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What Eastern European TV needs is not privatization, but help from the West.

What Eastern European TV Needs Is Not Privatization, But Help from the West

It is not easy to be precise in describing Eastern European television. First, it is now difficult to differentiate between Central Europe and Eastern Europe. It has only been a couple of months that Eastern European television has functioned as part of the same family. It now has the same structure, program criteria and certainly, the same functions to serve the audience.

Eastern European TV has also been affected by financial problems. In some places, budget cuts are as high as 50 per cent. What is still intact is the utilization of the little screen into a representation of the multitude of political factions. As far as programming is concerned, the production of talk shows is cheaper and so it is produced in abundance, but unfortunately, this genre can't continue much longer.

Another novelty is the introduction of commercials, which are not easy to carry out. Since commercial television reflects the market and the latter is limited, commercials have limited appeal.

It's sufficient to look at the rate card of Polish television. Those rates give the impression that the affluence of Polish advertisers equals those of France.

The networks in Eastern Europe are trying to increase their programming by way of sponsorship. They happily agree to broadcast films, documentaries or series -- provided they are sponsored since it is easier than selling "pure" commercials. There are only a few conditions under which commercial revenue serves, to reduce the general budget deficit and helps the various departments only directly. The present structures strictly limit the functions of each network department. As a result, flexibility does not exist, nor is the freedom to take initiatives. Those administrations continue to insist on centralized control of all activities.

For instance, the various cinema departments will accept a sponsorship proposal that satisfies the programming department. This however, may be opposed by the advertising department, which may find its own policy threatened. In the end, within this framework, the networks tend to lose more than they gain. Everyone should take into account that television is the most influential medium when it comes to the masses.

But, the question that immediately arises is: Who has the money and the know-how for such an enterprise?

Then comes the second question: How can it be arranged so that everyone gets an equal opportunity?

And, finally, if one were to privatize immediately, what guarantees are there that there would be sufficient revenues? Where would they come from, and how could one do without state subsidies?

The solution today may not be the privatization of the existing networks. It would be a lot better if the potential creativity that exists in the Eastern countries be put to work, meeting the needs of the market. Financial aids being offered by the West should be channeled in that direction.

The big European banks and corporations, private institutions, and all financial groupings -- all should invest in co-productions. The Eastern European producers don't know how to prepare such projects. In that sense, Western help would be much more valuable.

Privatization is not a magic wand. It is in the area of planning and restructuring that help from the "great and the strong West" should be concentrated. The results obtained could be good, with a comparatively minor investment.

Finally, the treaties signed in the past between various television networks should, one day, serve some purpose. That will finally establish who has the good will to extend that all-important helping hand, when it is really needed.

Vladimir Kobakov is a former broadcaster executive in Eastern Europe. Currently, he is the director of SophCan Trading in Toronto, Canada.
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Author:Kobakov, Vladimir
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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