When former chancellor Gerhard Schröder was asked once what media channels he needed to rule Germany, his snappy answer was: “Bild and the telly.”
Now politicians running for power next month get two for one after Bild, Germany’s best-selling newspaper, launched its own television station.
The imaginatively titled Bild TV went on air on Sunday and its early pull was clear by attracting the two men hoping to be Germany’s next chancellor: Armin Laschet and Olaf Scholz.
Bild TV is part of a long-term campaign to expand the tabloid brand within Germany’s Axel Springer media empire before the original newspaper celebrates its 70th birthday next year.
Tabloid more in spirit than in format, Bild was launched as broadsheet in 1952 by Hamburg newspaper man Axel Springer. Borrowing and adapting the style of the Daily Mirror and later the Sun, the newspaper sold three million copies daily at its peak in the 1960s.
Today daily newspaper sales are down to about 1.2 million, but Bild claims to have a reach of about eight million through new channels.
Translating the rolling outrage of the Bild print edition on to the screen has been a two-year project with live and recorded video being produced for its digital platform, Bild+ and related smartphone app. Since 2019 Bild says it has invested €100 million and now employs 70 in its video wing.
The station, available on cable and satellite as well as online, is the next step. Its main focus is politics, broadcasting 9am-2pm daily, with snappier clips from the live broadcast available almost immediately on social media channels.
In its first hours, Bild TV appears to be pitching itself as a milder, German equivalent of Fox News – though the rough edges and embrace of the national flag prompted comparisons with new British private news channel GB News.
The renegade on-air approach is the logical extension of a news brand that embraced the advertising slogan: “Giving you your opinion.”
The editor-in-chief of Bild TV is Claus Strunz who, challenged once about his love of populist journalism, replied: “Populism is the Viagra of a limp democracy.”
In its first hours, Bild ping-ponged between political interviews and instant reaction from a jury of “ordinary Germans” that included a former football manager, a fifth-generation butcher and a cocktail bar owner “who often goes to bed at 3am and gets up again with the children three hours later”.
Eventually Rainer Calmund, the football manager, rebelled against the Bild format and its grilling of Laschet and Scholz with “nasty questions”.
“Much of that was not fair,” he said, adding that ordinary people “don’t treat each other that way”.
On Monday other German media outlets scratched their heads over what to make of Bild’s challenge to sleepier public television news offerings.
Spiegel Online predicted Bild TV hosts were unlikely to face demands to turn down the “aggro mode” by their editors-in-chief “given the editors-in-chief are on air alongside them”.