Will Radioeins and Fritz become internet-only stations?

A new agreement could push most of RBB's radio stations online and end lucrative license agreements for film and TV producers.

OK this picture is in Frankfurt/Oder but the broadcaster is the same.
OK this picture is in Frankfurt/Oder but the broadcaster is the same.Imago

Berlin-The governments of Berlin and Brandenburg are working to update the agreement that governs public broadcaster Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg (RBB), hoping to cut costs and adapt to the web-based transformation of media.

A draft, acquired by the Berliner Zeitung, proposes making radio stations Radioeins, Fritz, RBB Kultur, Inforadio and CosmoRadio internet-only to save cash. The same motivation is behind the elimination of license payments for broadcasters of RBB-subsidised productions. 

The last agreement was signed in 2013. At the time, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video didn't exist in Germany and Spotify was just a niche provider with 30 million users worldwide – it now has 345 million. The agreement also predated the 2014 ZDF ruling by the country's top court that limited government influence in public broadcasters by capping the number of politicians on advisory panels. 

Politicians in Berlin and Brandenburg say the shifts in the media world require touching up the agreement, but the relatively small piece of legislation has some deep cuts.

The changes proposed in Section 4, which regulates the distribution of RBB stations on the airwaves, are remarkable. Paragraph 2.4 has five of its seven radio stations "broadcast exclusively via the internet or replaced by comparable services on the internet". Only RBB 88.8 and Antenne Brandenburg would be guaranteed a spot on the FM dial. 

However, RBB can't just shove its radio stations' programmes over onto the Internet. The Rundfunkrat, or advisory board, would have to approve it and the broadcaster would have to prove that the stations would have the same impact without being broadcast on the airwaves. If there is a reasonable fear that online-only radio would attract fewer listeners, they couldn't become internet-only.

But there is likely to be pressure to move RBB online on a larger scale than today. The country's network of public broadcasters failed to win an increase in the mandatory monthly fee earlier this year, putting immense pressure on broadcasters to reel in their budgets.

RBB could also save money by making a minor linguistic change to part of the contract that would say it could only subsidize productions such as films if it wins concessions from the production. A statement from RBB managers, quoting a paper from the Berlin government, welcomes the change.

Currently, RBB can only add a production it subsidized to its library if it agrees to sign a license agreement for that production. If changed, TV producers whose productions were funded by RBB would no longer receive license fees when their production is then broadcast by RBB or added to its library.

And complaints against programming would only be accepted under the proposed guidelines "if concrete reasons are given". What that means exactly is not stated in the draft.

This article on the changes to RBB's management was adapted from the original German by Andrew Bulkeley.

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