Teuton gov’t tinkers with media confab coin

NRW Prime Minister explains need for cutbacks

COLOGNE — German media confab Medienforum NRW, held May 22-24, attracted the usual array of high-ranking speakers from the industry, but indications are future editions may suffer.

North Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s largest state by population, is home to Bertelsmann and several networks. It accounts for one-third of the country’s TV production volume and some $133 billion in sales related to media activities.

But the state’s debts match up to that figure pretty precisely, as NRW Prime Minister Jurgen Ruttgers stated in his Medienforum opening speech, in which he explained the need for cutbacks.

He couldn’t quite calm a group of film students protesting a 20% reduction of the $15 million given annually by the government to film funding body Filmstiftung NRW.

“It’ll be getting tight if that became a trend,” says Filmstiftung’s topper Michael Schmid-Ospach, noting the body’s other partners — broadcasters RTL, WDR and ZDF — are keeping up their contributions.

Due to the soccer World Cup, this year’s edition of the Medienforum was rescheduled from its traditional June slot to May. It thus directly overlapped with the Cannes Film Festival, to the dismay of the confab’s Film Congress section, which had to make do without its regular co-production market.

Cutbacks also have hit the state’s support of the Medienforum, by some 10% to $3.3 million this year, with an additional $850,000 to be taken away in 2007.

As a remedy, Ruttgers suggested Medienforum would have to attract additional sponsorship, which is the main source of financing Germany’s other large confab, Munich’s fall Medientage.

But Ruttgers may need to persuade WDR, the state’s well-funded pubcaster. Medienforum’s TV festival Cologne Conference, which in the past introduced edgy U.S. series like “24” to the German market, has sponsors, including this year the weekly mag Der Spiegel.

WDR, peeved at the alliance with the smaller rival, withdrew its programs from the fest.

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