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EC HDTV subsidy plan ok’d

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) — The European Community finally overcame British opposition and agreed on a subsidy plan to promote cinema-quality high-definition television.

Breaking a year impasse, telecommunications ministers agreed the EC should spend 228 million European currency units ($ 274 million) over four years to help broadcasters launch wide-screen TV programs.

That is drastically less than original subsidy proposals but more than the maximum amount Britain said it could accept at the last meeting in May.

EC efforts to reach an agreement have been put on the fast track since the U.S. announced its “grand alliance,” in which the top three rivals for HDTV development rights teamed in a single approach (Daily Variety, May 25).

The EC plan was agreed on within 90 minutes, prompting speculation that a change of British ministers had made the difference.

Dutch public works minister Hanja Maij-Weggen said that British junior trade minister Patrick McLoughlin had been much more constructive than his predecessor. But McLoughlin said Britain had agreed because the scheme became more market-oriented and because he had won changes ensuring that Japanese companies with bases in the U.K., such as Sony, could take part in TV-related EC research.

The new plan focuses on wide-screen programs in an effort to promote the technology that will eventually bring cinema-quality HDTV to consumers.

In conditions tailored to woo Britain, the plan says that projects will have to be backed by money from other sources, generally 50% of the total, with preference given to projects with industry rather than government support.

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