France Television seeks more redundancies

France Televisions, the country’s public broadcaster, is looking to extend a voluntary job cutting scheme to meet budget cuts of around 4 percent by 2015.

The broadcaster currently has a voluntary redundancy plan offering incentives for early retirement, but now president Rémy Pflimlin has said it may be necessary to extend this to younger people among its 10,000 workforce in order to accelerate the cuts. But, Pflimlin denied some media reports that France Televisions would go further still and enforce compulsory redundancies. Such limited reassurance though was not enough to stop some staff at France Télévisions calling for a strike on Oct. 2, in protest against the current program of job cuts and the general cost-reduction plans.

Such protests are aimed as much at the French government itself, which is considering easing the financial pressure on France Televisions by lifting a ban on prime-time advertising after 8 p.m. — a ban imposed by the previous regime under Nicolas Sarkozy. This move, designed to improve programming quality, was soon regretted as the European economic crisis started to bite, and the government sought all-around cuts.

Like nearly all European public service broadcasters, France Televisions depends heavily on income derived from license fees levied usually on households with TV sets. But, as in most cases, it also enjoyed some advertising income, which again has been hit by the economic downturn. So, banning prime-time advertising was like rubbing salt into a festering wound for France Televisions.

Broadcasters in other European countries are in much the same boat, having to cut workforces in order to meet budget cuts, at least in real terms, as license fees are frozen. This is the case in the UK, where the BBC, the world’s largest public service broadcaster, relies entirely on the license fee for domestic programming. This has been frozen until 2017. The broadcaster has been expanding its international operations under the BBC World brand to compensate, since, there, it is allowed to charge for services. Those services include the global version of its online on-demand and catch up service BBC iPlayer, which is available on subscription in 11 European countries as well as Canada and Australia, for annual fees around $65. But, this is not enough to offset the real term drop in license fee income, so that the BBC has made budget cuts of 20 percent, resulting in 2000 job losses over the next five years to 2017.

Spain’s public broadcaster, RTVE, is in a worse state given the country’s more serious economic plight, having its budget cut by 20 percent this year to €1.2 billion, leading to an order in April 2012 from the government to make job cuts, or suspend wage payments, to avoid exceeding its reduced cash flow. The broadcaster had been trying to implement the budget cut by ceasing to produce its own drama series, but this had the effect of shrinking its audience. In March 2012, after six months on top of the country’s ratings, the broadcaster's La 1 channel's share fell by 1.3 percent, attracting 12.8 percent of viewers, its lowest-ever total.

The one jewel in its crown, upon which it is increasingly reliant, is rights to Champions League football, although it has won accolades for its news coverage.

RTVE also suffers from being one of just a few European public service broadcasters, ETV of Estonia being another, which is funded neither from the license fee nor advertising, which has been banned since 2009. It relies, therefore, on a government grant, which in turn has been paid for at least partly though a levy on commercial broadcasters and pay TV operators, as is also the case in France. It looks like it is becoming confined increasingly to football, movies and news, as it shrinks to fit a greatly reduced budget.

Even Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, has not been immune to the financial tide running against public broadcasting in Europe, while, incidentally, pay TV has generally continued to prosper. Germany, unusually, has two public service TV broadcasters, ARD, the world's second largest after the BBC, with a budget of €6.3 billion and 23,000 employees, and the smaller ZDF. Both carry only limited advertising, legally restricted to a maximum of 20 minutes per day from Monday to Saturday before 8 p.m., and are dependent on the country’s license fee. Income has been fairly flat, with ZDF experiencing a slow but steady decline in operating income after the last few years, down from €2.049 billion in 2009 to €1.993 billion in 2011.

However, the two broadcasters may benefit from a change in Germany’s license fee structure to a flat-rate payment for every household rather than being levied only on those with a reception device such as antennae or satellite dish, as in most other countries. This change is supposed to reflect the increasing consumption of content over the Internet, but if the fee remains the same will increase the overall pot because it will bring in money from all households, including those currently exempt without a reception device.