Germany has a peculiar mix of different TV channels as a result of its history after World War II. After the downfall of Nazi Germany, it was up to the Allies to regulate the German media at the time. Public radio stations were formed, often one station per state, before The Bonn Republic was founded. These stations then formed the "Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland" ("Consortium of public-law broadcasting institutions of the Federal Republic of Germany"), or ARD for short. Some TV channels are made by ARD member stations, others by public or private competitors.
To European eyes, the German television system can seem rather weird. Rather than have a single national public broadcaster, there are multiple regional public broadcasters, which all produce their own content and then send it to other regions. While to some degree this is a recognition of the federal structure of Germany, it is also an attempt by the Allies to ensure that a national Propaganda Machine like that used by the Nazis could never again take hold in Germany: if one regional broadcaster started pumping out extremist propaganda, the other broadcasters could simply refuse to transmit it and program their own material instead. In fact BR (Bayrischer Rundfunk) did tune out of the running program on several high-profile occasions. This system, rather interestingly to historians of broadcasting, inspired the system used by PBS in the United States, albeit with the bulk of funding coming from direct viewer contributions rather than a television license fee (which is how ARD is funded) and with a far finer division of the country (with multiple markets per state and multiple stations per market, as opposed to the occasional fusion of regional broadcasters in the ARD).
However, as the Bonn Republic matured, it became increasingly clear that these protections were not really necessary. This is how ZDF—a single unified national broadcaster—was formed (albeit leaving Das Erste—the original ARD structure—firmly intact). Interestingly ZDF was the result of attempts at establishing a "counterweight" to what the Adenauer administration deemed the "left-wing slant" of ARD. Given that Kohl legalized private stations with similar intentions twenty years later the actual effectiveness is debatable.
During the Cold War, East Germany had its own television system provided by the state broadcaster, originally called DFF (Deutscher Fernsehfunk) and later DDR-FS (Fernsehen der DDR) which originally operated a single channel, later adding a second, DFF 2, in 1969 which contained the country's first colour broadcastsnote . (All this didn't stop East Germans from clandestinely picking up and watching West German stations, which could be picked up in all but a few regions such as Dresden and the area around the island of Rügen on the eastern part of East Germany's Baltic coast.note This prompted DFF to put out the propaganda programme Der schwarze Kanal to provide regime-sanctioned commentary on Western news reports.) Soon after reunification, the DFF/DDR-FS was abolished and the former East German states were subsumed into the West German broadcasting systemnote .
Public TV channels
- Channels from before cable TV:
- Das Erste (The First) - or just ARDnote , formal (seldom used) name Erstes Deutsches Fernsehen ("First German Television") - started broadcasting in 1952. Each part of the programme is made by one of the member stations (who form a so-called gremium (or "elder council") to democratically decide the programme between the Bundesländer), and then broadcasted by all member stations. Not every state is covered by a separate ARD broadcaster, as some of them cover multiple states.
- ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, "Second German Television") started broadcasting in 1963. In contrast to ARD, ZDF is a single public-law station on the federal level. They also provide co-production assistance for a good deal of shows outside Germany.
- Die Dritten (The Thirds) are channels by the ARD member stations, and original limited to their areas. With the coming of cable TV, now some of them can be received nationwide. They are:
- BR (Bayerischer Rundfunk, Bavarian Broadcasting): Bavaria's broadcaster.
- HR (Hessischer Rundfunk, Hessian Broadcasting): Hesse's broadcaster.
- MDR (Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, Central German Bradcasting): The unified broadcaster for three states of former East Germany (and thus a target of a lot of German Humour); Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.
- NDR (Norddeutscher Rundfunk, Northern German Broadcasting): The unified broadcaster of Germany's most northern states; Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (M-V having joined the other two after reunification).
- RB (Radio Bremen): Bremen's state broadcaster. The oldest among the Thirds, having begun broadcasting right after the war in 1945.
- RBB (Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg, Berlin - Brandenburg Broadcasting): The unified broadcaster for both Brandenburg and its capital city enclave, Berlin. The youngest of the Thirds, having been opened only in 2003. Formed by the merger of SFB (Sender Freies Berlin, Channel Free Berlin) and ORB (Ostdeutscher Rundfunk Brandenburg, East German Broadcasting Brandenburg). SFB had been West Berlin's broadcaster during the Cold War, but for various reasons it did not immediately merge with the newly established broadcaster for the surrounding state of Brandenburg until 2003.
- SR (Saarländischer Rundfunk, Saarland Broadcasting): The broadcaster for Saarland.
- SWR (Südwestrundfunk, Southwest Broadcasting): The unified broadcaster for Germany's Southern states, sans Bavaria; Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate.
- WDR (Westdeutscher Rundfunk, West German Broadcasting): North Rhine-Westphalia's broadcaster.
- DW (Deutsche Welle, German Wave): The German broadcasting connection to the rest of the world. Acquired the television channel of West Berlin broadcaster RIAS (Radio in the American Sector) when it was dissolved in 1992.
- New public channels (supported with content from both ARD and ZDF):
- 3sat, a German-language channel made in cooperation with the public TV stations in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
- arte, a German- and French-language made in cooperation by the public TV stations in Germany and France. Foreign content is either dubbed by translators or subtitled.
- "Kika" ("Kinderkanal", "Children's channel") is a channel mostly for children up to 13, and has programming from 6 am to 9 pm.
- "Phoenix" the C-Span equivalent for uncut parliament footage and more in-depth discussion rounds.
- It should be noted that the German parliament has its own TV channel broadcasting all parliament footage live, but (nearly?) no TV provider carries it, though it is available on the internet.
- ard-alpha, quite possibly the most obscure and niche of all mainstream subsidiaries, but is very popular for showing an episode of The Joy of Painting every evening.
- Even newer (and experimental) digital channels (forked from ARD or ZDF):
- One (formerly known as Einsfestival), tagesschau24 (formerly known as Eins Extra, broadcasts the news magazine of the ARD Tagesschau ("Daily show" or "Show of the day") from 9 am to 6 pm on business days and 12 pm to 6 pm on the weekend), Eins Plus (now defunct)
- ZDF info, ZDF.kultur, zdf_neo
- ARD and ZDF now produce over 60 Youtube-channels under the cooperative name of "funk"
Commercial TV channels
Originally there were a lot of different channels, and every owner was limited to one "full program" channel, but behind the scenes today's landscape formed, dominated by two groups:
- The RTL group, with RTL, RTL II, Super RTL and VOX. (RTL originally meant "Radio Tele Luxembourg" and it originally operated from there but still has its HQ there).
- The Sat.1/Pro 7 group, with Sat.1, ProSieben (Pro 7) and Kabel 1, based in Munich.