IRT, the joint technology research institute of the public broadcasters of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, is to be shut down.
In a special meeting of the IRT shareholders, no viable model for a continuation of the institute could be found, IRT announced in the evening of July 31, 2020. Despite “intensive efforts”, it was “not possible to develop a reliable economic perspective for the future”.
This means that the cancellation of their contracts by all shareholders, effective December 31, 2020, will remain in place. A social plan is to be drawn up for the around 100 employees.
ZDF set the ball rolling with the termination of its membership, which became known in December 2019. A ZDF spokesman referred to the scandal at IRT about lost royalties from patent rights amounting to several million euros. In addition – due to the IT penetration of all production processes – ZDF’s need for broadcast-specific knowledge, as provided by IRT, is decreasing, the spokesman explained.
As a consequence, the other shareholders also cancelled their contracts in order not to have to take over ZDF’s payment burdens.
In the institute, which was founded in 1956 and is located on the premises of public broadcaster ARD’s Bavarian affiliate BR in Munich, new technologies and processes in media and broadcasting are tested and further developed at an early stage. Many of them are now global standards, such as video and audio data compression format MPEG and interactive smart TV standard HbbTV. Recently, a continuation of IRT with a reduced range of tasks had been discussed.
The closure of the Institute comes at a time when broadcast expertise is more crucial than ever for securing the future of public broadcasting. For example, IRT has taken a leading international role in the development and testing of 5G Broadcast, the broadcast mode of the new 5G mobile network standard, which is now under threat.
Industry players approached by Broadband TV News after the decision was announced were outraged: “I feared that this would happen. Yet, I’m speechless”, one voice said, while another one commented: “What a shame, a disgrace for the public broadcasters.” There was also concern: “We’ll pay the price for this decision by now having to buy innovations and patents at high cost from abroad.”