|Key people||Norbert Himmler (director)|
|Launched||1 April 1963|
|Replaced||ARD 2 (1961–1963)|
|Digital terrestrial television||Varies by location|
|ZDF.de||Watch live (Germany only)|
|Canaldigitaal Live App||Watch Live|
ZDF (pronounced [ˌtsɛt.teːˈʔɛf] (listen)), short for Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (pronounced [ˈtsvaɪtəs ˈdɔʏtʃəs ˈfɛʁnzeːn] (listen); "Second German Television"), is a German public-service television broadcaster based in Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate. Launched on 1 April 1963, it is run as an independent nonprofit institution, and was founded by all federal states of Germany (Bundesländer). ZDF is financed by television licence fees and advertising revenues.
The broadcaster is well known for its famous programmes heute, a newscast established in 1963, and Wetten, dass..?, an entertainment show that premiered in 1981, with a suspension from 2014 to 2021. Norbert Himmler, ZDF's director general, was elected by the ZDF Television Council in 2021.
In 1959, the government of Konrad Adenauer began preparations to form a second nationwide television network with the intention of competing with ARD. Adenauer perceived ARD's news coverage to be too critical of his government, and believed that two of the organizations primarily responsible for its news reporting – the Deutsche Presse-Agentur and Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk, which produced the nightly Tagesschau – were too close to the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) to ever be able to report neutrally on his Christian Democratic Union government. The new television company, called the Freies Fernsehen Gesellschaft (Free Television Society) but derisively called Adenauer-Fernsehen by critics, was founded on 25 July 1960.
The Deutsche Bundespost began constructing a second transmitter network on UHF channels, which required new reception equipment. For older receivers, a converter was sold for about 80 DM (equivalent to €195 in 2021). As with the earlier ARD television network, the location of the transmitters was carefully planned to ensure the entire country would be able to receive the programming.
To test the transmitters and encourage the public to purchase UHF receivers, the federal government allowed the ARD network to create a temporary secondary channel, ARD 2, which was broadcast daily from 8 to 10 pm. ARD 2 began broadcasting on 1 May 1961 in the transmission area of Hessischer Rundfunk and a month later expanded nationwide.
The SPD-led states of Hamburg, Bremen, Lower Saxony, and Hesse appealed to the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, which on 28 February 1961 in the First Broadcasting Judgment blocked the plan. While building and maintaining telecommunications infrastructure, such as television transmitters, is a responsibility of the federal government under article 87f of the Basic Law, the constitution does not extend these duties to running a television or radio broadcaster. Under article 30, any power or duty not explicitly assigned to the federal government is reserved for the states. Therefore, the court ruled only the states had the right to set up a television broadcaster. (Conversely, the same decision supported new longwave broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, which had been established by the federal government in November 1960; its focus was on external broadcasting and therefore under the federal government's remit to conduct foreign relations.)
After this decision, in March 1961, the states decided to establish a central nonprofit public television network independently of Adenauer's effort. On 6 June 1961, the state premiers signed at a premiers' conference in Stuttgart the interstate agreement on the "establishment of the public institution Second German Television". On 1 December 1961, though not all states had ratified the agreement, it went into force in the states that had done so (Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate). The last state, Bavaria, filed the instrument of ratification on 9 July 1962.
The station began broadcasting from Eschborn near Frankfurt am Main on 1 April 1963, with a speech by the first director general (Intendant), Karl Holzamer. The channel broadcast its first programme in colour in 1967. In 1974, ZDF moved its base of operations to Mainz-Lerchenberg, after briefly being located in Wiesbaden. Since 5 October 1996 ZDF has broadcast 24 hours a day.
ZDF is financed by a license fee of €18.36 per month, which must be paid by all households in Germany, except handicapped people and persons on social aid. ZDF shares the income with ARD and Deutschlandradio. The fees are not collected directly by ZDF, but by the Beitragsservice (more commonly known by its former name of GEZ) a common organization of the ARD member broadcasters, ZDF, and Deutschlandradio. ZDF also has income from sponsorships and programming and advertising sales.
As ZDF is a station, not a network, the station is broadcast throughout Germany, with no regional variations or affiliates, using a number of signal repeaters. ZDF transmitters broadcast a digital signal. Analog signals were gradually phased out, a process which lasted from 2002 to 2008. ZDF does not run any transmitters itself. Throughout the analogue days, all ZDF transmitters were run by the Deutsche Bundespost which was later privatised as Deutsche Telekom's subsidiary T-Systems Media Broadcast. (This is in contrast to the other public German broadcaster, ARD, which owns its main transmitters.) ZDF was not previously allowed to use ARD's transmitters. ZDF has used both ARD and Telekom transmitters since changes to the law in the 1990s, and since the digital switchover.
ZDF has also been relayed by cable since the days of the first cable pilot projects.
The first Europe-wide satellite broadcast via Astra 1C began in August 1993 during the Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin (IFA – "International Broadcasting Exhibition") in Berlin. In the same decade, these new technologies were used to enable digital broadcasting of ZDF. Today, ZDF is available free-to-air throughout Europe on Astra 19.2°E.
ZDF operates two digital channels: ZDFneo (aimed at 18- to 45-year-olds) and ZDFinfo (documentaries). Both are transmitted in SD and HD. A commercial subsidiary called ZDF Enterprises GmbH manages programme sales, acquisitions, international coproductions, and a growing number of important activities in new media. ZDF Enterprises owns a Dutch TV production and distribution company, Off the Fence. ZDF also operates various channels in cooperation with other networks: Arte, 3sat, KI.KA, and Phoenix.
ZDF's animated station-identity mascots, the Mainzelmännchen (a play on the words "Mainz" and "Heinzelmännchen"), created by Wolf Gerlach for the channel's launch in 1963, quickly became popular and are still shown between commercials. In 1976, Otl Aicher, a graphic designer, created ZDF's corporate design. A new design for ZDF was created by Lee Hunt in February 2000.
Administratively, ZDF is headed by a director general (Intendant), who is elected by the ZDF Television Council, the composition of which is in turn determined by "societally relevant groups" named in the ZDF Treaty.
Directors General since the start of ZDF:
The supervising board supervises the work of the intendant. They pay special attention to the budget. The supervising board has 14 members:
The Television Board supervises ZDF and authorizes the budget. They also elect the Director General. The board has 60 members:
ZDF became a full member of the European Broadcasting Union in 1963. It also has numerous individual cooperation agreements with broadcasters around the world. ZDF is a supporter of the Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV initiative which promotes the establishment of an open European standard for hybrid set-top boxes for the reception of broadcast TV and broadband multimedia applications with a single user interface.