Tough sell in Europe

Motion Picture Assn. of America president Jack Valenti broke his post-GATT public silence Wednesday, insisting he has put the trade talks behind him and now wants to think about the future.

At a press conference at the Monte Carlo TV market Wednesday, Valenti told reporters: “I came here bearing expressions of friendship. I’m not interested in retribution.”

Speaking to Daily Variety, the MPAA topper denied he is on a mission to mend fences following criticism of his abrasive style in the General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade talks. The Europeans succeeded in keeping film, TV and music matters out of the final GATT agreement, while the Americans had argued that cultural concerns should be subject to the same rules and regulations as any other tradable commodity.

The veteran lobbyist stressed that he thought the U.S. position on GATT had been “terribly misunderstood. We never said we wanted to scrap quotas or that subsidies should be abandoned. It was never a case of us against them. I am not about to tell the French how to run their country.”

Promoting his own brand of free-market economics, Valenti suggested heavy investment as a means for Europe to break into the U.S. “Why don’t Europeans buy theaters in the United States?” he asked his audience. “Get into the marketplace. Study it and conquer it.”

Despite his efforts to avoid reliving the GATT debate, Valenti said he felt new technology and the flood of new satellite-delivered TV services would make quotas obsolete. “It’s hard to see how quotas will keep the new television channels out.”

Market penetration was the talk of Monte Carlo Wednesday as top sales execs and network buyers debated the future of American programming in Europe during a panel discussion.

The news was not great for the U.S. companies. Marcus Plantin, network director at British web ITV, pointed out that while the U.K. still wants to buy U.S. product, competition from locally produced shows is increasingly tough.

“Your one-hour shows aren’t working well for us,” warned Plantin. “There is violence that is unacceptable in the United Kingdom. Tell your producers to get back to making action-adventure shows.”

Acknowledging that violence remains a major problem, Paramount Intl. Television president Bruce Gordon said the issue is being tackled. Assessing the future for U.S. shows internationally, Gordon said he welcomes the development of local production, but he insisted there is still a place for U.S. product on European webs.

From the sales side, Worldvision Enterprises topper Bert Cohen appealed to European buyers to have faith in American shows. “‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ plays well everywhere, but I remember when it was first sold, people were very timid about buying. You have to support shows and give them time to develop an audience.”

Daniele Lorenzano, acquisitions topper at Silvio Berlusconi Communications and the man who bought “90210” rights for Italy, Spain, Germany and France, said he thought there was a shortage of quality material coming from the United States.

From France, TF1’s acquisitions and co-production exec Guillaume de Verges said market conditions remain tight, due partly to the stringent enforcement of European quotas.

“TF1 is also producing more local shows,” said de Verges. “Over the past three years, we are doing our own sitcoms because we don’t think humor travels. We don’t schedule one-hour shows in primetime, but there is room for U.S. programming in our daytime schedule.”

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