DISCOP Report: Eastern European TV Awaits Changes

By Elena Sunbeam

Eastern European television has, of late, exhibited the following trends: the growth of local productions of different genres, the rise of fiction program popularity and the upsurge in total viewing time per individual. Research shows that nationally-produced product dominates foreign product at 65 percent with American exports a distant second at 12 percent. However, confronted with the advertising market crisis, Eastern European broadcasters tend rely on shows which have already proven successful in other countries.

Video Age asked media research experts, heads and managers of television companies in Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Russia and Lithuania to evaluate the Eastern European television landscape, with the assistance of Eurodata TV Worldwide/ Mediametrie.

In Poland last year, shares of public channels such as TVP 1, TVP 2, TVP Regional (TVP3) and Polonia increased by just one percent compared to 2000. The biggest Polish channels - public TVP 1 and commercial Polsat - saw their market shares decrease significantly. Meanwhile, small commercial channels TVN and TV4 were winners. Both benefited from high reality show ratings. The market also favored local productions. In addition, the year 2001 was a year of national super-productions in the cinema.

Stated Witold Swietnicki, president of Poland’s ATM Grupa:

“Our company was created in 1992, when the Polish commercial TV market had just begun its development. We covered TV news, documentary films and popular TV series. We also acted as an advertising agency producing TV commercials. Our customers were Volvo, Fiat, Warta and Gazeta Wyborcza, to name the most important of a pool of more than 500 companies. We were aggressive with sales and we think that our productions can be competitive throughout Europe. In 2001 we concentrated on game shows, talk shows and comedies and now would like to sell our reality shows. Our program The Kiepskis’ World aired in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. In Latvia we do the show with Latvian actors and actresses. We are confident of our ability to sell our productions to Spain and Germany.”

In Hungary, public channels M1 and M2 (formerly MTV 1 and MTV 2) continue to lose market shares. The TV landscape is dominated by commercial stations TV2 & RTL Klub. As far as the top 10 is concerned, the number of local productions remained unchanged (seven), but their origins differed. In 2000, two of the top shows came from Italy and one from U.S.; in 2001, two shows came from Latin America and one from U.S.

In the Czech Republic public channels CT1 and CT2 continue to losing market shares, while commercial stations TV NOVA and Prima TV are on the rise. As in 2000, the Top 10 in 2001 is completely dominated by local productions. Czech Television’s Jarmila Svorcova, chief executive, Telexport, explained that: “CT was established in January 1992 as a successor to Czechoslovak Television. Czech Television broadcasts 24-hours a day on two channels, CT1 and CT2. CT1 is a mainstream channel with lots of fiction, news and information programs; CT2 is a more culture-oriented channel filled with minority and sports programming. Czech Television is financed by licensing fees, advertising and other commercial activities. It’s an independent organization and does not receive any support from the government.

“We produce and sell all kinds of programs: action, feature films, series, documentaries, music, children’s programs, animation programs, etc. Most of the programs broadcast in Eastern and Western Europe, and in Scandinavian countries.”

In Slovakia, public channels STV1 and STV2 are still dominated by the new commercial networks, but they have tried to fight back. Private channel TV Luna stopped broadcasting, and new challenger TA3’s heyday quickly passed. Czech channel TV Nova launched a new channel, Joy, in early 2002. However, the market is completely dominated by TV Markiza (50.2 percent in 2001), which makes all the top shows in Slovakia.

Russia’s, top 10 of 2001 listed only Russian shows (except for Nikita Mikhalkov’s The Barber of Siberia, which was a co-production, but still a rather locally-oriented production), whereas in 2000 there were two U.S. blockbusters in the yearly top 10. ORT maintained its lead position, while NTV’s market shares tumbled due to a change in ownership. Few stations increased their market shares: RTR, Ren-TV, CTC, Cultura. Losers in that are were: MuzTV , TVC, TNT.

According to Anatoly Maximov, director of Cinema Broadcasting and Cinema Production for ORT - Public Russian Television, “The breakthrough event of the latest season is the development of the domestic drama series and miniseries influenced by the great traditions of the Russian cinema school. The staggering success of domestically-produced TV product (with audience shares up to 50 percent) has inevitably diminished the presence of American drama series. We aim to buy theatrical movies. The new game in town - licensing the game shows - will help us create television product for the forthcoming years. We finance our product ourselves. Domestic investments are rare due to the undeveloped TV market in our country. We therefore welcome foreign investments and look forward to discussing co-productions with foreign partners since we are convinced that our product is up to international standards.”

According to film director Nikita Mikhalkov, also president of the Moscow International Film Festival and chairman of the Cinematographers Union of the Russian Federation: “Americans buy culture because they have the money to do it. But, they did not get on this path themselves. It is possible to buy a Van Gogh and put it in the Metropolitan Museum and say that it cost $20 million, but it doesn’t mean you become Van Gogh. Many Europeans were seduced by this reasoning, including multitudes of famous directors like Fellini. They were bought because of their names and then when they arrived in America, they couldn’t create anything.”

For Ivaylo Gurov, chief producer for Bulgarian National Television, Bulgaria has “the same problems as everywhere else in Eastern Europe. Historically, we went through all the necessary changes. We went through the appearance of private channels, and now, we are the existing former state, now called public television. We went through a crisis period, now we are starting to recover. National television will take back the market, but because of weak economies and small markets, in Eastern European nations, we have an inferior legislative system. We are still half-budgeted, half-commercial. At least 50 percent of our programs are filled with commercial content, which means we have to be very aggressive with acquisitions. We don’t have an exchange system with our Balkan colleagues or with other Eastern European countries. We sell mostly to Asian Channels. Mainly musical programs - classical music, ballet and most importantly, operas because we have a contract with the National Opera. We have a fantastic international product, with international stars, but opera is our focus. Asia is very interested in our programs. In Japan they even have a special channel devoted solely to classical music.”

Stated Aivaras Prancuzevicius, head of Programming, Lithuanian Television (LTV), in Lithuania: “Acquisitions of foreign programming is down in Lithuania. However, that is not true across the board. For instance, public network LTV is increasing its acquisition activities. Foreign product hasn’t given them good results, other than the occasional U.S. blockbuster, The Sopranos and the German series Medicopters. German and even Russian series are working better than American product. Local productions dominate during primetime hours. All genres are widely represented: homegrown docusoaps, drama series (daily and weekly), reality sitcoms, game shows, talk shows, variety shows. The well-known formats are also represented. LTV is obliged to show educational programming or programming for national minorities as well. There are two networks battling with each other on a similar level - TV3 and LNK. They each have around a 23-25 percent share. Terrestrial networks LTV and BTV divide about 13-15 percent each. After a four-year slump, this year’s advertising market is finally showing signs of progress. Compared to last year, the increase is about six to 10 percent.”