Dark day for Swiss private media
The Swiss publishing and broadcasting house Tamedia has decided to close the loss-making TV3 national channel immediately.
Tamedia said it was acting in agreement with its partner SBS Broadcasting Systems, which had already halted its payments to TV3 on January 1.
The announcement made on Wednesday cited slack economic growth and legislation hurdles as reasons for closing the national television station.
The company said that it could no longer justify spending money on the channel to its shareholders or justify planned investments in TV3 totalling SFr180 million ($108 million). The closure will cost 80 jobs.
TV3, which began transmission in September 1999, broadcasts a mix of popular entertainment shows, imported dramas and films in the Swiss-German language.
Its collapse follows the financial failure of Switzerland's largest private TV station, Tele 24, which was bought along with its radio unit, Radio 24, by Tamedia in September.
At that time Tamedia moved in to purchase the stations, forcing the authorities to insist that Tamedia sell off some of its other broadcast interests in the Zurich region, to avoid having a monopoly.
Tamedia is looking to focus on Radio 24 and local television station TeleZuri as its broadcasting vehicle in Zurich, Switzerland's largest city.
National station Tele 24 is to be closed at the end of the month.
In the red
In an interview with swissinfo at the end of September, the managing director of TV3, Jürg Wildberger, admitted TV3 made the mistake at launch of attempting to rival the state-owned Swiss Broadcasting Corporation's main channel, SF1, by focusing its output on news and current affairs.
"If you are a private channel and focus on news, you have a problem," said Wildberger, a former SBC employee and founder of the public broadcaster's flagship nightly news programme, "10 vor 10".
Despite recent successes with programmes like Big Brother, TV3 remained in the red and Wildberger admitted the first signs of profit were still a long way off.
"We do not expect to make a profit before 2004," he told swissinfo.
Tamedia said it was no longer realistic to assume that TV3 might break even by 2004, citing a rapid deteriorating Swiss economy which depressed advertising revenues and a slower than expected shift in advertising from print to television.
The publicly funded Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), which owns swissinfo, has dominated the market since its first television transmission in Switzerland on July 20, 1953.
Despite repeated attempts by private companies to challenge the SBC's monopoly of the airwaves, commercial operators have consistently failed to attract significant numbers of Swiss television viewers.
Tamedia said a Swiss ban on commercial breaks in the middle of shows had deterred possible partners, while also forcing TV3 to have large blocks of ads in between programmes which caused viewers to switch channels.
Werner Meier, a professor of media studies at the University of Zurich, says the biggest hurdle for commercial broadcasters struggling to survive in Switzerland is viewers' loyalty to the public broadcaster.
"Switzerland has a long tradition of public broadcasting," Meier told swissinfo before the Tamedia announcement.
"SBC has become an extremely important instrument for the integration of the country's many different cantons and regions and nobody should underestimate the Swiss people's loyalty to the public broadcaster."
Limited Swiss market
Another challenge, argues Meier, is the limited advertising market in Switzerland, which is dwarfed by the media landscape in neighbouring Germany.
Though commercial operators have lobbied the government to divert some of the revenue earned through the sale of compulsory TV licences towards promoting alternatives to SBC, Meier says this is not the way to challenge the public broadcaster's monopoly.
"We have had a monopoly for years and are used to it. It would be dangerous if we suddenly turned around and said 'Let's weaken the public broadcaster and give the upstarts a boost' because the result would be a large number of weak companies, and that is not in anybody's interest."
But, Meier argues, it is too early to talk of the death of private television in Switzerland.
"There is a niche market for regional television, but those in charge must be aware that they will never make a large amount of money from it. People are just going to have to set their sights a bit lower."
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