BUDAPEST — On the brink of war in Iraq, Hungarian TV is moving from escapist fare and focusing more on reality programming.The genre has overwhelmed the TV market since SBS-controlled TV2 aired a Magyar version of “Big Brother” last September, and given it an audience and ad boost that has helped broadcasters ride out the international economic crisis. “Big Brother” pushed TV2 to the No. 1 spot, prompting its only commercial competitor, RTL Klub, to air its own reality program, “Real World.” The result has been “national hysteria,” says TV distributor Cecilia Hazai, president of Budapest-based Twin Media. Ratings for the competing reality programs grew so high, it dented cinema attendence in late 2002 and early 2003. Genre here to stay “Big Brother” and “Real World,” both in their second seasons, don’t command quite the same fascination now as when they premiered but reality’s shine is not likely to rub off any time soon. As a result, advertisers remain bullish and are willing to continue spending. Hungarian public TV is also on an upsurge. Although a distant third in its competition with RTL Klub and TV2, state-controlled Magyar Televizio (MTV) is fighting back by returning to the basics. By luring star anchor Krisztina Toth, MTV’s news ratings are up. MTV is also attempting to bulk up its entertainment program roster with competitive foreign programming. Surprise buyers at Mip may be Hungarian cablers. As cable expands audience share, top networks such as Viasat3 are breaking out of niche broadcasting and searching for strong commercial product. (One of Viasat’s top shows is a subtitled “Jerry Springer.”) But with Hungary on the fast track to European Union accession, expect programmers to adhere to EU content regulations. American shows are not as popular as they once were but analysts credit the reality craze and competitive local productions for this trend, not war-inspired anti-American feelings.
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