The Open Society Media Program has commissioned background papers on a range of topics that are important for understanding the effects of new technology on media and journalism. The papers accompany a series of reports, Mapping Digital Media, on the impact of digitization on democracy in 60 countries around the world.
Few countries support public service broadcasting more enthusiastically than Germany, where the public service broadcasters (PSBs) are seen as more informal, modern, and entertaining than before, without having lost their reputation for quality. The combined budgets of all the PSBs far exceed the combined advertising revenue of private broadcasters.
Yet the PSBs face a demographic threat. Around half of their viewers are over 65 years old, while only 5 percent are under 30. If the PSBs are to safeguard their future, they must attract younger audiences. This means developing services online. At the same time, following private-sector complaints, the European Commission decided the license fee was distorting competition.
The PSBs responded with a public value test to assess new services. Debate in this context has centered on two crucial questions: whether or not internet portals and online products fall within the remit of public service broadcasting, and whether PSBs should be allowed to compete for advertising with private media.
In this paper, Johannes Weberling explains the German search for an equitable balance between public and private media interests online, in the light of European Union concerns over state aid.