PRAGUE — As Ronald Lauder, founder of Central European Media Enterprises, launches an international arbitration case in London against the Czech Republic for not protecting his Nova TV investment, the man at the center of the controversy sits in a quiet office at Nova TV headquarters.
Nova TV general director Vladimir Zelezny has reason to be cheerful, even though he wears the strain of two years of legal battles with CME that culminated with last month’s $27 million judgment against him.
He could have ended up owing $500 million including damages. “We are happy with the outcome. Our lawyers were ecstatic,” he tells Variety. “It’s not a punishment. It’s the price I must pay for buying back a share in their service company.”
And while he must wait for the outcome of the London court hearing, which started March 5, Zelezny is upbeat.
He is already planning to expand the Nova empire. Out of five potential foreign partners, Zelezny is in negotiations with two whose cash and know-how will move the Czech station into the digital era.
After what Zelezny terms “a media campaign to discredit (him),” it might surprise some onlookers that foreigners are willing to back the station.
“Those who are real professionals and investors knew the situation here,” he says.
Zelezny contends that CME used him as a scapegoat when its planned merger with SBS fell through.
Nova itself is still the envy of the region. Its audience share is over 50% and Zelezny says costs of running the station are down at least 33%.
Zelezny’s next target is Slovakia, where Nova already has an 18% aud share. He envisions creating a Slovak Nova by piecing together several regional frequencies.
“First we want to be welcome there,” he says. “So far it’s very encouraging.” Negotiations are under way, with a launch possible in 2002.
Not feeling welcome was his reason for withdrawing the tender for a license in Bulgaria. Zelezny is reluctant to say whether it was local mafia that scared him and partner company MFF away.Back on home turf, Nova should launch its Internet portal in the next six months, and Zelezny hopes to announce Nova’s digital satellite partnership with a substantial European partner before then.
More to come
For Czech audiences that can’t get enough of Nova, there are two more Nova channels and a pay TV channel in the works.