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ZDF posts surprise surplus

Company is using coin to lower its debt

BERLIN — Despite dwindling ad revenues and recent calls for a hike in TV viewer fees, German pubcaster ZDF posted a financial surplus of e46.1 million ($52.2 million), nearly $15 million more than expected, for fiscal year 2002-03.

ZDF, which is financed primarily through mandatory viewer fees bolstered by limited advertising, is using the surplus to lower its debt. Company topper Markus Schaechter described the surplus as outstandingly good and said it was evidence that the pubcaster’s administrative cost cuts helped to counter the impact of the advertising slump.

The nonprofit broadcaster operated at a loss with revenues of $2 billion (including ad sales of $50.7 million) and costs of $2.04 billion.

ZDF is expecting its overall deficit of $226 million to be down 25% by the end of 2004, with a surplus of $12 million this year.

The pubcaster also is reckoning with a slight drop in ratings this year, due to its decision not to purchase pricy sports rights. “At the end of 2003 we … will have very stable but lower ratings,” Schaechter said. ZDF had an average 13.9% market share in 2002.

After intense opposition from commercial rivals and government officials, ZDF and fellow pubcaster ARD have postponed demands for a viewer fee hike until 2005.

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