ZDF to switch to HDTV in 2008

Broadcaster will request extra funding for move

BERLIN — German pubcaster ZDF plans to forge ahead with high-definition TV for its coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and will broadcast all programming in the format shortly thereafter, topper Markus Schaechter said Wednesday.

“We’re adding up the costs right now, and we’ll present our financing needs to the KEF (pubcasters’ financing commission),” ZDF’s director general told the Financial Times Deutschland. He said ZDF was talking to pubcaster ARD about forcing the pace of HDTV, but ARD has not yet made a decision.

ZDF aims to be the first in Germany to expand HDTV to all programming.

It is Germany’s No. 2 network, with an overall 13.6% market share in 2006; that’s just behind ARD’s 14.3%, though both trailed RTL in the 14-49 demographic.

In April, ZDF plans to make a formal request for higher viewer fees starting in 2009 for the high-quality image, which ZDF estimates will cost an additional E80 million ($104 million) a year.

Strong public and political resistance to boosting viewer fees has stymied pubcasters’ efforts in recent years to raise more funding, but ZDF believes HDTV offers a concrete justification.

Several political leaders have in the past said KEF should not agree to any increase in viewer fees in its 2009 round.

Aside from paybox Premiere, there is little HDTV programming aired in Germany, which has kept a lid on demand for HDTV sets.

In a separate interview with Die Welt newspaper, Schaechter said ZDF plans to expand the range of programming it offers to Internet users.

Following the lead of the BBC, ZDF wants to make all of its programs available on the Internet, including product from its archives. There are already 4.5 million downloads of programs and films a month from the ZDF Web site, double the number recorded a year ago.

Germany’s biggest commercial broadcaster, meanwhile, is set to offer its programming in high-definition via its Internet Protocol TV offering. ProSiebenSat 1 announced Wednesday that it had inked a deal with Deutsche Telekom’s online division, T-Online, for HDTV distribution.

The group’s main channels, Sat.1 and ProSieben, will be able to broadcast their programs simultaneously in HDTV via VDSL on T-Com’s T-Home IPTV service.

Sat.1 HD and ProSieben HD already are available via the Astra satellite system and on regional cabler Kabel BW, showing hit series such as “Criminal Minds,” “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” as well as Hollywood blockbusters.

(Ed Meza in Berlin contributed to this report.)

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