B'casting council has blocked channel's expansion

PRAGUE – While CME founder Ronald Lauder battles the Czech Republic in a London court for compensation over the loss of Nova TV, more international investors are angered about their treatment in the territory.

TV3, which launched a year ago, expected its signal to reach most of the country by now. Instead, the fledging station has seen promised licenses blocked by the Czech broadcasting council, leaving it with its initial 25% coverage.

“We didn’t go public last year. We tried to be diplomatic but we ran into a wall.” says TV3 general director Jan Oberman. TV3’s situation parallels that of CME, he says, which blames its loss of Nova on the council’s biased treatment.

TV3 won its license during the period of uncertainty over who would control Nova TV. With Vladimir Zelezny securely at the helm, Oberman says, “The council began stalling in June of last year.”

Although there are several unused frequencies throughout the country, “The council turned down all our applications without reason,” he says.

TV3 also struggles to attract advertisers with Nova in a near-monopoly situation. “When you’re the No.1 TV station you have tactics you wouldn’t get away with in more sophisticated markets,” says TV3’s advertising director Vitold Chrzanowski. “This country needs a viable commercial alternative. A 5-10% share of the market is all it would take.”

TV 3 can claim that much in the parts of Prague that receive its signal, but nationally, it takes only a 1-2% aud share. With international pressure placed on the media council, Oberman reasons, “We can expect the council will give us a frequency here, a frequency there. That equals a slow death. We want them to go all the way and give us a fair chance.”

TV3’s days of private diplomacy are numbered. Leading the charge are the members of Argus Capital, a Central European investment group comprised of Prudential American Insurance, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Belgian bank, with $350 million in funds earmarked for the region.

Oberman says: “This is a very dirty battle. We will not just go quietly away.”

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