For legal reasons, the round-the-clock live streams under "Live TV" are only available in Germany. ZDF offers exclusive live streams for selected programs that can be used outside of Germany.
Other programs are already available as a video in the ZDFmediathek for the TV broadcast date. In most cases, these are available beyond Germany.
The broadcaster is well known for its famous programs heute, a newscast established in 1963, and Wetten, Dass..? an entertainment show premiered in 1981, and ended in 2014. Thomas Bellut, ZDF's director-general, was elected by the ZDF Television Council in 2011.
The ZDF administrative headquarters in Mainz. The ZDF broadcasting center in Mainz
ZDF was founded in 1961 by interstate agreement after the West German federal government's plan to set up a TV channel controlled by the federal government caused uproar. West Germany's constitution stipulated that regulation of culture and media was a competency of the federal states (Bundesländer).
The station began broadcasting from Eschborn near Frankfurt am Main on 1 April 1963, with a speech by the first director general (Intendant), Dr. Karl Holzamer. The channel broadcast its first program in color in 1967. In 1974, ZDF moved its base of operations to Mainz-Lerchenberg, after briefly being located in Wiesbaden.
From 5 October 1996 ZDF broadcasts 24 hours a day. In 1960, the German postal service began constructing a transmitter chain for a second television network. This new network was to be broadcast on the UHF spectrum which required new reception equipment. For older receivers, a converter was sold for about 80 DM (about $20 in 1961 dollars ($168 today)).
As with the earlier ARD television network, the location of the transmitters was carefully planned to ensure the entire country would be able to receive the programming. To test the transmitters and encourage the public to purchase UHF receivers, the federal government allowed the ARD network to create a temporary secondary channel, ARD 2, which was broadcast daily from 8 to 10 p.m.
ARD 2 began broadcasting on 1 May 1961 in the transmission area of Hessischer Rundfunk and a month later expanded nationwide.
Under the government of Konrad Adenauer, and to combat these differences between the two broadcasters, ZDF was formed in 1962 with the intention of competing with the ARD. The SPD-led states of Hamburg, Bremen, Lower Saxony, and Hesse appealed to the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany, which on 28 February 1961 in the First Broadcasting Judgment blocked the plan, declaring that all broadcasting powers belonged to the states.
In March 1961, the states decided to establish, independently of existing institutions, a central nonprofit public television network. On 6 June 1961, the state premiers signed at a premiers' conference in Stuttgart the interstate agreement on the "establishment of the public institution Second German Television". On 1 December 1961, though not all states had ratified the agreement, it went into force in the states that had done so (Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate). The last state, Bavaria, filed the instrument of ratification on 9 July 1962.
ZDF is financed by a license fee of €17.50 per month, which must be paid by all households in Germany, except handicapped people and persons on social aid. ZDF shares the income with ARD and Deutschlandradio. The fees are not collected directly by ZDF, but by the Beitragsservice, a common organization of the ARD member broadcasters, ZDF, and Deutschlandradio. ZDF also has income from sponsorships and programming and advertising sales.