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Europeans in '92 look forward to '93.

The European television industry's dream of that large, frontierless Common Market at the end of this year is, for the moment, nothing more than just that - a dream or, depending on how one looks at it, a nightmare.

The vision is certainly there. For the most part, the will is there as well, but the practical obstacles, ranging from national pride to a lack of adequate financing and even deep-seated differences in the concept of what television is all about, are formidable.

Yet, the seed has been sown. Slowly, the ambitious idea of European communications unity within the European Economic Community is taking shape, with the differences being painfully ironed out.

Above it all floats the ghost of American anxiety. The Europeans don't see their "Festung Europe" as a threat to anyone. They talk of program quotas (which some propose and other oppose), but Americans see red at even the mention of them.

Yet, it is quite clear to some Europeans that, without some form of protection, that "dream" combined TV market on the Continent can never come about, although there is European financial and production strength.

The EEC has made an uncertain start in setting high definition television standards. Its most recent directive requires the use of D2-MAC standards for all new satellite TV channels as of January 1, 1995. However, existing channels won't have to switch to D2-MAC. That is seen as a major victory for European satellite TV firms, who have opposed adopting D2-MAC.

The EEC directive, still to be approved by the European Parliament, also allows for the use of all-digital technology of the type being developed in the U.S.

The EEC agreement is seen as a victory for those who favor fewer restrictions on satellite broadcasters. It is also seen as a defeat for France, which had resisted the plan, calling Europe's HDTV policy "moribund." It is also a victory for the Germans, who insists that the European norm D2-MAC must be compatible with the future norm of HD-MAC.

The EEC's advertising directive, with its restrictions on tobacco, alcohol and non-prescription drug advertising, has the European advertising federations in an uproar. The German group has called it "the worst joke in world history."

There is some progress on the production side, particularly in co-productions, but this area has always been difficult - and not always a success. Aid is being promised by EEC organizations, but many question whether it is likely to lead to more popular programs.

There is a lot of talk about culture, especially from the French and the Germans, but, surveys show that this type of programming has limited appeal. Despite this, the European Cultural Channel is to be created and France and Germany are pumping some $191 million a year into this venture.

The two German culture satellite channels, 3SAT and EINS PLUS, experience very limited viewer participation, running to only about 1.8 and 1.3 per cent respectively.

The planned European News Channel seems to be dead, but a private European news service, financed by a group led by the Bertelsman giant media conglomerate, Westschienen Kanal, may be created with an initial investment of some $318 million.

However, some forecasters claim that once it gets going, Europe will rival the U.S. in both the size and the number of potential consumers.

That explains the promising starts made by the European Broadcasting Union (which runs the satellite-fed Sports Channel); EUREKA, the financial source for many ventures, particularly in the HDTV field; EuroAim, which aims to generate more theatrical and other production on the Continent; and EC MEDIA, which promotes independent and cross-border audio-visual productions. These are just the beginnings, claim the idealists, and timid ones at that, who are trying to overcome language and cultural barriers, groping for a modus operandi that will set up practical ground rules for overcoming these difficulties.

What nobody can legislate or incorporate in the rules is the ability - so enjoyed by the Americans - to produce programs whose appeal effortlessly crosses frontiers and can overcome the magic of the Hollywood competition.
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Title Annotation:European television industry; European communications unity
Author:Kocian, Billy
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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