REGULATION: CZECH GOVERNMENT TARGETS PUBLIC TELEVISION NETWORK

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[Prague] The Czech Parliament's media commission has reversed its earlier position to reduce advertising time on Czech Television's two channels and raised the public broadcaster's viewer subscription fees to $2.75 from $1.85 per month for the nation's 3.9 million TV households.

Advertising on CT is limited to 1% of total airtime per channel-although it often combines the allowance into 2% on the more popular first channel-up to 6 minutes per hour, but the commission voted last September to reduce that quota to 0.2% per channel and completely ban prime time advertising.

The legislators changed their position in November following concerns that such a move would endanger competition. CT's rival, the commercial station TV Nova, has a dominant 70% market share.

Majority-owned by Ronald Lauder's Central European Media Enterprises, TV Nova can advertise up to 12 minutes per hour, or 10% of total airtime, and unlike Czech Television, it is permitted to break programs for advertisements.

Jan Dobes, managing director of the Havas Group's IP network, which has sold airtime for Czech Television since 1993, says CT takes in about $36 million annually from advertising sales, compared with nearly $73 million for TV Nova and just under $2 million for the regional private station Premiera TV.

"We are very happy about this decision," said Shenda Loughnane, director of Zenith, the media buying arm of Cordiant. "It would have limited the media market and given a real monopoly to TV Nova. In fact, advertisers were prepared to speak out for Czech Television if the decision had not been reversed."

TV Nova Director-General Vladimir Zelezny has consistently lobbied for greater advertising restrictions on CT, saying he has to "make a profit on a real budget, but Czech Television has funding from advertising and subscription fees, and they still don't have to make a profit. This creates an unfair situation for private broadcasters."

The commission's policy reversal highlights a debate taking place throughout eastern Europe over the role of public and private broadcasting.

In Poland, for example, the public broadcaster can devote the same airtime to advertising-10%-as its private competitors, an important reason why it has maintained such a dominant position in that market. And CME President and Chief Executive Leonard Fertig notes that in Hungary, state-run television broadcasts programming like "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy."

"The only purpose of showing game shows is to lure advertisers. Why is that appropriate for a publicly-financed institution?" he asks.

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