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Attacks from German TV, not scaring ORF.

The Germans may be knocking at the door, eager for a bite of the potentially lucrative 2.5 million Austrian TVHH, but ORF (Austrian State Radio and TV) so far has fought them off and held its own.

Austria is unique in that, apart from Switzerland, it's the only country left in Central Eu rope without a commercial TV station.

What's more, its homes are literally besieged by close to 20 cable and satellite-carried programs from neighboring countries, many of them in German. Yet, ORF1 and ORF2 are more than holding up their end in the face of all that competition. During the first half of 1993, they attracted 43.6 per cent of the audience on cable, and 67.5 per cent nationally.

The ORF program output, in both radio and television, is impressive--180 hours daily on radio and 35 hours a day on both TV channels. "Even the big German networks don't manage that," boasted Gerd Barber, the Generalintendant (director general) of the ORF "We may be a small country, but in both radio and television we are unquestionably a 'Grossmacht' (a major power). It's a fact."

There is no question that, in terms of the impact from Germany, changes are coming and commercialism will continue to be a timely topic. Already, the government has authorized commercial radio, and several stations could well be operating by next year.

But television is a different story. The ORF occupies a unique place in Austrian life, politics and culture. It supports a great many enterprises, including the Austrian film industry.

The 68-year-old Barher. who has announced his retirement for next year after three successful and sometimes tumultuous terms in the office, argued that the Austrian market is too small to accommodate commercial TV and to still maintain the ORF at required levels.

"There are continuous big attacks here on the part of German stations who'd like to come into Austria," he said. "Until now we have successfully resisted that. We are a national institution. We really have no need for additional transmissions in German."

Ernst Wolfram Hathoe. former ORF program director and a man well-known throughout European film and TV circles disagrees.

"I am against monopoly. Always have been," he said. "I have always felt that monopoly can't be maintained forever."

Barber agreed that, with Austria's likely entry into the EEC, the country not only is being given an enormous chance, but also faces the danger of conformism with the great powers. "Austria's voice in culture and politics is very important. We don't want to be like the Swiss, where the [outside] French and German voices are so important, and these transmitters drown out the local ones. Right now we get 45 per cent of the Austrian market. The Swiss get not even 30 per cent of theirs."

What is vital, maintained Barher. is to have the ORF properly financed "and we have succeeded with that."

Barber, a tough boss and recognized as a first-rate, efficient though not necessarily much-loved administrator, pulled off the big one when he convinced the government to raise commercial limits on the ORF channels from 40 minutes a day to more than 80 minutes as part of a five-year plan. "We are the only state broadcaster in Europe who has managed to do this," he bragged.

In addition to the commercial revenue, Austrian TV owners also pay a monthly ORF fee of around AS150 ($15) and they must shell out for cable services. The number of dishes to receive direct satellite signals is growing daily.

Barber puts emphasis on Austria's European role. The ORF, along with Germany's ZDF and the Swiss participants in the 3-SAT group, contribute about 30 per cent of the programming to it. ORF is not on Sat1 (controlled by Munich's Leo Kirch) although Barber called Kirch "one of my best friends" and the ORF and BETA collaborate on many co-productions. "Our ORF law doesn't allow us to go on Sat1 with Kirch," Barher explained.
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Title Annotation:Austrian State Radio and TV
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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