In a letter to the ORF board and employees of the channel, ORF general manager Roland Weißmann now warns of one of the “biggest financing crises” in the history of the public media company. Based on the existing financing model, the fulfillment of legal mandates can no longer be guaranteed from 2024, he says. To be able to take countermeasures, a new arrangement of the financing is needed by the end of March 2023.
The ORF boss cites “extreme price increases, skyrocketing energy costs, declining advertising revenues and increasing GIS cancellations” as reasons for the gloomy forecast. The eight percent rate increase for the years 2022 through 2026 that took effect this year equates to 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, current inflation is above the five-year program fee adjustment.
Program cuts are imminent
Weißmann expects a balanced balance sheet for this year and next year. This must be achieved with a package that includes, for example, material cost savings, energy-saving measures or even a moderate wage round and the suspension of pension fund contributions. However, measures that do not directly affect the program must be exhausted. With 2024, the ORF public now also threatens to be able to see and hear.
Red figures feared from 2024
According to reports, a minus of EUR 70 million is currently forecast for 2024, a minus of EUR 90 million for 2025 and a loss of EUR 130 million for 2026 – with a turnover of around one billion euros. However, no account has been taken of countermeasures that would reduce the amounts, but also mean cuts in the programme. There was also a minus in the millions for this year before a balance should now be reached with the savings package outlined.
The ORF boss now sees the coming weeks and months as “pointing the way for the ORF to provide its media services to 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.
The ORF funding must be reorganized by the end of 2023. The current GIS rate could be expanded to other devices such as laptops, a household rate could be introduced, or the ORF could be funded from the federal budget. The legislature has not yet taken a decision on this.