Fear of numbers is the virus sweeping the new TV stations n-tv and VOX.

Though both started up more than a month before (all-news channel n-tv in November and infotainment station VOX in January), both are still claiming that reliable market shares are unavailable.

Ratings released by market researcher GfK this week for March show why: for the first week, VOX achieved a weak 0.8%, while n-tv checked in with only 0.3%.

Ratings challenged

However, both stations claim that these numbers are unreliable, contending GfK doesn’t have enough viewers “with higher education” in their pool.

Now that the numbers, reliable or not, are out, advertisers are confirmed in their earlier fears that getting new niche channels off the ground in Germany’s current TV landscape will be more difficult than imagined.

VOX market shares peaked at 4.1% last week with its sex magazine “Liebe Sunde ,” nabbing 240,000 viewers.

The peak for CNN look-alike n-tv (a 100% niche channel) was between 50,000 and 80,000 viewers. Numbers for RTL-2, which started up last week, are unavailable. (Germany’s first private cable channel, the general entertainment Kabelkanal, crossed the 3.0% market share mark almost exactly one year after its February ’92 launch.)

Two “wordy” VOX talkshows have already been canceled and the infotainment channel may be forced to remove other info programs and replace them with entertainment,like films and series.

Restructuring planned

Statistics from GfK may be in dispute, but VOX was quick to react to the data with an announced restructuring of programming yesterday. Chief Erich Staake referred to the changes as “clearer structure.”

VOX will revamp its formats and add an information magazine show to prime time. Personnel changes are planned in the news division, and talk in general will be drastically cut — two talkshows will be canceled.

Lack nationwide reach

Both VOX and n-tv are primarily cable- and satellite-delivered, and are still not available nationwide.

Both claim penetration at around 50%, though the areas they reach are constantly changing.

Advertising experts are waiting for more reliable results before judging the audience acceptance of the two stations, but weaker-than-expected launch on both accounts has not helped to diminish suspicions that few Germans will switch from the “very competent” pubcasters when it comes to news and entertainment.

“CNN in hotels is a good idea,” says ad and media expert Albert Eichelberger of Media Intensiv, “because it serves people who cannot get their information at specific times during the day. But I don’t know if an all-news or infotainment service is interesting for a broad audience in Germany.”

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