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Eastern Europe puts programs into mix

Jan 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The National Association of Television Program Executives 2002 conference is likely to see fewer buyers from Central and Eastern Europe than previous markets, with the leading Hungarian commercial station, TV2, and Romanian public broadcaster TVR among the most notable absentees. It will, however, still welcome a number of executives from across the region, especially its most developed territories.
The Polish national public broadcaster, Telewizja Polska (TVP), a regular visitor to the market, will be represented this year by up to three staffers, including Slawomir Cyra, its international film and TV program acquisition manager. According to Mr. Cyra, the station will be on the lookout for TV movies and miniseries, along with formats for game shows and drama series, and will try to “discuss packages with all the major distributors.” Sitcoms are nevertheless unlikely to be on its shopping list, due to the growing popularity of locally produced shows.
TVP is by far the most successful public broadcaster in the region, claiming-according to figures produced by the research company OBOP-a combined audience share of 47.6 percent for its two national channels and regional network in November 2001. Polsat, its nearest commercial rival, could meanwhile muster only 20.9 percent, and third-place TVN, backed by SBS Broadcasting, drew 16.2 percent. Cyra expects TVP’s program budget for 2002 to be in the region of $50 million, with spending on foreign acquisitions to be maintained at last year’s levels.
While commending the usefulness of NATPE, where last year TVP had the bonus of “speeding up negotiations [with distributors] that had been taking place a long time,” Mr. Cyra is also aware that he will be buying for a market that is increasingly focused on domestic programming.
Dariusz Gasiorowski, TVN’s head of acquisitions and another possible visitor to NATPE, meanwhile believes that his station’s main priority is to “concentrate on the effective use of our archives,” having previously been too dependent on foreign productions.
TVN is in many ways the star performer of Polish broadcasting, having gone from near closure to being one of the country’s most popular stations in less than two years. This has largely been thanks to the success of such programs as “Big Brother,” the first series to secure up to $16 million in ad revenue and which boosted TVN’s audience share to more than 20 percent.
Although TVN has long-term agreements with Warner Bros. and DreamWorks, as well as format deals with Endemol and Pearson Television, most of its prime-time programming is locally produced. Besides TVN’s being more popular with viewers, its production costs-typically around $30,000 to $40,000 per half-hour in the case of sitcoms-are now comparable to acquired material.
Significantly, TVN launched Poland’s first news channel, cable- and satellite-delivered TVN24, in September and is soon likely to start selling its own productions to Scandinavia and other Central and Eastern European countries.
The latter could well include the Czech Republic, where the TV market was badly shaken in 2001 by a management crisis at publicly owned CTV and legal wrangles involving the commercial stations TV Nova and more recently TV3. Both CTV and TV Nova will nevertheless be well represented at NATPE-in the latter’s case through the program acquisition company AQS, which also buys for Prima TV.
Jan Rubes, CTV’s head of programming acquisitions, believes the station is entering a period of stability following the recent appointment of Jiri Balvin as its director general. This is likely to have an impact on its output, with high-quality domestic productions once more starting to take precedence over foreign programming.
That is not to say foreign programming will still not play an important role in the broadcaster’s schedule. Indeed, CTV prides itself on the quality of its acquired series, which include “The Simpsons,” “Ally McBeal” and “Sex and the City.” While coming off second best to TV Nova in the ratings war (the commercial station achieves higher figures with such shows as “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”), Mr. Rubes feels CTV offers viewers “something unique.”
Some of CTV’s acquisition budget, which according to Mr. Rubes increases by around 10 percent a year, will be used to find product for a new 2002 prime-time slot reserved for feature films and TV movies. By 2003, however, these are likely to be replaced by in-house productions.
A somewhat different situation exists in Hungary, where the public broadcaster MTV finds itself completely sidelined by the national commercial stations TV2 and RTL Klub. Effectively operating as a duopoly, these had, according to AGB Hungary, audience shares of 34.8 percent and 31.1 percent, respectively, in the week ending Dec. 2, while MTV’s national terrestrial channel only accounted for 11.2 percent. TV2 claims to have recently taken the lead in the crucial 18 to 49 age group, partly by phasing out Latin American telenovelas and replacing them with more locally produced fare.
While this may explain TV2’s absence from NATPE, other stations from smaller regional markets are offering different reasons. Branko Cakarmis, the head of programming at the leading Slovenian commercial station Pop TV (which is backed by the U.S. investment company CME) feels there is “nothing urgent” for his station to buy and questions the number of distributors that will be present at the market. However, like his counterparts elsewhere in the region, he notes that local programming, including news and sitcoms, now dominates the ratings.
The London-based production, distribution and broadcasting company Zone Vision, which has supplied programming to Central and Eastern Europe for almost a decade, will nevertheless be attending NATPE principally as a buyer. According to its managing director Chris Sharp, it offers the opportunity to meet not only large U.S. distributors but also smaller companies unable to attend program markets in Europe.
Mr. Sharp adds that Zone Vision will be particularly looking for product for its movie channel Le Cinema, which is performing extremely well in Poland on the Wizja TV/Cyfra+ digital platform, as well as Reality TV, now available in over 90 countries worldwide.
NATPE has in the past proved to be a good source of programming for Reality TV, while at the same time offering Zone Vision the chance to “check out what other producers of telenovelas are doing.” (It currently acquires most of its product for the proprietary channel Romantica from Venevision.)
Mr. Sharp believes the popularity of reality shows in Central and Eastern Europe has been fueled by the success of “Big Brother.” He also regards broadcasting in the region to be highly innovative and aided by the “particularly strong competition between channels.”
While Zone Vision is now a global player, it still regards Central and Eastern Europe as one of its core markets and is currently expanding in both the Balkans and Baltic Republics.