Austria's ORF not phased by opening b'casting sphere

VIENNA — Austria’s esteemed ORF may well have been the envy of public TV across Europe by holding onto the longest television monopoly on the Continent, but by the time the next Mip TV rolls around, its exclusivity will be history.

The Austrian Parliament is working on legislation that will open the broadcasting sphere to private channels. A terrestrial license is due to be offered in the fall, with a new channel reaching Austrian homes in the first quarter of 2002.

After establishing new broadcasting regulatory body Austria Komm, an act on national private TV and a law covering the ORF are expected to pass before the summer break. When the license tender is announced, probably in the fall, private national cabler ATV is waiting at the front of the line.

“We’re the only one interested,” ATV general director Tillmann Fuchs puts it, bluntly.

Fuchs oversaw the transition from local soft-porn cabler to a national presence with young audience appeal that has attracted investment from SBS.

“Austrian audiences are used to a very high quality,” says Fuchs.

In acquisitions, that means beefing up primetime with blockbuster movies. “But the main energy will go into developing our own production. There you can be younger and different that the ORF,” he continues.

Competition doesn’t worry the ORF, which draws around 50% of audiences, despite heavy coverage of the country by the German uberstations.

“In the near future it won’t change our habits,” says ORF head of films and fiction August Rinner.

With the strong dollar, that translates into German — as in more German TV movies, more drama series in co-production with Germany, and Austria’s own increasingly popular sitcoms.

But uncertainty over that new ORF law, expected close on the heels of Mip TV, is testing nerves.

“No one knows what will be in it,” says Rinner.

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