East Europe finding a spot for infomercials

East European TV is coming of age, and the impetus is not imported sitcoms, media reform laws, or American movies, say analysts.

The sign of changing times in media markets east of the Danube is the recent arrival of the “infomercial,” as U.S. and west-Euro telemarketing companies, ranging from product suppliers to teleshopping programmers, launch forays into the former eastern bloc – a virgin territory of 300 million viewers.

Underscoring telemarketing’s potential in this region, representatives of 39 TV stations from Warsaw to Moscow and the West’s top teleshopping companies met in Budapest Nov. 18-19 for Info-Market East ’95, a market that organizers say jumped-started the direct-response TV industry in eastern Europe.

“We’re creating a synergy and energy for this industry in this part of the world,” says Robert Blagman of JB Worldwide Communications, a telemarketing consultancy firm which assisted in the organization of the convention. “Through this convention we are going to accelerate the growth of this industry.”

According to its organizers, Info-Market East ’95 brought two badly needed commodities to Budapest: education and contacts. “This (was) a first step, ” said Patrick Jucaud, a representative of Happening Exhibitions, the market’s chief organizer. As a precursor to a full-fledged teleshopping and infomercial market planned for next November, Info-Market East ’95 offered a crash course in telemarketing theory and techniques, and served as a forum for buyers, teleshopping firms, etc., to forge relationships.

According to Jucaud, there is an interest and infrastructure for a thriving telemarketing industry in eastern Europe; the key is putting the “components” together. Consultancy firms such as JB Worldwide, with which Jucaud is also affiliated, already specialize in locating the industry’s essential ingredients in faraway lands.

Austrian teleshopping companies are now beaming info-programming and shipping products into Romania. But is cash-starved eastern Europe truly ready for telemarketing?

Yes, say east Euro station owners – precisely because they are cash starved. “I think telemarking is the future because the multimedia is developing so fast in this region,” said a representative for Romania State TV who requested anonymity. “We have to find new ways to get money.”

After 40 years of communism, eastern European consumers are eager to spend, even if their spending power is limited. “Consumers exist in this market – people who can spend $20, $30, $80 on a product,” says Jucaud.

They don’t exist everywhere. Experts say Russia is not yet developed enough to support a telemarketing industry.

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