Polish TV license to Polsat

Polsat, the Polish satellite broadcaster, has defeated a galaxy of international media groups to win Poland’s first national private TV license, Daily Variety has learned.

The decision will be announced today in Warsaw by the Polish National Council for TV & Radio.

Polsat was chosen ahead of nine rival bidders whose backers included Time Warner, Capital Cities/ABC, Bertelsmann, Canal Plus, CLT, Reuters, Turner, Kinnevik and the Central European Development Corp.

The announcement comes with surprising rapidity, less than two weeks after the council held public hearings for the applicants. No decision was expected before March.

It is thought that Polsat’s identity as an all-Polish venture, without foreign backers, weighed heavily in its favor.

The company was launched 14 months ago as a pirate broadcaster on the Intelsat bird and subsequently was given an official satellite TV license by the Polish authorities.

Its founder and president, Zygmunt Solorz, is a millionaire entrepreneur who made his fortune trading used cars around Eastern Europe.

“Our president’s policy is first to have as strong as possible a base of Polish capital,” a Polsat source explained recently.

But it seems inevitable that the company will have a queue of international media groups clamoring at its door for the chance to invest — doubtless including some of its disappointed rivals.

Rumors are already circulating that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which was not involved in any of the bids, could be first in line. Polish law restricts foreign ownership to a 33% stake.

It remains unclear when Polsat, which currently transmits 10 hours a day and reaches about a quarter of the country, will be able to launch as a national web.

Some of the frequencies that make up the terrestrial TV license are currently held by the Polish army, which is proving reluctant to give them up.

Sources estimate that Polsat will be able to start broadcasting in some areas by April, but it could take a year or more before it covers the whole country.

In the meantime, the TV council must decide who will win the 23 regional broadcasting licenses currently up for grabs. An announcement is expected within the next month.

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