ORF Director General Roland Weißmann warns of one of the “biggest financing crises” in the history of the public media company. From 2024 onwards, based on the existing financing model, the fulfillment of the statutory mandates can no longer be guaranteed, he stated in a letter to the ORF board of trustees available to the APA. In order to take countermeasures, a new legal regulation of financing by the end of March 2023 is necessary.
“From 2024, the ORF will face one of the biggest financing crises in its history,” said Weißmann’s message to the top ORF committee. The ORF boss cited “extreme price increases, skyrocketing energy costs, declines in advertising revenues and increasing GIS cancellations” as the reasons for the gloomy prognosis. The fee increase of eight percent for the years 2022 to 2026 that came into force this year represents an average annual increase of 1.55 percent, Weißmann calculated. This could not compensate for the current inflation. Already in the first year of the fee period, the current inflation is above the program fee adjustment calculated for five years.
Weißmann expects a balanced balance for the years 2022 and 2023. This is to be achieved with a package that includes, for example, material cost reductions, energy saving measures or even a moderate wage round and the suspension of pension fund contributions. Measures that do not directly affect the program should, however, be exhausted. With 2024 there is now a threat that the ORF audience would also be able to see and hear.
Minus 70 million euros for 2024
According to reports, a minus of 70 million euros is currently forecast for 2024, a minus of 90 million for 2025 and losses of 130 million euros for 2026 – with sales of around one billion euros. However, no countermeasures have been taken into account that would reduce the amounts, but would also mean cuts in the program. For this year, too, there was talk of a minus in the millions, before a balanced balance sheet should now be achieved with the savings package outlined.
The ORF boss now sees the coming weeks and months as “pointing the way in which the ORF can provide its media services for Austrians in the future”. Because the Constitutional Court (VfGH) has recognized the so-called streaming gap – streaming ORF programs without paying a program fee – as unconstitutional. ORF funding must be reorganized by the end of 2023. The current GIS fee could be extended to other devices such as laptops, a household fee could be introduced or the ORF could be financed from the federal budget. The legislature has not yet decided on this.
Solution required by the end of March 2023
Weißmann is pushing for a solution by the end of March 2023 in order to be able to implement the conversion measures in a timely manner. Discussions so far with stakeholders such as Media Minister Susanne Raab (ÖVP) indicate for Weißmann that the “tight time frame” is being recognized.
“Of course, the amount of future funding is also decisive for the scope of services,” wrote Weißmann to the 35 board members. The ORF currently receives around 650 million euros from program fees. In the future, as the “cement” of society, they want to continue to fulfill “essential tasks for Austria”, according to the ORF boss. He referred not only to the ORF as a “reliable media companion” and its information orientation function, but also to its function as a partner and economic engine. The ORF invests around 120 million euros a year in art and culture, is also the largest client of the Austrian film and TV industry, shows premium and fringe sports, acts as the “central engine” for the domestic advertising market and contributes around 170 million euros a year for the state studios and regional reporting, an “important contribution to strengthening federalism and national cohesion”. (apa)