Europe toons in on Turner Sat cast

Ted Turner’s Cartoon Network and TNT will launch in Europe this September as a single 24-hour service on the Astra satellite, Turner announced yesterday.

The company also confirmed plans to start broadcasting the Cartoon Network in Latin America on April 30, via the Intelsat bird.

The European channel will comprise 14 hours of animation drawn from Turner’s MGM, Warner Bros. and Hanna Barbera libraries, followed by 10 hours of old Hollywood movies from the Turner vaults.

It will be run by a team of 20 to 30 staffers from London, and programmed specially for the European audience. Some parts of the schedule will be dubbed or subtitled in French, Swedish and Norwegian, with other languages to be added as the service expands.

However, the hybrid Turner service faces a couple of major obstacles to its success. First, many of the best-known shows in the Turner library are already licensed to local broadcasters in some European countries, making it difficult for Turner to screen them on its own pan-European channel until those deals have lapsed, or have been renegotiated.

Notably, German pubcaster ARD owns German-language rights to the entire MGM/Warner movie catalog until the next century, thanks to a deal cut in the mid-1980s — before Turner acquired the library. Germany is Europe’s most lucrative cable TV market, and German-speaking viewers account for 40% of the total European TV audience.

Another problem could be the European Community law that requires that all channels should, “where practicable,” fill at least 50% of their schedules with programs of European origin. Yet the Cartoon Network/TNT will, for the foreseeable future, be almost entirely American in content.

Scott Sassa, president of Turner Entertainment Group, argues that it is not “practicable” for Cartoon Network/TNT to meet the 50% European quota immediately , since they are services based on U.S. libraries. When the channels start acquiring original programming, at least half will be European, he says.

Initially the channels will be transmitted unscrambled, but the company is looking into an encryption system in the future.

The European debut of the Cartoon Network and TNT comes at a time when a slew of U.S. cablers are lining up to launch in Europe. Nickelodeon will make its entrance in the U.K. this fall, the Family Channel is developing plans for a European service and USA Network is also reportedly eying the market. The Discovery Channel already has a European cable service, but this will launch on the Astra direct-broadcast satellite this summer.

“I think when Astra 1C (the third Astra satellite) comes online this summer, there are going to be a number of new entertainment services out there,” says Sassa. “We think it’s important we get our brand into the market.”

About 11 million homes in 18 countries are equipped with Astra dishes, but this audience will more than double if cable systems sign up to carry the new Turner service.

As it does in the United States, the Cartoon Network will run as a 24-hour service in Latin America. (TNT Latin America has been on the air there since Jan. ’91). The majority of the cartoons will have audio feeds in Spanish. There will also be an English feed and a third feed of selected cartoons in Portugese. Most of the cartoon library is already dubbed in Spanish and one-third to one-half of the toons (mainly via Hanna Barbera) already dubbed into Portugese, per a spokeswoman.

“When you look at movies and cartoons,” assessed Sassa, “They’re probably two of the most translatablegenres out there.”

Sassa added that Turner is looking to other regions for expansion, with Southeast Asia and Japan among the blueprints, though he said there’s presently no set plan on the table.

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