Teutonic pubcasters seek license hike

KEF recommends raising fees despite wide opposition

BERLIN — German pubcasters are set for a showdown with the country’s political leaders over a proposed license fee hike in 2005.

KEF, the pubcasters’ financing commission, has recommended raising TV license fees by E1.09 ($1.39) to $22 a month, despite widespread opposition.

Leading politicos of both major parties have objected to the increase in the current economic climate, calling instead on pubcasters ARD and ZDF to cut costs. The deep-pocketed national channels already make $8.5 billion a year in license fees in addition to hundreds of millions in limited advertising and sponsorship deals.

Commercial rivals RTL and ProSiebenSat 1 and paybox Premiere also are against fee hikes, saying they would give ARD and ZDF an unfair advantage.

Scoring sports rights

Case in point: ARD outbid ProSiebenSat 1 for national Bundesliga soccer last summer when it agreed to pay $50 million per season. Critics blasted the move, arguing pubcasters have a greater duty to produce and air educational, cultural and news programming rather than spending millions on sports rights.

Nevertheless, the KEF commission said ARD would need an extra $1.4 billion from 2005 to 2008, while ZDF would need $937 million more.

Any increase would have to be approved by all of Germany’s states, but government leaders in some regions, including Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia — home to Haim Saban’s ProSiebenSat 1 and RTL Television, respectively — have made it clear they would vote against a fee hike. A final decision on the proposed increase is not due until year’s end.

Responding to political opposition, KEF chairman Rainer Conrad said if state leaders had wanted to stop fee increases, they could have reformed the pubcasting financing structure instead of waiting until the last minute to criticize KEF’s proposals.

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