Austria is a parliamentary democratic federal republic with a population of 8.26 million. The official language is German; regional official languages are Croatian, Slovenian, and Hungarian. The historical development of its media system can be divided into the following phases: the period 1621–1848 under the influence of censorship; the abolishment of censorship in the year of the revolution (1848); and the adoption of freedom of opinion and press freedom in the constitution of 1867, which facilitated the development of a modern press in Austria. The elimination of the parliament in 1933 brought measures to regulate the press again, and Austria’s annexation by the Third Reich (1938 –1945) led to a phase when the press was controlled by a totalitarian regime. After this there was a time of prosperous development with increasing modernization (Schmolke 1996).
The beginnings of broadcasting in Austria date back to 1924, when the Radio-VerkehrsAktiengesellschaft (RAVAG) started its operations. Initially founded as a monopoly with close proximity to the state, RAVAG was easily incorporated into the Third Reich broadcasting company in 1938. After World War II, broadcasting was constituted as a monopoly company under governmental influence in 1957. The public broadcaster Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF), founded later, emanated from this station, and held a monopoly position until 1993 in the radio broadcasting sector and until 2001 in the television sector.
Today, Austria’s media system can be characterized as typical of a small European state which is under the strong influence of a bigger neighbor market, in this case that of the Federal Republic of Germany. The relatively late introduction of the dual broadcasting system with public and private stations, as well as the particularly high degree of concentration in the press sector, can be regarded as identifying features. According to Hallin & Mancini (2004) Austria’s media system can be associated with the (north-central European) “democratic corporatist model,” characterized by a process (albeit interrupted) of democratization, moderately defined lines of conflict, consent orientation, organized pluralism, corporatism, and a strong welfare state.
With 19 independent newspapers and (still) two newspapers owned by political parties, the Austrian press landscape is shaped by the dominance of a small number of big publishing houses. The tabloid paper Neue Kronen-Zeitung has been the uncontested market leader for many years. With a readership share of more than 40 percent, it is one of the biggest newspapers worldwide in proportion to the size of the population. In the late 1980s bigger publishing houses from Germany began efforts to establish themselves in the Austrian market, which intensified the process of concentration.
In the year 2000, the development of market concentration was further intensified when the biggest publishing house entered into cooperation with the predominant publisher of magazines. Following an international trend, the publication of free daily newspapers led to an increase in the variety of titles. Four new papers, representing a counterbalance to the newly founded paper Österreich in September 2006, brought a new dynamic into the market. A press subsidies scheme, introduced in 1975, tries to ensure that there is variety in the market.
Since the 1950s radio broadcasting has been chiefly in the hands of the public broadcasting company, ORF. In the course of its operation it established four radio stations, thus building up a broad offer. It took a long time before private providers were admitted, in 1993. In the year 2006 about 60 commercial and four public radio stations were competing on a regional and national level, making ORF stations still the market leaders. Besides public and private radio, there are also programs for language minorities and noncommercial stations.
As in the radio broadcasting sector, the public ORF was also the only television broadcaster in Austria for many years. After a first reform in the late 1960s, aimed at reducing political influence on the broadcasting company, the first steps in modernization included a comprehensive reform of the ORF program. Up to the time of writing, the ORF has been funded through a compulsory television license fee (currently about 51 percent of income) as well as advertising revenues (currently about 34 percent of income). Although foreign broadcasts could be received through cable and satellite transmission (in more than 85 percent of households), and competition, mainly from German private television channels, became fiercer, ORF was the last public television broadcasting company in Europe to lose its monopoly position, in 2001. This long phase as a monopolist enabled the ORF to expand its market position, with an average market share of about 50 percent today. Since 2002 one private Austria-wide channel (ATV plus) and three local channels have been broadcasting with modest market shares. Austria’s step into digital television was made in 2000 with satellite television broadcasting (ORF digital) and with terrestrial transmission of digital television in 2006.
It was not until Austria’s EU accession in 1995 that the telecommunications monopoly was opened up. In 1996 the first mobile phone provider started operations, and developed dynamically soon after. Above all, the late 1990s showed a clear increase in the size of the market. In comparison to other European countries the level of Internet access increased quickly, and it measures up to the international level today. Overall, the telecommunications market has been characterized by strong rates of growth in mobile and data communication, showing consolidation processes in the market dynamic after liberalization.
- Hallin, D. C., & Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing Media Systems. New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Schmolke, M. (1996). Presse [The press]. In R. Bamberger, M. Bamberger, E. Bruckmüller, & K. Gutkas (eds.), Österreich-Lexikon [Encyclopedia of Austria], vol. 2. Vienna: Arbeitsgemeinschaft Österreich-Lexikon, pp. 219 –222.
- Schneider, B., & Schütz, W. (eds.) (2004). Europäische Pressemärkte [European Press Markets]. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, pp. 281–326.
- Steinmaurer, T. (2004). Das Mediensystem Österreichs [The media system of Austria]. In Hans Bredow Institut (ed.), Internationales Handbuch Medien. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlag, pp. 505 – 520.