German webs silence folk music

Pubcasters seeking younger audiences

BERLIN — The days of yodeling are numbered for some of the lederhosen-clad accordion players and buxom Bavarian sopranos in dirndl dresses on German pubcasters ARD and ZDF.

Trying to stave off a steep erosion of younger viewers, both webs are pruning their long-running Volksmusik (folk music) shows from primetime, sending their aging hosts into involuntary retirement — even though ratings among the elderly remain robust.

A group is even threatening a lawsuit against ZDF for “discrimination against elderly viewers” after it announced it would ax “Lustige Musikanten” (Merry Minstrels), hosted by Marianne and Michael, at the end of the year. Lawyers have been quoted in media reports saying they have a case.

Commercial web RTL dropped its folk music program years ago. But the pubcasters have a public broadcasting mandate, and that is one of the reasons for the outcry.

“The TV bosses might think that folk music is just for old people and there’s no advertising money for that — that’s discrimination,” says Manfred Knoepke, head of folk music lobby group ADSV. “They’re violating anti-discrimination laws by shutting out old people. On top of that, they’re making a big mistake. Other industries have long since discovered older people are a more interesting target group than the 14 to 49 crowd. And the kids are going to stick with MTV and Viva no matter what ZDF does.”

ZDF has the weakest ratings among younger viewers compared to its rivals. ZDF’s share of its target demo fell to 6% in the first half of 2007, with an all-time low recorded in June. ZDF dropped “Volkstuemliche Hitparade” (Folksy Hits) in 2003 and “Das Wunschkonzert der Volksmusik” in 2005. It will pull Dieter Thomas Heck’s folk music program just before his 70th birthday. Heck has been on air with various music shows for 38 years.

“There are no legally guaranteed rights for folk music,” says ZDF spokesman Walter Kehr. “Today’s retired generations grew up with the rock and roll of the 1960s. Even the 70-year-olds of today would rather hear rock music. We have to stay in tune with the changes in viewer interests.”

Indeed, some of the Volksmusik personalities have been around since the black and white TV era including Maria Hellwig, 87, and her daughter Margot, 65.

But there are still shows for Volksmusik lovers.

ARD, which in recent years has axed “Kein schoener Land” (No More Beautiful Country), “Musikantenscheune” (Minstrels in the Barn) and “Schlagerparade der Volksmusik” (Folk Music Hit Parade), will keep “Die Feste der Volksmusik” (Folk Music Festival) and Germany’s longest-running music program, “Musikantenstadl,” which has been on the air since 1981.

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