Although the notion may not be applicable in every economic sector, public-private partnership was put forward as an explanation for the recent success of Germany's free TV market. "Partnerships between public and private sectors in Germany have helped improve quality and increase programme exports," said Gerhard Zeiler, CEO of RTL Television, yesterday at a conference on the eve of the Cannes MIP-TV programmes market. "It has allowed [Germany] to catch up with other major players such as Britain and Spain."

Jan Mojto, managing director of private sector champion Kirch Media, said that today's German system allows a high degree of competition and describes it as a "national duty" to show how far German television has come in terms of efficiency as a result. "It would have been a catastrophe if we had followed the French model," he said. He described France as culturally protective and over-regulated.

Guenter Struve, director of programmes at state-owned channels federation ARD, said that Germany is now able to compete across most genres of programming and that local content has replaced some imports in all sectors, except feature film. "[Film] is just not as competitive," he said, but nevertheless pointed out that ARD expects to buy 42 German features in the coming year, compared with 15 just three years ago.

Dieter Stolte, who confirmed Friday's shock talk of his resignation as ZDF director general, after 20 years in the job, said that the public broadcaster is not only entrepreneurial, but also genuinely competitive. "We develop the concepts we want. We work with anyone who provides us with quality element at a good price. And we do not speak to co-production partners in the same way as the BBC's 'give us the money, we'll give you the programmes'."

Stolte said that ZDF is now attempting to rectify its image as the "grey haired" channel of ageing audiences. The new emphasis will begin to show in terms of ratings within a year, he forecast. But, underlining an attitude to competition that seems very collegiate, and indicative of public-private co-operation, he said that it would be unrealistic for ZDF to chase the teenage market. "That is best left to [Kirch-owned] Sat 1 and Pro7. Our target is more the 30-40 year-olds." Also indicative of the consensus approach within Germany's free-TV sector, the forum sometimes lacked teeth. The discussion was very much of "families of channels", but, tellingly, scarcely touched on the effects of the recent combination of Pro7 and Sat1 under a single holding company, nor RTL's rationalisation of the market through a series of acquisitions. And the dread words "pay-TV" were scarcely used in an hour and a half of talk.