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Last Updated: Monday, 17 December 2007, 19:05 GMT
'Obituary TV' targets German bereaved
By Steve Rosenberg
BBC News, Berlin

In this multi-channel age of cables and satellites, there are thousands of different television channels broadcasting around the world.

Cemetery
Television is offering an alternative to traditional forms of mourning

You name it, these days, you'll almost certainly find a channel for it. Everything from food to fashion, pop music and Polish game shows.

But there has never been a television channel quite like the one I am watching now.

To sombre music and commentary, images of the Virgin Mary dissolve into pictures of red petals carpeting a forest floor - then into portraits of a woman, called Helga, who has passed away.

This is Etos TV - the world's first TV network devoted to death.

The channel begins regular transmissions in the new year.

Hymns, not hip-hop

For a fee, it will broadcast video obituaries of your late beloved relatives and friends - offering the opportunity to celebrate their lives on satellite television.

Wolf Schneider
The target group is quite big
Wolf Tilmann Schneider
Etos TV

"Everybody in Germany, or the world, should have the chance to get an obituary on the TV," says Wolf Tilmann Schneider, the media entrepreneur behind the idea.

"Every year in Germany we have 830,000 dead people. You have to multiply this by four," he says.

"So we are talking about 3.2m people who every year have something to do with a relative who has died.

"The target group is quite big," he says.

There will also be plenty of music - hymns, rather than hip hop.

Plus documentaries about great cemeteries of the world and programmes about how to cope with bereavement.

The channel is backed by the Association of German Funeral Directors - and it is the undertakers who are the key to the whole project.

Malin Ueberrick
You can express your feelings much better in a video than in a written obituary
Malin Ueberrick

They will be marketing the channel, selling airtime to anyone who wants one of those video obituaries.

Using the telly to cash in on human mortality - it all sounds a little sinful. And that is why the Church is watching closely to make sure death is not dumbed down.

"We would the dignity of the human being to be preserved by the channel and programme makers," says Heike Krohn, spokesperson for the Evangelical Church in Germany.

"They should treat the family members of the deceased in a fair way. And they should also make their business conditions very transparent."

But apart from the Church, will anybody else watch it? After all, in Germany death is very much a taboo - not the kind of subject your average German would want to snuggle up in front of the TV for.

Coping with loss

Demographics may change that. Germany as a nation is ageing fast.

By 2020, a third of the population here will be of retirement age. And that is likely to mean more people here not only thinking about death - but watching programmes about it.

Still from trailer
Death may become less of a taboo in a rapidly-ageing nation

That goes for younger viewers too. Sitting in her bedroom, 15-year-old Malin Ueberrick shows me the video obituary that she has made and put on the internet.

Earlier this year Malin's mother died following an asthma attack. Making this video tribute to her helped Malin cope with the loss.

"You can express your feelings much better in a video than in a written obituary," Malin explains.

"So I think that a TV channel about death is a good idea, especially for people who have lost their loved ones."

Over the last 50 years, television has changed our world, our outlook on life. Perhaps now it will also help us to come to terms with death.

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