Informa confab hopes for tech in Eastern Europe

PRAGUE — Fired up by the successes of HBO, Central European Media Enterprises, News Corp. and others in Central and Eastern Europe, a small army of ventures in digital TV is scrambling for a stake in a market with huge growth expected.

Now if someone can just explain the technology to the customers and the government.

Digital TV industryites gathered for the first Informa confab, which wrapped in Prague Sept. 19, confessed these are key challenges in the region.

Investors and developers building networks, platforms and technologies showed off a dazzling array of plans, from video on demand to 3-D TV via ADSL.

But price-conscious local consumers will not be obsessing over high-definition or TV recordable to hard drives, says Mark Goodburn, marketing director of ADB, which makes TV set-top boxes required to decode digital signals. For them, he says, “Content is king.”

That idea, along with ease of use, has been central to winners like Poland’s ITI Neovision, whose N network has broken into the market bigtime.

Meanwhile, Vaclav Zak, chairman of the Czech Republic’s Broadcasting Council, announced his country is readying a workable media law on digital TV. Parliament is expected to allow six relative newcomers into the game, along with the major terrestrials, TV Nova and Prima TV, in the next two weeks. Until now, only pubcaster Czech TV has been making significant use of digital signals.

“We missed the opportunity for DTV,” Zak confesses, explaining that only 7% to 8% of Czech terrestrial and cable content is digital — and the country’s 2.6 million terrestrial viewer homes make up the vast majority, followed by 800,000 cable homes. Just 50,000 have satellite TV in the country of 10 million.

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