Germany is the most successful market in the world for ’masthead
television’ - where publishers exploit their magazine and newspaper
titles on the small screen using branded programming. While the UK
regulator, the Independent Television Commission, has regarded masthead
TV with evident suspicion, the German authorities, led by the country’s
most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, have not viewed it as a
cause for concern.
Rather than seeing masthead TV as something to be treated with
scepticism, Germany has looked upon it as a way of securing informative
and watchable television. The upshot is that while masthead programming
in the UK totals fewer than 100 hours a year (restricted to cable and
satellite channels, although this is under review), in Germany there are
2,000 hours of masthead TV a year.
’The lessons to be drawn from Germany are that a positive regulator has
seen masthead programming as a useful way of getting factual programmes
on TV,’ says Andrew McCall, the managing director of the television
consultancy, Inside Broadcast, and author of the Financial Times
management report, Strategies for Magazine Branded Television, which was
published in October 1997.
’At the moment, the UK is missing out. There is a wealth of potential
lying in the vaults of magazines and newspapers, but they are all
holding on in the hope that they will be able to do something on
Masthead’s success in Germany is unquestionably down to bold regulatory
changes. In 1988, a licence to broadcast via ’windows’ in existing
channels was granted to the start-up company, DCTP, owned by its
founder, Alexander Kluge, the Japanese ad agency, Dentsu, and the
publisher, Spiegel Verlag.
The licence gave the Dusseldorf-based DCTP slots of up to six hours a
week across three national commercial channels - RTL, SAT 1 and,
latterly, the newcomer, Vox, which launched five years ago. These
windows were given over to a mix of programmes commissioned by DCTP and
including shows based on the magazines, Der Spiegel and Stern, and the
newspapers, Suddeutsche Zeitung and Neue Zurcher Zeitung.
Stern, a Gruner & Jahr bi-monthly, enjoys audiences of up to
four-and-a-half million viewers for its 90-minute masthead programme,
Stern TV, shown on Wednesdays by RTL. Spiegel TV has, over the past
decade, grown from nothing into an organisation that employs more than
100 staff and produces more than 500 hours of television a year for
three German channels.
Spiegel TV Magazine appears weekly on RTL, while SAT 1 shows Spiegel TV
Reportage. On Vox, where audience totals tend to be lower, Spiegel has
two branded programmes - Spiegel TV Special and Spiegel TV
Spiegel also produces Vox’s news.
’Spiegel TV has worked because it has guarded the reputation for
independence Spiegel magazine is famous for,’ Jakob Krebs, the programme
co-ordinator for DCTP, says. ’As far as we are concerned, masthead
television needs this independence.’ Since it was given its slots ten
years ago, there is little doubt that DCTP has successfully commissioned
masthead programming which has delivered both editorial quality and
creditable audience figures.
This success story has encouraged other publishers into masthead
programming and made broadcasters more receptive to their approaches.
The publisher, Burda, turned its Focus magazine into Focus TV - produced
by its subsidiary, Burda Broadcast, and transmitted on Sundays by one of
the country’s largest broadcasters, Pro 7.
Back in May 1993, the publisher, H. Bauer, created Bravo TV out of one
of its leading publications, Bravo, a weekly magazine with a core
readership of 12- to 15-year-olds. Bravo TV fills a two-hour slot on
Sunday afternoons, with a repeat showing in the early hours of the
morning, and draws a combined audience of one million a week for the
broadcaster, RTL 2. The show is produced by the production company, MME,
in which Bauer has a 45 per cent stake.
’The TV show has been very successful in itself but it has also helped
plug the magazine,’ Andreas von Loessl, the head of TV production for
Bauer, comments. ’The chief editor of the print magazine decides what is
in the show. Some programme chiefs don’t like that very much but that is
why the show is successful - we know the market.’
But the issue of whether broadcaster or brand owner should exercise
editorial control has caused problems elsewhere. Last year, Axel
Springer was reportedly looking to create a programme out of its
sensationalist mass-market newspaper, Bild, but could not agree with its
putative partner, SAT 1 (in which Springer holds a stake) over the
degree of content control each should have.
However, the publisher that has arguably embraced masthead most ardently
is the Bertelsmann-owned G&J. As well as taking Stern on to RTL and Vox,
the magazines, Geo and Capital, have both been the basis for masthead
Programming has also been born out of its stable of home interest titles
and this spring saw the launch of Brigitte TV, based on G&J’s young
women’s monthly, Brigitte. The intriguing thing about this is that it is
shown on Norddeutsche Rundfunk, owned by the public service broadcaster,
That public service broadcasters are prepared to transmit branded
programmes shows how widely accepted masthead TV now is. Last year, a
G&J executive claimed that within five years the majority of its print
titles would be extended into masthead broadcasting - by no means an