Many television and radio channels are in English in Germany, but you need to register and pay a licence fee to connect to German television and radio.
There are a variety of options to connect TV and radio in Germany, with many English speaking channels as well as German language channels available.
Television in Germany
Germany operates a ’dual system’ of both public and commercial broadcasting. The states tend to play a strong role in public broadcasting, which is supported by the German Federal Constitution and places responsibility solely on the states. The only exceptions to the states’ control of public broadcasting are Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, offering television, radio and internet services; and Deutschlandradio (DLF/DLR), which has existed since before Germany was divided.
Germany’s commercial television sector is dominated by two media groups: ProSiebenSAT.1 Media AG which consists of Sat 1, Pro 7, N24, Kabel 1 and 9live, and RTL Group comprised of RTL, RTL II, Super RTL, VOX, n-tv, RTL Shop and Traumpartner TV. Around 33 million German households (53 percent) have cable access. Digital television options remain limited in Germany and the homes using digital receivers are the exception rather than the norm. Public broadcasters have the primary responsibility for developing digital services and currently offer only six specialized free digital programmes.
The television standard in Germany is PAL B/G, meaning a non-PAL compatible television in Germany will not receive a signal to transmit sound and picture.
Germany’s usage fee – The Broadcast Contribution
Anyone who uses a television, radio or the Internet must register with the GEZ (Gebühreneinzugszentrale). The cost, known as a broadcast contribution, is on a per household basis and was introduced in January 2013, taking over from the previous system of television and radio licences. The broadcast contribution costs EUR 18 per month and payment can be made on an instalment basis and in advance by standing order (Lastschrift) or bank transfer (Ueberweisung) using the giro payment slips issued by the GEZ. Contact phone number is 01805 016 565 and contact fax number is 01805 510 700.
When buying a new television set in Germany an address is normally requested and the retailer is obliged to inform the GEZ of the sale. There are several ways to register (anmelden) for a licence. You can fill out the form online or pick up a form from a bank or post office, complete it and return it to GEZ. Failure to register may result in a fine.
To de-register (abmelden) from the GEZ a form can be downloaded here and sent by fax or post. De-registering is only valid for subsequent and complete calendar months and cannot be done retrospectively. De-registering can only be done in writing (by e-mail with an electronic signature) and it will be confirmed by letter.
Terrestrial TV in Germany
The television stations that can be received without cable or satellite are the ARD, ZDF, the Secondary Programs and, in some areas, RTL, all of which broadcast entirely in German. (These are also receivable by cable and satellite, usually with vastly better reception.) If you have invested in a digital or HD DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcasting-Terrestrial) receiver, the channel selection you can get will vary greatly depending on where you live. Retailers will usually provide you with a local channel line-up. You can expect to get up to 30 + channels exclusively in the German language. Digital terrestrial receivers and antennas can be purchased for anywhere between €40 and €100+ EUR at any large, local electronic retailer. Hardware performance will vary as much as the strength of the digital terrestrial signal.
Cable television (Kabelfernsehen) in Germany
Many apartment blocks have a ‘house connection’ (hausanschluss) to the cable network system. Depending on the region in Germany some English free-to-air channels can be received, including BBC World, BBC Prime, Sky News and CNN.
Cable is relatively easy to connect to, requiring only a digital receiver and a subscription agreement. In the case of a ‘house connection’ it is usually assumed that the new tenant will want a subscription to cable and it is up to the tenant to inform the cable company otherwise. They will then shut off the connection in the apartment and stop invoicing for the subscription charge.
Cable television is also usually supplied with an integrated high-speed Internet connection – often cheaper than using a separate Internet provider.
Satellite television in Germany
Satellite television is a relative newcomer compared to cable television in Germany. Tenants in rental accommodation need the property owner/landlord’s permission to install a satellite dish. Generally they are obliged to allow this on the basis of allowing access to programmes in a tenant’s mother tongue although they may insist on a roof installation (which is better for reception, but may cost more to install). Some buildings have a “house” satellite dish with one dish serving all apartments within the block and the tenants sharing the overall costs. Satellite is more expensive than cable to install, but offers a wider selection (and quality) of programmes. In Germany the most popular choice for satellite reception is the Astra 2 satellite, which transmits English-speaking channels such as BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky. Other satellite options are Intelsat and Eutelsat.
Premiere is one of the largest digital satellite providers in Germany, and offers a range of programme packages or subscription to individual channels. A digital receiver is required, which can be bought or leased from Premiere. Existing receivers may also be used as long as they are compatible. Premiere is favoured by football fans, as it shows live games from the English premiership as well as many other European leagues on a Saturday afternoon.
English-language radio is also available – some of it terrestrially, more from the cable and much more in excellent digital quality by satellite. The latter offers quality music, news, weather, sports, talk, entertainment and children’s programming. Among the many providers offering satellite radio in English are: BBC, Bloomberg and CNN. There are English language programs from places as diverse as Ireland, Switzerland and India. In addition, the British and American Forces also operate radio networks. AFN is headquartered in Mannheim and the British Forces Broadcasting Service is in Hereford. Of particular interest to Americans is the extremely powerful AFN AM signal on 873, 1107 and 1143 KHz. American sports events, news, talk shows and music are featured on this station. Programs can be picked up wherever troops are located: AFN in the middle and South, BFBS in the north. (AFN also has an FM service of nearly wall-to-wall music programming but the transmitters are low powered and you have to live close to a US military installation to pick it up.)
As an owner of a television set and/or radio and/or PC sound card, video/TV software, you are required to register and pay a quarterly user fee (referred to as GEZ gebühren), and there are heavy penalties for failing to pay. For multiple radios, TV’s and PC sound cards in one house, you will have to pay EUR 53.94 quarterly, due in the middle of the quarter billed. Applications to register your TV or radio can be picked up at any German post office and many banks, or often you will automatically receive an application in the post after registering at your address with the local authorities. Payment is made by transfer after receiving the bill, or you can sign up for payment by direct debit. The regulating authority for these payments is the GEZ (Gerbühren Einzugs Zentrale), Freimersdorfer Weg 6, 50829 Köln. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also contact them by telephone, Monday-Friday, 9:00 – 19:00 at: 0 180/501 65 65. This number is not a free call and you will be charged 14 cents per minute.
The public corporations ARD, ZDF and Third Program are financed primarily by the GEZ fees collected. Cable subscription rates run about EUR 20–30 a month, and this is in addition to the GEZ fees. Satellite dish set-ups can range from EUR 100 to over EUR 500 depending on the size of the dish and number/type of receivers you want or need. Satellite viewers pay the user’s fee as well, but there are no additional charges over and above the initial costs for equipment and installation unless you subscribe to pay TV.