Changes bring less competish in Czech Republic

PRAGUE — After the chaos, consolidation. Battles on the streets (over Czech TV) and in the courts (over Nova TV), cutbacks (at HBO) and survival of the strongest are changing the television landscape in the Czech and Slovak republics.

While attention was focused on the Christmas strikes at pubcaster Czech TV ,and on the local and international court cases between CME (Central European Media Enterprises) and Nova TV director Vladimir Zelezny, quiet changes in the background have led to less competition in the market.

Restructuring at HBO has centralized regional management in Budapest. Terrestrial newcomer TV3 has failed to ignite viewer interest. Czech TV is in a holding pattern until a permanent general director is appointed, perhaps as late as next fall.

That leaves Nova TV and its acquisition arm AQS ruling the roost. Ondrej Zach, head of acquisitions at the latter, already buys all product for both Nova and rival commercial channel Prima TV. As Nova eyes entry into Slovakia, sometime in 2002, Zach is increasingly requesting both Czech and Slovak rights.

“We feel the competition,” says CTV head of acquisitions Jan Rubes. And not only in the key categories of feature films and primetime series.

Zelezny argues that using AQS would help CTV keep prices down, something Rubes rejects.

With Nova working toward launching a pair of digital satellite spinoffs and a pay TV channel, expect AQS to further extend its buying power.

In neighboring Slovakia, financially weakened pubcaster Slovak TV and the demise of satellite station Luna TV makes CME station Markiza the lone star. However, as Nova moves into the territory, CME can expect a fierce battle with its former partner.

CME may unwittingly have fostered a revenge of sorts on Czech soil. Petr Sladecek, who was plucked from Nova to become head of programming and production for CME, is set to leave CME when his contract expires this spring, and has begun campaigning for the top post at CTV.

“He’ll be a significant loss,” says Fred Klinkhammer, president and CEO of CME. “He was key to helping us survive in the Czech Republic.”

Meanwhile, as the two countries eye entry into the European Union, there’s been a concurrent move toward Euro product.

“European and especially German production is getting better, so there is a national increase in European programs,” says Zach.

Formats, which held a strong attraction last year, will be a harder sell here, with stations intent on developing local talent.

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