Post a Comment Print Share on Facebook
Featured Ukraine rpbl Fußball Israel Ernährung

“We are not in a feel-good competition”

Roland Weißmann has been the general director of the largest Austrian media company, the ORF, for a good year.

- 27 reads.

“We are not in a feel-good competition”

Roland Weißmann has been the general director of the largest Austrian media company, the ORF, for a good year. Weißmann, who started out as a journalist at the radio station in 1995 and then switched to management, is the counterpart to the directors of ARD and ZDF, just in one person. Although the ORF is of course a bit smaller than its German sisters, it generates around one billion euros in sales a year from subscriptions, advertising and other income (in comparison, it is more than eight billion euros in revenue just from subscriptions to public broadcasting in Germany ). The problems and challenges here and there are of course the same.

In the near future, ORF funding is to be switched from a device-dependent fee to a household fee, which has existed in Germany since 2013. From 2024, all households will have to pay for the ORF if they are not exempt (we are talking about up to 700,000 households that have not yet paid) - but the monthly contribution will then drop, which varies in Austria depending on the federal state. In Vienna, according to reports, the contribution could drop by two euros to 16.59 euros (in Germany it is currently 18.36 euros).

For Weißmann, the main thing is to get the digital turnaround right, for example a streaming player already announced by his predecessor Alexander Wrabetz is missing. At the same time, the ORF has to save. General director Weißmann has just announced a savings package of 300 million euros by 2026. In the cultural scene, one planned measure in particular was greeted with horror.

WORLD: The ORF should save 300 million euros by 2026. How does the total come about?

Roland Weißmann: During the current five-year financing period, the ORF will receive inflation compensation of around 1.55 percent per year. However, inflation is now at 10 percent per year. With an annual turnover of one billion, we are missing 80 to 100 million per year. This is not our own fault, but simply because our inflation compensation does not correspond to actual inflation. That's around 300 million euros for four years.

WORLD: So the sum is not specified by politics, but is purely arithmetic?

Weißmann: There is the ORF law, according to which everything is based. The sum that will be missing by 2026 must be backed up with measures. Last year we were also short of EUR 70 to 80 million, which we made up for with savings in personnel and material costs.

WORLD: The fun measures you have now specifically announced have caused a sensation or excitement even in Germany. For example, the renowned radio symphony orchestra (RSO) should no longer be financed from the radio license fee, which is around 9 million euros a year. Why this only orchestra of its kind in Austria?

Weißmann: Before I come to the orchestra, I also want to say that we have a salary agreement behind us that, at 2.1 percent, is the lowest in the country this year. Our employees have therefore played their part in ensuring that costs do not rise too much. I didn't win a popularity contest in the company with it. But the signal was important.

WORLD: The ORF is also reducing staff.

Weißmann: We will have around 500 retirements in the next four to five years - these positions will be filled much more cheaply, if at all. We will also take a close look at how many cameras we use in broadcasts, we negotiate with the production companies that supply us - we cannot completely compensate for inflation either. The planned digital amendment should also enable us to offer more digital content via an ORF player.

WORLD: This player has been announced for a long time, but it doesn't exist yet. Is the goal then also, like ARD and ZDF, to shift content from linear to non-linear television?

Weißmann: That too, yes. A new amendment to the law is needed for this. But it's also about the fact that we put in less effort for smaller shipments, with fewer staff. We call this "smart producing".

WORLD: Before we get to the orchestra - the sports channel ORF Sport Plus should be deleted.

Weißmann: We have to fulfill our legal mandate, but economic feasibility is also important. This applies explicitly to the special interest channels. We definitely want to continue ORF3, which is a culture and information channel. At Sport Plus we said that we would close the linear channel in the medium term, but that we would bring more domestic top-class and popular sports, from handball to golf, to ORF1. Nobody in Austria does that except us. We can also show sports broadcasts on a digital platform.

WORLD: And now the orchestra again. Why doesn't the ORF want to finance this anymore?

Weißmann: I have to refer to the ORF law again - because the radio symphony orchestra is not included as part of the mandatory mandate. At the same time, I never said that I was initiating the closure of the RSO.


Weißmann: I said that the ORF can no longer finance the orchestra under the current financial conditions. Why did I say that now, I could have saved myself the discussion? The orchestra is very good and I would be happy if it could be continued. But it is important to me to point out in good time that we will no longer be able to afford it in the future.

WORLD: You refer to the ORF law – at the same time, the decision caused a bang in the cultural scene, which could also damage your image.

Weißmann: Everyone wants savings, but when you name specific measures, you hear: not that and not that either. That's why we simply have to go into the discussion transparently, because the funding simply won't run out. There is still time to find other solutions.

WORLD: Do you mean that you named the measures to ultimately prevent them?

Weißmann: I'm there to lead the ORF into the future and I've reported to the ORF supervisor where we stand. But just a reminder: the ORF is still the largest producer of art and culture in Austria. We spend around 120 million euros a year on art and culture and will continue to do so in the future. We spend 100 million on the film industry, with a turnover of one billion euros. We are the broadcaster for contemporary music. But I am the CEO of the largest media company in Austria and we are not in a feel-good competition. We need sustainable financing. Now it's up to the legislature.

WORLD: The ORF should be brought "politically in line" with the fun measures, said the economist Leonhard Dobusch, who is also a board member of ZDF, in the "Süddeutsche Zeitung". It's about making small savings for the ORF. So are you the pioneer of a weak ORF?

Weißmann: Mr. Dobusch knows the ORF, he's Austrian, like me he was born in Linz. But in fact exactly the opposite is true. It's about leading the ORF independently into the future. One of my first official acts was that I put the editorial statute of the ORF from 1976 on a new footing, which guarantees the ORF journalistic independence.

WORLD: But whenever it comes to the ORF, its close ties with political actors are discussed. As the saying goes, you yourself came into office via the “ÖVP ticket”, so you had the support of the ÖVP-related members on the foundation board. In the past few months, two senior employees of the ORF had to leave, each of whom maintained close contacts with politicians from the ÖVP and the FPÖ, which is said to have had a corresponding effect on reporting. How does all this fit into the independence of the ORF?

Weißmann: I claim to run the ORF politically absolutely independently, and I am not aware of any accusations in this regard. The editorial statute I just mentioned strengthens the independence and the freedom from instructions of every journalist in the ORF. I am a former journalist, information is one of the very central areas and central to our credibility. The two incidents you mention predate my time and are very different. However, it is important that we act quickly and consistently when such cases arise. We did.

WORLD: Nevertheless, such backgrounds only confirm the thesis that the ORF is too close to the state, right?

Weißmann: We have worked through it consistently. And we don't stop there either. We will soon appoint an ORF ethics committee headed by a prominent international media manager. This commission will deal intensively with our corporate governance and compliance issues and analyze where adjustments are needed.

WORLD: Which media manager is that?

Weißmann: I can't reveal that yet.

WORLD: As ORF Director General, do you get a kind of wish list from the government at the start?

Weißmann: (laughs) Now imagine that very simply. Don't forget that I've had a career of 28 years almost exclusively on ORF. Always in important and exciting functions. If, like me, you stand for election, if you step into the ring, you don't do it lightly. Because if you lose the election, that's it, so to speak. And actually, to say the least, I got two-thirds of the votes, not just those of the council members close to the ÖVP.

WORLD: The Austrian Constitutional Court ruled last year that digital streaming of ORF content must be subject to a fee. As a result, it was decided to switch to a household contribution that all households in Austria will have to pay for in future, just as it has been in Germany since 2013. The contribution itself decreases, with part of the contribution flowing to the federal states as before and not benefiting the ORF. In Germany, however, the contribution has been much more criticized since the changeover, because households that do not have a television also have to pay. Do you also expect this in Austria?

Weißmann: That will be a challenge, for sure. We currently reach 85 percent of the population every day, but then we have to do even more programs for everyone. Take a children's program as an example: Nobody in Austria offers this apart from us. We want to expand it, but in the future it will primarily be non-linear, i.e. digitally accessible, depending on the usage. For this we need the aforementioned digital amendment. My program for the future of the ORF is: more digital, more efficient, more Austrian.

WORLD: What does "Austrian" mean in relation to the program?

Weißmann: We want to be the broadcaster for Austrians.

WORLD: Isn't the ORF already because of its market position?

Weißmann: I mean that we show fewer American series such as sitcoms, for example. It's about even more new formats in and for Austria. As I said, mass sport is also part of it. We also want to appeal to a younger, digital audience. There's a lot to do there.

Your Name
Post a Comment
Characters Left:
Your comment has been forwarded to the administrator for approval.×
Warning! Will constitute a criminal offense, illegal, threatening, offensive, insulting and swearing, derogatory, defamatory, vulgar, pornographic, indecent, personality rights, damaging or similar nature in the nature of all kinds of financial content, legal, criminal and administrative responsibility for the content of the sender member / members are belong.