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Reflective Australia asks outsiders' advice for rebuilding TV industry.

Reflective Australia Asks Outsiders' Advice For Rebuilding TV Industry

Timing could not have been more perfect for the fifth annual Screen Productions Association of Australia (SPAA) Conference. Held last month in Leura, a two-hour drive West of Sydney, in an area called Blue Mountains, the conference was attended by some 335 delegates from Australia, Canada, the U.K., Holland, the U.S., New Zealand and even Germany.

The Australian TV industry is now facing self-analysis and is looking for directives from the U.S. and the U.K.

What is said to be "a given," is that, after this pause, Australia TV will not resemble the old wreck that it is now.

Via a series of coincidences, the early part of last month became the battlecall for the reformers. At that time, in addition to the two major conferences Video Age covered, the Ten Network axed some 300 workers, cut programs and reduced salaries for the remaining employees.

Kerry Packer congratulated his Nine network's new board members for working with a company that has "no money," and the receivers for the Seven Network were criticized for not having yet approved a bid. This in addition to an earlier announcement that Rupert Murdoch is rescheduling $8 billion with Australian bankers, plus talks about de-regulation.

Like the concurrent ABT Conference (see story page 22), SPAA members called experts from the U.S., the U.K. and Canada to hear words of wisdom.

Some 60 executives responded by participating in 14 sessions held during a three-day period, with subjects ranging from "What Australia Can Learn," to "Banking - Film and Television." Also covered were Canada and Australia relations, and the U.S. TV syndication.

Among the speakers were DDA's Dennis Davidson, Beyond International's Philip Gerlach - who is also SPAA's president - Credit Lyonnaise's Frans J. Afman, Carolco/Orbis' John Ranck, MTV's Linda Kahn and Warner Bros.' Michael J. Solomon. In the audience were executives such as Nine Net's Len Mauger, WGA's Bill Gilbert and COMCO's Bob Shanks. The financial aspect of Australian television received the most attention, including the level of government subsidies that Australian producers receive, and the viability of pay-TV which was spoken of as a "given." Australian Broadcasting Tribunal's Bruce Allen seemed to summarize the TV industry situation when he said, "The core business is sound."

The wrath directed at financiers also appeared unanimous. "At the end of the day, banks made mistakes," commented media consultant Ted Thomas. He hoped that, in the future, "mistakes of the past will be remembered."

Also criticized was the "aggravation of aggregation" - a government policy whereby rural TV stations have to operate in other unprofitable markets.

But, the most attention was reserved for WB's Michael Jay Solomon, who toward the end of the session on the Future of Commercial Broadcasting in Australia, said that he would favor an MPAA resolution helping the financially strapped Ten Network by lowering the costs of U.S. imports.

Previously, Solomon had opened the event with a keynote address. Solomon's off-the-cuff remarks were widely reported in the Australian press and caused a furor when they bounced back to the U.S. in mid-December.

On the floor, Solomon spoke about the MPAA and Warner Bros., without mentioning other companies, receiving ample news coverage. Before making his offer, he eyed Paramount's Bruce Gordon in the back of the room and said, "Even though Bruce will kill me," U.S. distributors should be helping the Ten Network the way they are helping Eastern Europe.

The first stunned reaction came from Australian producers who crowded the room. They were hoping that Australian networks would now be buying some of their low-cost shows already in the can. When it was realized that Solomon's offer was mainly a symbolic gesture, the buzzing subsided. After all, it was realized, there were American union obligations and Solomon's own output deals with the Nine Network (for WB products) and with the Seven Network (Lorimar).

However, what later infuriated MCA's Colin Davis and Fox's Bill Saunders in Los Angeles, were remarks attributed to Solomon and published in the Financial Review, which got their companies into the picture. Both MCA and Twentieth Century Fox were in the midst of renegotiating their output deals with the Ten Network, and those statements caused consternation. Reached in Los Angeles a few days later, Solomon said that he was misunderstood.

One can now hope that next SPAA Conference, to be held in Melbourne, will prove this challenging.

PHOTO : The Box Office's Paul Shields

PHOTO : Beyond Int'l Phil Gerlach, his wife producer Heather Ogilvie with John Ranck.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Australia
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Previous Article:Now that Matsushita owns MCA, the questions come like shooting stars.
Next Article:Is there light at the end of the tunnel for Australian TV?

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