro 7 decreased to an amount comparable to 1991. Among the younger viewers, those between 14 and 29 years-old, the figures show a less dramatic downwards trend: Market shares of commercial TV still range in a double-digit zone with, however, signs of decline. Non-linear television consumption in the Internet is possible via various platforms and is increasingly accessed, mostly by younger audiences.
The market leader in February 2017 is the public-service television-only network ZDF, for the fifth time in a row, with a 13 percent share. The Institute for Empirical Media Research accounted the ZDF as the general channel with the highest amount of information. The so-called third programs-the regional outlets of the broadcasting stations under the roof of the ARD in the Länder-follow with a 12.4 percent share. Finally, the first program, the nationwide channel of the ARD-Anstalten, has a 10.3 percent share. In regards to news, the ARD tagesschau has held, for decades, the position of the most popular news program in Germany.
In terms of revenues, public-service media (PSM) can count on a compulsory levy of €17.50 per household, which adds to over €8bn per year. German PSM is among the best vested public-service systems in the world. The ARD (radio and television) receives a share of about 70 percent, or €3.6bn, ZDF takes €1.8bn, Deutschlandradio receives €208m and the Media Authorities, responsible for licensing commercial media, receive more than €143m.
As advertising in public-service television is restricted by federal law to 20 minutes per day (and not allowed on Sundays and public holidays), the revenues from this sector has remained relatively stable within the past decade with about €204m in 2014.
On the contrary, advertising is the major source of income for commercial television. In 2014 revenues reached €4.4bn. Today, German commercial television is basically under the control of two media groups calling themselves the Senderfamilien (broadcasting families). One, formerly owned by Leo Kirch, is named ProSiebenSAT.1 Media SE and consists of a basket of entertainment, information, and teleshopping channels like Sat 1, Pro 7, N24, Kabel 1, 9live, and others (their market share in 2016 was 27.3 percent).
The second media group is controlled by the German-based giant Bertelsmann, the largest media company outside of the US and a global player-also in print: it is the largest bookseller in the world. Bertelsmann owns the RTL Group S.A., which distributes TV channels in about a dozen European countries. In Germany, the group includes a basket of entertainment and information channels, such as RTL, RTL II, RTL Nitro, Super RTL, VOX and N-TV (their market share in 2015 was 28.4 percent).
In 2016 public-service broadcasting had an audience share of 45.2 percent , RTL Group of 23.2 percent and Pro7Sat1 of 18.9 percent, according to the data of the German Commission on Concentration in the Media . In large cities such as Berlin and Hamburg, local commercial TV has been established, operating in niche markets.
With the establishment of commercial television, public access channels (Open Channels) had been implemented in the year 1984. Today, 41 Open Channels (Radio and/or TV) are in place in some Länder. They offer non-commercial access to production and distribution technology and serve as a platform for local dialogue.
In the 1990 and the beginning millenium, Open TV-Channels had been discovered by migrants as a source of media and cultural participation. However, discriminating restrictions like the duty to translate drove these TV-producers away. Nowadays, most Open Channels transformed into media education hubs, present on various platforms.
Germany has an above-average percentage of cable households; with 44 percent being cable TV and 46 percent satellite reception. Terrestrial reception via DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcasting – Terrestrial) is available and popular in the bigger cities. Compared to cable and satellite reception, however, it plays a minor role with a total market share of 9.7 percent. The share of IPTV is negligible, at 1.86 percent in 2015.
Finally, the amount of pay TV subscribers is increasing. In 2014 subscriptions achieved €1.7bn in revenues, which constitutes about 25 percent of commercial TV’s total income (not including teleshopping and local networks).