Foreign ownership debate continues

Reality skeins changes Polish television

WARSAW — In the last year, the Polish television scene has seen heated debate regarding the relaxation of foreign ownership in local electronic media. The current Radio and Television Law draws the line for foreign investment at the 33% share mark.

Legislation that proposed setting the limit for foreign coin in terrestrial-based stations to 49%, and no cap for satellite stations, was rejected last year.

Currently, the government is proposing complete liberalization, although only in regard to broadcasters operating in countries belonging to the European Union and those which are not controlled by capital from outside the EU.

This means that the loosening-up would not apply to American media concerns, many of which have strong interests in Poland, including UPC, a shareholder in the Wizja TV digital television platform and the largest cable operator PTK.

As far as programming is concerned, the latest trend in the Polish market is the incredible growth in local production at commercial stations. Previously, pubcasters were mainly interested in investing in local fare while the largest private stations — Polsat and TVN — filled their schedule with mainly serials, films, and programs acquired abroad.

Today TVN is revolutionizing Polish television with a slew of reality shows. The trend kicked off slowly with the licensed program “Agent,” which drew a respectable 11% aud share in its final days.

TVN’s next reality venture was “Big Brother,” which hit the airwaves on Mar. 4. The program scored a 29% share by the second week.

Rival commercial net Polsat countered TVN’s moves with local reality series, “Dwa swiaty” (Two Worlds). It involves contestants who are monitored by 60 cameras while vying for prize money of 1 million zloty ($250,000).

In addition to the expensive reality fare, for which budgets have climbed to $10 million, there are a number of popular talk shows that tend to focus on local celebrities and family reunions.

At the same time, Polish soaps and sitcoms are in demand and taking timeslots away from Brazilian and American fare. Pubcaster TVP recently produced seven homegrown soaps and laffers.

And while critics constantly complain about the plummeting quality of Polish programming, the public seems to disagree: Ratings for reality shows and soap operas consistently grab aud shares of up to 25%.

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