Local 'Big Brother' a big hit

BUDAPEST — A fierce rivalry between Hungary’s two commercial networks, SBS-controlled TV2 and CLT/Ufa’s RTL Klub, is propelling the biz despite the deflation of ad revenues and broadcasting budgets around the world.

Late last year, RTL Klub, the underdog since the creation of a commercial TV industry in 1997, wrestled away the No. 1 spot from TV2, once unrivaled in this market.

TV2′s fall caused SBS to fire the network’s top brass, and create a new look and program roster that is now in full swing, lead by a local version of “Big Brother.”

“Big Brother” has been a sensation, and TV2 is already claiming it has regained its berth as Hungary’s No. 1 channel, which RTL Klub denies. Analysts say it is too early to tell whether TV2′s comeback will fizzle after “Big Brother” leaves the air. But everyone admits TV2 and RTL Klub are running neck and neck.

Despite limited war chests, both TV2 and RTL Klub will be buying at Mipcom with a vengeance, using their scarce resources to beef up program arsenals for their ratings battle.

RTL Klub acquisition manager Tibor Forizs says he will be in the market for feature films and new formats.

TV2′s decision to launch a comeback on the strength of local programming like “Big Brother” underscores the drawing power of domestic productions in this market. (The nation’s most popular program is RTL Klub’s soap “Between Friends,” which draws as much as 65% of the 18- to 49-year-old audience.)

“The ‘Big Brother’ phenom is the most interesting thing happening in this market,” says Cecilia Hazai, owner of the TV distrib company Twin Media. “It’s old in the West, but a new format in Hungary, and it seems to be working.”

Gambling on reality, passe everywhere else, was a gutsy move for TV2, and “Big Brother’s” Magyar success could mean Hungarian buyers may be interested in tried-and-true reality formats.

A new buyer may be on the horizon as well.

Hungary’s newly elected socialist-led government plans to reinvigorate Hungary’s languishing state network, Magyar Televizio (MTV).

Government reps are considering different options, from selling franchise timeslots to outside producers to beefing up the budget. The upshot: MTV, once the poor man of Hungarian TV, may now be in the position to spend.

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