Peter Limbourg Issue: EMEA 2015
Article no.: 2
Topic: Redefining the role of broadcasters
Author: Peter Limbourg
Title: Director General
Organisation: Deutsche Welle (DW)
PDF size: 193KB

About author

Peter Limbourg took office as Director General of Deutsche Welle in October 2013. Previously, Limbourg was Senior Vice President of News and Political Information at ProSiebenSat.1 TV Germany.

Peter Limbourg studied law in Bonn. He worked as a reporter in Leipzig in the former GDR before becoming the Europe and NATO correspondent for DFA and SAT.1 in Brussels in 1990. In 1996 he joined ProSieben as bureau chief in Bonn. From 1999 on, Limbourg was deputy editor-in-chief of N24 television and Head of the Political Department at ProSieben and later Senior Vice President of ProSiebenSat.1 TV until he joined Deutsche Welle as Director General.

Article abstract

The number of viewers around the world who will be consuming their news on a mobile device has reached the required critical mass for the next step in broadcasting. Thanks to technology, our audience has become completely independent of linear schedules and stationary devices. Broadcasters can provide news and other content to a steadily increasing number of users, allowing them an experience nobody could imagine. Our viewers become program directors. They choose content, time and means of delivery. And they are constantly in touch with the rest of the world. 

Full Article

We at Deutsche Welle are broadcasters in the classic sense. We deliver unbiased news and reliable information to our audience. We have been doing this successfully for more than sixty years and today we are stronger than ever.

International broadcasters come in different shapes. There are those with a long tradition, like DW, or the BBC, who have been around seemingly forever. Inspired by their success and a growing appreciation of the importance of reaching out to interconnected audiences, newcomers like CNN and Al Jazeera or RT entered the scene. All new players started out as linear television broadcasters. For good reason.

Audiences generally accept that journalists act as gatherers and curators of news about current affairs. That model still works, even though our industry is experiencing several dramatic changes, which are happening in parellel.

Not only are we in the middle of a technological revolution. With about three billion people on the planet having access to the internet, we are definitely talking about a critial mass.

The entire media landscape is in a phase of strategizing and consolidating, because no organization can maintain its relevance without adapting. To a changing field of competitors for market-share as well as to the radical evolution of audience behaviour.

And for the first time in decades, it was not the media industry that defined the agenda. Entrepreneurs and software developers with a new skill set were in the lead. Which enabled them to forever change structure and thinking of our societies. By giving us total freedom from cables, wires and pre-programmed schedules.

Not even one generation ago, a husband and father might have read one – mostly local – newspaper with breakfast while listening to the radio a little bit on the side. Maybe he bought another paper on the way home from work to get an update. In the evening, the family sat in front of one television set and usually the parents decided what to watch. Ah, the golden days, some might think. But please bear with me.

Today, anyone hungry for information can read an entire spread of news on their tablet in the morning – from any source they choose. They can follow world events during the day via push messages on a smartphone and watch their favourite entertainment program on demand when they get home. Or anywhere else, actually.

This is the opportunity broadcasters have been waiting for without knowing if it might ever come along. We can finally reach our audience.

At Deutsche Welle, we draw from an experience in broadcasting to audiences in different cultural hemispheres deriving from a history that dates back to 1953. DW is reaching out to audiences in four languages on television and a total of thirty languages by means of radio and the internet. We have grown accustomed to technical developments bringing change to our everyday operations from the day we went on air for the first time. These changes vary from continent to continent and even from market to market. As an international broadcaster we need to be able to reach completely unique target audiences with precisely the journalistic content which is relevant to them. And we have to be able to distribute this content in custom-made ways, meeting the requirements of a particular region or even country.

In the age of purely linear television, broadcasters would follow certain rituals to reach out to their audience. Broadcasters made an effort to tell their viewers that they were qualified as the channel of choice, because they could do this or that better than others and catered to the real needs of their respective audience. Without ever reaching the full potential.

There is probably not one website run by a newspaper – or any blog or themed page for that matter – today, that does not offer video content. Why would they do that? Because nothing beats the power of moving images when you want to tell a story. And this happens to be what broadcasters do better than any other medium.

The giant leap in technology made it possible to address individual segments of our audience with exactly what they are looking for. Through web channels and social media we can finally reach younger users who would not have contemplated following traditional media. Tomorrow’s generation of viewers is mobile and totally at ease with modern technology, using more than one device and hence more than one source at the same time.

Editors can package their offers for specific and for new audience groups. We can ask viewers for immediate feedback and improve our coverage. Viewers can contribute content from any location on the planet, allowing broadcasters to tell new angles on stories they could otherwise not provide to their audiences. And viewers can multiply our reach by linking us to their own networks.

Yes, I keep saying broadcasters in the context of user-generated content. Because no matter how many channels your average viewer has access to on the internet, the first impulse when this viewer turns into a witness with his mobile phone, is to upload his video on the airwaves of a broadcaster. The reputable source for information.

And just when we thought that we had regained control, the next development is on the horizon. The big difference is that this time, broadcasters can anticipate the next step and use the new situation to their advantage like no other player. Everything will turn into normal tomorrow, no matter how exciting it appears today, as was the case with any other technological developments in the past. And when that point has come, content alone will rule again. And broadcasters can not only offer that content, they also understand the mechanisms of diversified content delivery.

The number of viewers around the world who will be consuming their news on a mobile device has reached the required critical mass for the next step in broadcasting. Thanks to technology, our audience has become completely independent of linear schedules and stationary devices. Broadcasters can provide news and other content to a steadily increasing number of users, allowing them an experience nobody could imagine. Our viewers become program directors. They choose content, time and means of delivery. And they are constantly in touch with the rest of the world.

A challenge to broadcasters? By no means. This is what we do. We provide our viewers with the best possible content. And we deliver it all the time. And now even everywhere. The true advantage for broadcasters in this new world lies in the fact that broadcasters are the only source with the necessary editorial bandwidth to sustain the demand.

World politics, implications of the global economy, war and peace, the plight and hopes of millions, the interconnected destinies of a global population. This requires journalistic skills, resources, knowledge, insight, analysis. Information needs to be trustworthy and comprehensive. The fleet of delivery vehicles has constantly grown. From linear television to streaming on the internet. From teletext to full websites. From the odd clip on demand to entire libraries online.

DW has covered the last gap towards the future of broadcasting by launching a new App for mobile devices this month. The App offers our editorial content in thirty languages to users worldwide. In words, in pictures, in videos. Participation is the name of the game. Viewers are called users now. They have an array of technical means at their disposal to choose from when they seek news, entertainment or any other form of information. Distribution has to be fast these days. The opportunity for feedback is a given. Uploading and sharing have become natural needs.

Curiosity is part of human nature. Nothing is more interesting than the fate of the person next to us. We want to share opinions, emotions, joy and sorrow. Like we always did, only now we are using other channels to achieve this. There are plenty of sources in the internet providing headlines. Quite a few are able to give background as well. If you are looking for in-depth reporting, the number of sources is getting smaller.

Mind you, with the new technology there comes a curse for the viewer, turned user.
The experience has become a very solitary one. Against our nature, to make the point that the conjoining and communicative element has been lost in the process. Yes, of course, you can tweet, share, like, tag and post as much as you wish, but you are still alone with your mobile device, looking at something in horror or with a smile. And you can’t really tell anyone what you feel in that moment.

So there you have it. The clumsy screen in the living room which enables the shared experience that will always be unique and feeds our memories. The television set remains the campfire of our times. And the undisputed home of the broadcasters.