Service-public conference: Media in search of paths to the future

Media companies are looking for ways to secure their future for a variety of reasons. At the Service Public conference, the new SRG Director General Gilles Marchand appealed for solidarity and cooperation in the industry. He believes in pragmatic solutions. His opponents, on the other hand, urgently advise SRG to exercise self-restraint.


Marchand, SRG's director general since October, spoke in his first public lecture on Tuesday in Bern of a tsunami gripping the entire industry. The SRG is under more pressure from the No Billag initiative, which will be put to the vote in March, than ever before in its history.

"It needs the SRG"

But private radio and television stations, which are also co-financed from the fee pot, are also affected, Marchand said. The entire printed press is also under pressure, albeit for different reasons. Their advertising money is increasingly flowing to digital platforms. Media diversity as a whole is therefore in danger. For Switzerland, with its four national languages, cultural diversity and direct democracy, a diverse media landscape and dynamism in the industry are indispensable. There is therefore a need for a strong public service and thus for SRG with its offerings in all four national languages. Marchand spoke of pragmatic solutions that the industry would have to seek together. SRG sees opportunities for cooperation in the form of co-productions, for example.

Not a disaster

The private media companies, on the other hand, have no intention of closing ranks. "We, too, want high-quality media in this country. We also want diversity of supply and opinion," said Peter Wanner, vice president of the Swiss Media Association and publisher and president of AZ Medien, which publishes the Aargauer Zeitung, among others. But the private companies do not agree with the framework conditions. The Swiss Media Association has not yet officially adopted a position on the No Billag initiative. "We are not happy with the current situation," said Wanner. SRG is too big, too dominant, he said. "The etatist mentality in Swiss media policy bothers me. People don't discuss the market distortions. The private companies should just see how they make ends meet," Wanner said. Nevertheless, the Swiss Media Association thinks the initiative is too radical. But: "A Yes would not be a catastrophe," said Wanner. The ball would probably first go back to parliament after a yes vote by the electorate, and there would be legal adjustments. It would be possible to support some of the SRG's programs. On the other hand, the SRG would have to be released into the market, there would be pay stations and thus voluntary fees. In addition, the SRG could be given entrepreneurial room for maneuver via advertising. "We don't think the lights will go out," Wanner said.

Digitization to the rescue

For him, an SRG with supplementary functions would be ideal. A study commissioned by the Swiss Media Association also warns against too many state services and regulations. The current uncertainties should not simply be met with money, said Patrick Zenhäusern, Head of Traffic and Communication at Polynomics, which prepared the study. He sees the salutary scenario for the entire industry in pure digitization, knowing full well that this is currently a purely hypothetical possibility. Because it would take 10 to 20 years for media to create new offerings and transform their processes, Zenhäusern said. If media were only produced, consumed and paid for digitally, media companies would have fewer production and distribution costs. Today, printing and distribution account for about half of the costs of a subscribed daily newspaper, Zenhäusern explained. If the costs were lower, the barriers to market entry would also be lower and competition would be greater. This would result in greater media diversity, from which readers would benefit. The authors of the study assume an equally high level of interest in information. New digital offerings will therefore meet with a positive response. The authors see the harbingers of digital development in newly announced products such as the online magazine Republik, CNN Money Switzerland and Virgin Radio. (SDA)

Photo: SRG

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