Warning of ORF financing crisis

The ORF boss 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 streaming gap – the streaming of 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.

“Indispensable tasks for Austria”

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” will be recognized.

ORF Director General Roland Weißmann

ORF/Hans Leitner

ORF general director Weißmann urges haste

“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 not only referred 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”.

New ideas from the Greens, ÖVP reluctant

Green media spokeswoman Eva Blimlinger recently drew attention to the fact that she could imagine the ORF being financed from the federal budget in the future. However, they tied this to conditions: indexation – i.e. automatic adjustment to inflation – and a legally fixed amount, which is secured by a two-thirds majority in the National Council.

A household levy is also still on the table for Blimlinger. According to the green media spokeswoman, this should be staggered according to social criteria. Media Minister Raab has so far been cautious and has not committed herself.

Lederer fears countries as “supplicants”

“Due to the current situation, the forthcoming meeting of the Foundation Council will be one of the decisive ones,” said Heinz Lederer, head of the SPÖ “Friends’ Circle” on the Foundation Council, to Weißmann. You’ve had enough alarmism. “I don’t have any suggested solutions,” says Lederer. In principle, the three future financing models – GIS new, household levy and budget financing – should remain alive. However, he expressed skepticism about potential budget financing.

Questions of content and finance also arose. Lederer fears, for example, that the federal states that currently benefit from the GIS fee via the state levy will become “supplicants” in the Ministry of Finance. If you take into account the current fee exemptions, the ordered closing of the streaming gap and the entitlement to deduct input tax that is no longer available with budget financing, the ORF would also have to receive between 900 million and one billion euros. Lederer would like it made clear that budget items such as culture, sport and science do not have to suffer financially.

Criticism of plans for ORF.at in the audience council

As has been the norm in Austria for decades, the approval of the newspapers is required for a new form of financing for the ORF. Weißmann had offered the Association of Austrian Newspapers (VÖZ) a reduction in the range of texts on ORF.at as a gesture of concession.

This caused displeasure not only in the ORF editorial team, but also in the ORF audience council on Thursday. At a meeting of the ORF committee, several councilors expressed their displeasure. Weißmann said he didn’t want to weaken the “blue side” ORF.at, but rather develop it in the direction of moving images. “I don’t think we will lose a single reader,” he said.

“No one will be able to get upset about the offers of the ORF. They will continue to be very good,” said Weißmann. “Topos” is a signpost for the future of ORF.at. Weissmann described the module originally planned for the ORF player as a “multimedia feuilleton” with moving images, audio files and text from the areas of culture, religion and science. The ORF boss announced the start for Monday. “Topos” has already been approved by KommAustria.

ORF is also struggling with inflation

The ORF is now not only plagued by questions about the future, but also by very current developments: the ORF boss cited “extreme price increases, exploding energy costs, declines in advertising revenues and increasing GIS cancellations” as the reasons for the gloomy forecast.

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.

Program cuts threaten

Weißmann expects a balanced balance for the years 2022 and 2023. This should succeed with a package that includes reductions in material costs, energy saving measures, a moderate wage round and a suspension of pension fund contributions. Measures that do not directly affect the program should, however, be exhausted. In 2024 there is a risk of a cut that would also be visible and audible for the ORF audience.

According to reports, a minus of 70 million euros for 2024, a minus of 90 million euros for 2025 and losses of 130 million euros for 2026 are currently forecast – 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.

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