ÖVP rejects ORF relocation

The People’s Party (ÖVP) has appealed to ORF bosses to rethink their intention to relocate the broadcaster’s headquarters.

ORF general director Alexander Wrabetz is understood to be keen on building a new ORF head office in Vienna-Landstraße. The state-funded broadcasting corporation has its headquarters in the Viennese district of Hietzing at the moment. The building must undergo extensive restoration in the coming months to ensure avoiding health risks to employees.

Wrabetz considers spending around 1.5 billion Euros on a new main ORF building in Vienna-Landstraße’s St. Marx quarter. The city is currently encouraging media companies, event organisers, think tanks and young enterprises to settle in the St. Marx area. The Viennese Social Democrats (SPÖ) – who must find a way to fill the debt-stricken city’s empty coffers – campaign for media business activities in Landstraße.

Hannes Rauch, the federal ÖVP general secretary, warned from a further increase of the ORF’s costs. He said yesterday (Weds) the station’s executive board should economise and consider keeping the current headquarters. The ÖVP has been criticising various decisions of Wrabetz over the years following his election in 2006. Wrabetz became head of the ORF thanks to an unusual alliance of all opposition factions and the SPÖ. He succeeded Monika Lindner who was alleged to be generally supportive of the ÖVP’s agenda.

Wrabetz – who has strong ties with the SPÖ – is also under fire by the ORF’s works committee. Reporters and technicians are concerned about being sacked if the company merges all of its current Viennese offices at St. Marx. The ORF’s board and its TV branch are located at the Hietzing office while its radio stations broadcast from other buildings. The works council also want the ORF to become a fully independent company free from any connections to political leaders. Their criticism increased following a series of successful and failed politically motivated assignments granted by the station’s board.

A final decision on whether the ORF will relocate or fully concentrate on renovating the current headquarters is expected for late June when the Stiftungsrat – a panel comparable to firms’ supervisory boards – gathers. The controversy about the reasonability and costs of relocating follows news of dwindling market shares and economic difficulties.

The share of ORF 1 edged up by 0.8 per cent from March 2011 to the same month in 2012 while the ORF 2’s market share declined by 2.6 per cent to 22.1 per cent. Richard Grasl, the broadcaster’s financial affairs chief, recently said that the ORF’s annual expenditure must be reduced by 60 million Euros by 2016.

ORF’s most powerful domestic rivals are ATV and Puls 4. ATV’s market share dropped by 0.3 per cent to 3.2 per cent while Puls 4 did 0.4 per cent better in March 2012 than in the same month of 2011 when it claimed 2.5 per cent. Especially young Austrians enjoy the programmes of ATV and Puls 4. Both private channels focus on real life documentaries, American series and Hollywood movies.

The ORF and its private competitors are challenged by Germany’s increasingly popular private broadcasters. Tens of thousands of Austrians with satellite and cable television tune in to RTL, ProSieben and VOX each day.