Europe’s pubcasters must seriously examine the concept of narrowcasting if they are to become a digital force.

Leading European public network executives got that warning Tuesday at a conference organized by pubcasters’ lobby group the European Broadcasting Union.

Masimo Fichera, head of the EBU-backed Euronews net, said satellite technology has effectively put an end to the “paradise” of a public monopoly.

“As public broadcasters we need to utilize that technology and reach a wide public, but that can no longer mean the whole public,” Fichera said. “In fact, if we keep aiming for the whole, we risk ending up with no public at all.”

Public narrowcasting has proven itself through informational channels like Euronews and cultural nets like Arte, Fichera said, and quality entertainment, children’s programming and sports offer further opportunities.

Given the rise of commercial television conglomerates, the Euronews chief said, the only way for the pubcasters to compete effectively is through “concrete and ambitious common projects. The EBU must be ready to profoundly renovate itself.”

Defending R&D

EBU technical topper Ulrich Messerschmid urged delegates not to downgrade research and development, pointing out that the Japanese already spend around four times as much on R&D as most national European television industries. Further diminution of the Euro investment, Messerschmid said, would have “disastrous consequences.”

He said the EBU has a vital role to play in standardizing digital broadcast systems. “Leaving this matter to the market economy would result in a multiplicity of standards,” he said. “We need uniform optimum systems for the good of the entire industry.”

EBU vice president Xavier Gouyou-Beauchamp conceded that there are no “ready-made answers” in stemming sliding ratings of pubcasters and in defining their future role. But he said the EBU provides an essential forum in which to exchange ideas.

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