Television, Cable and Satellite TV

Getting to grips with TV standards, understanding where and how to pay the radio and TV licence fees, and what's available to the TV viewer in Germany...

The television standard in Germany is PAL B/G, therefore a non-PAL compatible television in Germany will not receive a signal to transmit sound and picture.

There are three main television/video standards in use throughout the world.

  • The system used in the US, Canada, Japan and some other countries is NTSC
  • Most of Western Europe (including Germany), Australasia and Southern Africa use PAL
  • Eastern Europe and France uses SECAM

These three standards are not compatible with each other. This means that a TV signal (or video) produced for one system cannot be transmitted on machinery that's been designed for another. Multi-standard European TVs and VCRs with automatic switching circuitry are available from electronics suppliers.

  • For a technical explanation of the PAL system and how it works see Wikipedia (This includes a map showing which system is used where)

Television and Radio Licence

Terrestrial Television in Germany

Germany has two national public networks:

  1. ARD (Arbeitgemeinshaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland)
  2. ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen)

Both channels produce a wide variety of programmes from news to dramas and documentaries, all in German, and flight imported programmes dubbed into German. It is rare that programmes are shown with the original language soundtrack and German subtitles.

In addition there are several commercial channels offering a range of quiz and talk shows as well as dubbed American dramas and older Hollywood films.

There are also some regional channels which broadcast exclusively in German, and BBC World which broadcasts in English.

  • For more details of these and other channels available in Germany: Click here
  • For a list of channels in Germany: Click here

Cable television (Kabelfernsehen)

Many apartment blocks have a "house connection" (Hausanschluss) to the cable network system. Depending on the region in Germany some English free-to-air channels can be received, including BBC World, BBC Prime, Sky News and CNN.

Cable is relatively easy to connect to, requiring only a digital receiver and a subscription agreement. In the case of a "house connection" it is usually assumed that the new tenant will want a subscription to cable and it is up to the tenant to inform the cable company otherwise. They will then shut off the connection in the apartment and stop invoicing for the subscription charge.

Cable television is also usually supplied with an integrated high-speed Internet connection, which is often cheaper than using a separate Internet provider.

Satellite television

Satellite television is a relative newcomer compared to cable television in Germany. Tenants in rental accommodation need the property owner/landlord's permission to install a satellite dish. Generally they are obliged to allow this on the basis of allowing access to programmes in a tenant's mother tongue although they may insist on a roof installation (which is better for reception, but may cost more to install).

Some buildings have a "house" satellite dish with one dish serving all apartments within the block and the tenants sharing the overall costs.

Satellite is more expensive than cable to install, but offers a wider selection (and quality) of programmes. In Germany the most popular choice for satellite reception is the Astra 2 satellite which transmits English-speaking channels such as BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky.

Other satellite options are Intelsat and Eutelsat.

Premiere is one of the largest digital satellite providers in Germany, and offers a range of programme packages or subscription to individual channels. A digital receiver is required which can be bought or leased from Premiere. Existing receivers may be used as long as they are compatible. Premiere is favoured by football fans - it shows live games from the English premiership as well as many other European leagues on a Saturday afternoon.