Public Broadcasters Pull Plug on German 'Hulu'

The VOD service Germany's Gold launched with much fanfare last year but fell foul of local competition authorities.

BERLIN -- The commercial arms of German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF have pulled the plug on their ambitious VOD project, Germany's Gold, after falling foul of local competition authorities.

Billed by some as Germany's answer to U.S. streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix, Germany's Gold was launched last year as a cooperation among ZDF Enterprises, Telepool, Studio Hamburg and Bavaria -- all commercial operations owned by German pubwebs – as well as independent producers and rights holders including Beta Film, Brainpool, MME Moviement and Ziegler Film. The platform featured films and a broad offering of German TV, from reality series such as the local version of Undercover Boss to high-end drama like Tom Fontana's Borgia.

But the shine quickly came off Germany's Gold after Germany's Cartel Office ruled that the platform's owners could not jointly market their VOD content. The competition watchdogs believed ARD and ZDF, whose channels together account for roughly a third of Germany's total TV audience, represented a too-dominant force for the still-growing VOD market. The Cartel Office rejected plans for a similar VOD platform proposed by commercial broadcasting giants RTL and ProSiebenSat.1.

“It is deplorable that the realization of this groundbreaking and future-oriented project cannot be achieved. It seems that German competition law prevents companies like ZDF Enterprises from playing an active role in the development of VOD markets,” said Alexander Coridass, president and CEO of ZDF Enterprises. “In times of the changing use of media, of modified viewer needs and of the fragmentation of offers, it would have been important to have a portal with a focus on German and European content.”

Germany is Europe's largest television market but so far lacks a large one-stop shop for legal online TV viewing. Neither Netflix nor Hulu operate in Germany, and currently individual broadcasters operate their own VOD platforms, with ProSiebenSat.1's Maxdome and RTL Group's RTL now the two largest. Many in the German industry fear the regulatory hurdles to creating a broad VOD service could hold back the development of legal online services.

Coridass said that ZDF Enterprises would continue to find ways to market and distribute its "enormous catalog" of VOD rights, with or without Germany's Gold.