Television: A success story – ZDF turns 60

A success story – ZDF turns 60

ZDF director Norbert Himmler relies on sophisticated entertainment as well as independent information. photo

© Arne Dedert/dpa

Who can say that at the age of 60 they are slimmer and more digital than ever? ZDF rises to its challenges.

ZDF is celebrating its 60th birthday. On April 1, 1963, the Second German Television went on the air. Intendant Norbert Himmler also has many reasons to celebrate. His Mainz station has been the most successful program in Germany for eleven years in a row. In 2022, the ZDF family reached an average of around 82 percent of the German population aged three and over every month via classic television and streaming. For the year, the main channel’s rating was 14.5 percent.

“The audience appreciates our offers in all ways,” said the director at the end of December. “This encourages us to continue pursuing our goal with all our commitment: One ZDF for everyone in Germany. With a program that scores with sophisticated entertainment as well as with independent information.”

Fewer thrillers – more streaming formats

However, the top broadcasters at Lerchenberg also made it clear that they wanted to move with the times and withdraw money from crime series that had little success with young audiences – in favor of streaming formats. A flagship project is the sea thriller series “The Swarm”. For this series like “SOKO Hamburg” and “Last Spur Berlin” are sunk.

“We no longer reach all groups equally,” said Himmler in November. “In order to change that, we strategically reallocate 100 million euros annually for new and younger target groups. Investing in new program content also means: less in the linear program and more non-linear offers for younger people.” These are then such offers that can be called up on the Internet. However, Himmler clearly rejected a joint media library with ARD.

The Rhineland-Palatinate Prime Minister Malu Dreyer (SPD) speaks of a success story with regard to “The Second”. “ZDF has always succeeded in being present on new broadcast channels and in helping to shape developments in the media world,” praises the politician, who is also the head of the ZDF board of directors.

The first day ended at 9:54 p.m

The ZDF was not always based in Mainz. In 1963, the broadcast was still from the barracks in Eschborn near Frankfurt/Main, everything in black and white. After a musical introduction, founding director Karl Holzamer welcomed the audience at 7:30 p.m. Then followed “Today” news and the show “Berlin Melodie”. At 9.54 p.m. the end of the first day was again broadcast. Holzamer was a rather unpleasant topic before the 60th anniversary. He is said to have concealed a temporary membership in the SA – that was the paramilitary combat organization of the Nazi party NSDAP – and reduced membership in the NSDAP from 1937 to 1945 to an entitlement that was received in 1937 and allegedly dissolved in 1939, according to an investigation.

In 1964, ZDF moved to Wiesbaden, and ten years later the broadcasting center on Lerchenberg in Mainz went into operation. What has remained a visual trademark of ZDF since the early 1970s is the striking font, designed by graphic genius Otl Aicher. And mostly lowercase. Typical of this slightly rounded Univers typeface is the distinctive small a in “auslandsjournal”. Much better known brand ambassadors are the good-humoured Mainzel men, invented by Wolf Gerlach for the broadcaster.

The channel with the orange logo has always been an experimental laboratory and a ski jump for new talent. Be it with the multi-award-winning art house series “The Little TV Game” at night. Be it with streaming projects, especially for ZDFneo. Be it with irreverent show greats like Jan Böhmermann and Oliver Welke.

But the upheavals in public broadcasting also left their mark on Lerchenberg. 3,500 people are currently working there. “We’ve cut almost 600 jobs in the last ten years,” Himmler said recently. “We’ve reached a limit.” He emphasized: “If you compare the relationship between employees and budget in ZDF with other public broadcasters, you will find that ZDF is lean.” The biggest challenge is that by 2030 over 1000 people will leave ZDF because they are retiring. “We must therefore be an attractive employer for new colleagues.”

History of the ZDF


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