Holiday TV tradition in Germany loses lustre

Primetime reviews of the year fall in ratings

BERLIN Primetime year-end reviews, a once-popular tradition of Teutonic holiday TV that ensured all the webs a big audience, are losing their luster.

Webs went all out to woo auds with celebrity hosts and big-name guests this time, but pubcasters ZDF and ARD plus commercial webs RTL and Sat.1 all got their noses bloodied in the ratings with their recaps of 2009.

The nostalgia-filled reviews of the year’s TV and media highlights that can run for up to four hours were pioneered by ARD in 1952, followed by ZDF.

They pulled huge shares for the pubcasters during their heyday before private webs RTL and Sat.1 started up in the early 1980s.

Eager to establish their credentials as serious webs, RTL and Sat.1 introduced their own year-end reviews, often with a lighter touch that made them ratings winners by the turn of the century.

All four have seen a gradual erosion in viewership since then — perhaps because they all cover essentially the same ground.

But that didn’t stop the webs from throwing mass resources and their top talent into the fray this year.

Thomas Gottschalk, ZDF’s celebrity host of “Wetten, dass…?” anchored ZDF’s “Menschen 2009” (People 2009) for the first time this year after the pubcaster’s popular Johannes B. Kerner moved to Sat.1.

Airing Dec. 6, it got a solid but unspectacular 6 million viewers (19% share overall and 15% share in the 14-49 target group).

Two days earlier Sat.1’s Kerner drew a disappointing 2 million viewers (9% overall, 11% in target group) for “2009 — Der grosse Jahresrueckblick” (2009 — The Grand Review).

RTL, Germany’s top-rated web both in the target group and overall, had high expectations for “2009! Menschen, Bilder, Emotionen!” (2009! People, Pictures, Emotions!) hosted by its star, Guenther Jauch. But viewership was a disappointing 5 million (16% overall share and 21% in the 14-49 target group).

RTL won critical acclaim for producing what was probably the best show of the bunch but it was nevertheless the web’s lowest year-review ratings in 11 years.ARD Jahresrueckblick 2009″ (ARD Year Review 2009) — a simpler, 45-minute show produced by the news department — aired on Dec. 28 and saw a paltry 2.66 million viewers (11.3 market share).

The reviews all had segments on Michael Jackson, the U.S. Airways Hudson River landing and the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall, mixed in with sporting and entertainment highlights.

The competition to secure the top heroes of the year was fierce. Some of the networks signed their guests to exclusive contracts up to six months earlier, according to German media reports.

RTL won the behind-the-scenes battle for guests, booking U.S. Airways’ hero Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger to appear on its show.

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