ZDF (German pronunciation: [ˌtsɛ.teː.ˈʔɛf] (listen), stylized as 2DF, short for Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen;[1] German pronunciation: [ˌtsvaɪ̯təsˌdɔʏ̯tʃəsˈfɛɐ̯nzeːn] (listen); Second German Television) is a German public-service television broadcaster based in Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate. It is run as an independent nonprofit institution, which was founded by all federal states of Germany (Bundesländer). ZDF is financed by television licence fees and advertising revenues.[2]

Broadcast areaGermany
United Kingdom
SloganMit dem Zweiten sieht man besser.
HeadquartersMainz-Lerchenberg, Germany
Picture format1080p HDTV
(downscaled to 16:9 576i for the SDTV feed)
Sister channelsZDFneo
Launched1 April 1963 (1963-04-01)
ReplacedARD 2 (1961–1963)
Digital terrestrial televisionVaries by location
Kabel DeutschlandChannel 102 (SD)
Channel 113 (HD)
UnitymediaChannel 302 (SD)
Channel 2 (HD)
NetCologneChannel 2 (SD)
Channel 102 (HD)
Astra 19.2°E (Europe)11362 H 22000 2/3 (HD)
11954 H 27500 3/4 (SD)
Sky DeutschlandChannel 182 (SD)
Channel 162 (HD)
Telekom Magenta TV (Germany)Channel 2 (SD)
Channel 402 (HD)
Streaming media
ZDF.deWatch live (Germany only)
FilmOnWatch live

The broadcaster is well known for its famous programmes heute, a newscast established in 1963, and Wetten, dass..?, an entertainment show that premiered in 1981, and ended in 2014.[3] Thomas Bellut, ZDF's director general, was elected by the ZDF Television Council in 2011.[3]


The ZDF administrative headquarters in Mainz
The ZDF broadcasting centre in Mainz

In 1959, the government of Konrad Adenauer began preparations to form a second nationwide television network with the intention of competing with ARD. Adenauer perceived ARD's news coverage to be too critical of his government, and believed that two of the organizations primarily responsible for its news reporting – the Deutsche Presse-Agentur and Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk, which produced the nightly Tagesschau – were too close to the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) to ever be able to report neutrally on his Christian Democratic Union government. The new television company, called the Freies Fernsehen Gesellschaft (Free Television Society) but derisively called Adenauer-Fernsehen by critics, was founded on 25 July 1960.

The Deutsche Bundespost began constructing a second transmitter network on UHF channels, which required new reception equipment. For older receivers, a converter was sold for about 80 DM (about $20 in 1961 dollars[4] ($171 today)). As with the earlier ARD television network, the location of the transmitters was carefully planned to ensure the entire country would be able to receive the programming.

To test the transmitters and encourage the public to purchase UHF receivers, the federal government allowed the ARD network to create a temporary secondary channel, ARD 2, which was broadcast daily from 8 to 10 pm. ARD 2 began broadcasting on 1 May 1961 in the transmission area of Hessischer Rundfunk and a month later expanded nationwide.

Interstate agreement

The SPD-led states of Hamburg, Bremen, Lower Saxony, and Hesse appealed to the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, which on 28 February 1961 in the First Broadcasting Judgment blocked the plan. While building and maintaining telecommunications infrastructure, such as television transmitters, is a responsibility of the federal government under article 87f of the Basic Law, the constitution does not extend these duties to running a television or radio broadcaster. Under article 30, any power or duty not explicitly assigned to the federal government is reserved for the states. Therefore, the court ruled only the states had the right to set up a television broadcaster. (Conversely, the same decision supported new longwave broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, which had been established by the federal government in November 1960; its focus was on external broadcasting and therefore under the federal government's remit to conduct foreign relations.)

After this decision, in March 1961, the states decided to establish a central nonprofit public television network independently of Adenauer's effort. On 6 June 1961, the state premiers signed at a premiers' conference in Stuttgart the interstate agreement on the "establishment of the public institution Second German Television". On 1 December 1961, though not all states had ratified the agreement, it went into force in the states that had done so (Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate). The last state, Bavaria, filed the instrument of ratification on 9 July 1962.


The station began broadcasting from Eschborn near Frankfurt am Main on 1 April 1963, with a speech by the first director general (Intendant), Dr. Karl Holzamer. The channel broadcast its first programme in colour in 1967. In 1974, ZDF moved its base of operations to Mainz-Lerchenberg, after briefly being located in Wiesbaden. From 5 October 1996 ZDF broadcasts 24 hours a day.


ZDF is financed by a license fee of €17.50 per month, which must be paid by all households in Germany, except handicapped people and persons on social aid. ZDF shares the income with ARD and Deutschlandradio. The fees are not collected directly by ZDF, but by the Beitragsservice, a common organization of the ARD member broadcasters, ZDF, and Deutschlandradio. ZDF also has income from sponsorships and programming and advertising sales.

Historic logos

Logos 1962–1992

Transmission and reception


As ZDF is a channel, not a network, the channel is broadcast throughout Germany, with no regional variations or affiliates, using a number of signal repeaters. ZDF transmitters broadcast a digital signal. Analog signals were gradually phased out, a process which lasted from 2002 to 2008.[5] ZDF does not run any transmitters itself. Throughout the analogue days, all ZDF transmitters were run by the Deutsche Bundespost which was later privatised as Deutsche Telekom's subsidiary T-Systems Media Broadcast. (This is in contrast to the other public German broadcaster, ARD, which owns its main transmitters.) ZDF was not previously allowed to use ARD's transmitters. ZDF has used both ARD and Telekom transmitters since changes to the law in the 1990s, and since the digital switchover.


ZDF has also been relayed by cable since the days of the first cable pilot projects.


The first Europe-wide satellite broadcast via Astra 1C began in August 1993 during the Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin (IFA – "International Broadcasting Exhibition") in Berlin. In the same decade, these new technologies were used to enable digital broadcasting of ZDF. Today, ZDF is available free-to-air throughout Europe on Astra 19.2°E.

Other channels

ZDF operates two digital channels: ZDFneo (aimed at 18- to 45-year-olds) and ZDFinfo (documentaries). Both are transmitted in SD and HD. A commercial subsidiary called ZDF Enterprises GmbH manages programme sales, acquisitions, international coproductions, and a growing number of important activities in new media. ZDF Enterprises owns Dutch production company Off the Wall. ZDF also operates various channels in cooperation with other networks: Arte, 3sat, KI.KA, and Phoenix.


Det and Conni, two of six Mainzelmännchen

ZDF's animated station-identity mascots, the Mainzelmännchen (a play on the words "Mainz" and "Heinzelmännchen"), created by Wolf Gerlach for the channel's launch in 1963, quickly became popular and are still shown between commercials.[6] In 1976, Otl Aicher, a graphic designer, created ZDF's corporate design.[7] A new design for ZDF was created by Lee Hunt in February 2000.[8]


Director general

Thomas Bellut

Administratively, ZDF is headed by a director general (Intendant), who is elected by the ZDF Television Council, the composition of which is in turn determined by "societally relevant groups" named in the ZDF Treaty.

Directors General since the start of ZDF:

Supervising board

The supervising board supervises the work of the intendant. They pay special attention to the budget. The supervising board has 14 members:

  • Five representatives of the federal states
  • One representative of the federal republic of Germany
  • Eight independent members (not allowed to work for the government or other public entities)

Television board

The Television Board supervises ZDF and authorizes the budget. They also elect the Director General. The board has 60 members:

  • Sixteen representatives of the states of Germany
  • Two representatives of the federal republic of Germany
  • Two representatives of the Protestant churches
  • Two representatives of the Catholic Church
  • One representative of the Central Council of Jews in Germany
  • 21 representatives of selected civil society groups
  • 16 members nominated by the federal states, representing different social causes


ZDF became a full member of the European Broadcasting Union in 1963. It also has numerous individual cooperation agreements with broadcasters around the world. ZDF is a supporter of the Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV initiative which promotes the establishment of an open European standard for hybrid set-top boxes for the reception of broadcast TV and broadband multimedia applications with a single user interface.




  • aspekte (1965–present)
  • Das Blaue Sofa (2003–present)
  • Das Literarische Quartett (1998–2006, 2015–present)




  • Aktenzeichen XY … ungelöst, hosted by Eduard Zimmermann/Sabine Zimmermann/Butz Peters/Rudi Cerne
  • auslandsjournal (1973–present)
  • Berlin direkt (1999–present)
  • Bonn direkt (1987–1999)
  • Chronik der Woche (1965–1984)
  • Die Drehscheibe (1964–1982)
  • drehscheibe (1998–present)
  • Frontal, hosted by Bodo H. Hauser and Ulrich Kienzle (1993–2000)
  • Frontal21 (2001–present)
  • hallo deutschland (1997–present)
  • heute (newscast) (1963–present)
  • heute aus den Ländern (newscast) (1983–1992)
  • heute journal (newscast) (1978–present)
  • heute mittag (newscast) (1998–2009)
  • heute nacht (newscast) (1994–2015)
  • heute Xpress (newscast) (2015–present)
  • Kennzeichen D (1971–2001)
  • länderjournal (1991–1996)
  • Leute heute (1997–present)
  • ML Mona Lisa (1988–present)
  • Politbarometer (1977–present)
  • tele-illustrierte (1982–1991)
  • Volle Kanne – Service täglich (1999–present)
  • WISO (1984–present)
  • ZDF-abendmagazin (1996–1997)
  • ZDF-Magazin, hosted by Gerhard Löwenthal/Fritz Schenk/Wolfgang Weinert/Hans Scheicher (1969–1988)
  • ZDF-Mittagsmagazin (1989–present)
  • ZDF-Morgenmagazin (1992–present)
  • ZDFzoom (2011–present)




  • Dunja Hayali, hosted by Dunja Hayali (2015–present)
  • Johannes B. Kerner, talk show hosted by Johannes B. Kerner (1998–2009)
  • live (1986–1997)
  • Markus Lanz, talk show hosted by Markus Lanz (2008–present)
  • Maybrit Illner, a political talk show hosted by Maybrit Illner (1999–present)
  • Peter Hahne, hosted by Peter Hahne (2010–2017)
  • Tacheles, hosted by Johannes Gross (1996)
  • Willemsens Woche, hosted by Roger Willemsen (1994–1998)
  • Zeugen des Jahrhunderts (1979–present)

Audience share


January February March April May June July August September October November December Annual average
1991[10] 25.6%
1992[11] 22.0%
1993[12] 18.0%
1994[13] 17.0%
1995[14] 14.7%
1996[15]14.7%15.2%13.6%13.1%13.6%17.4%15.8%13.7%13.1%13.3%14.8%14.2% 14.4%
1997[16]14.6%14.6%13.4%12.4%12.8%12.9%12.7%13.2%13.3%12.4%13.7%14.4% 13.4%
1998[17]13.9%15.3%13.0%12.3%12.5%17.4%14.2%12.8%12.1%13.1%13.1%13.3% 13.6%
1999[18]14.2%14.3%14.0%12.4%12.1%12.6%13.2%12.6%12.0%13.0%13.4%13.8% 13.2%
2000[19]14.2%13.8%13.4%11.6%12.3%15.3%13.7%13.3%13.0%12.7%12.8%13.2% 13.3%
2001[20]13.2%13.3%13.1%11.3%11.7%12.2%14.2%13.7%12.5%13.5%13.8%13.8% 13.0%
2002[21]14.4%15.5%13.4%12.4%12.7%16.4%13.9%14.1%12.3%13.1%13.2%13.9% 13.8%
2003[22]13.9%13.6%13.7%12.5%12.3%12.5%13.9%13.5%12.3%13.0%13.2%13.7% 13.2%
2004[23]14.1%13.9%12.9%12.5%12.5%14.8%15.1%15.9%12.8%12.7%12.9%13.9% 13.6%
2005[24]14.0%14.2%13.7%13.4%12.7%13.7%14.0%13.2%13.3%12.9%13.2%13.6% 13.5%
2006[25]13.2%14.4%13.6%13.1%12.3%16.9%15.7%12.4%12.4%12.5%13.3%13.5% 13.6%
2007[26]14.2%13.5%13.0%12.0%12.1%12.5%12.6%12.3%12.5%12.8%13.2%13.4% 12.9%
2008[27]13.5%12.9%13.4%12.2%11.6%17.6%12.1%13.6%12.3%12.7%12.8%12.9% 13.1%
2009[28]14.3%13.2%12.7%12.0%11.7%12.5%11.9%12.6%12.3%12.2%11.7%12.6% 12.5%
2010[29]13.1%13.8%12.5%11.3%11.9%16.7%13.7%11.9%11.4%12.4%11.7%12.3% 12.7%
2011[30]12.9%13.0%13.0%11.7%11.3%12.0%12.9%10.7%11.4%11.7%11.9%12.5% 12.1%
2012[31]12.6%12.7%12.5%11.1%12.1%15.5%12.8%13.0%11.3%12.5%12.0%12.7% 12.6%
2013[32]13.6%13.5%13.1%12.9%12.9%12.0%12.2%12.5%12.8%12.7%12.7%12.5% 12.8%
2014[33]13.4%15.1%12.3%12.7%12.0%17.6%14.8%11.6%12.5%12.3%12.3%12.7% 13.3%
2015[34]14.2%12.9%12.8%12.2%12.1%12.7%12.3%12.1%12.1%12.0%12.1%12.3% 12.5%
2016[35]13.2%12.6%12.9%12.6%12.0%17.1%13.3%14.3%11.9%11.9%12.4%12.5% 13.0%

The average viewer age is 62 years (as of 2016).[38]


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  2. "European Benchmarking: Public Service Broadcasters in the Digital Era" (PDF). Circom Regional. May 2002. p. 46. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 October 2009. Retrieved 19 July 2009.
  3. "ZDF Unternehmen".
  4. "Historical US Dollars to German Marks currency conversion". UC Santa Barbara History Department. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  5. "ZDF.com".
  6. "ZDF Mainzelmännchen".
  7. "Old school: ZDF graphics designed by Otl Aicher".
  8. "Razorfish Wins Rebranding Assignment".
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  15. "KEK/Zuschaueranteile 1996" (PDF). kek-online.de. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
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  38. Mantel, Uwe (14 March 2017). "Langzeit-Entwicklung des TV-Markts: Wie die Sender gealtert sind – und wer sich dagegen stemmt". dwdl.de. Retrieved 3 November 2017.

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