Opening the digital floodgates

BUDAPEST — As one of the first territories to embrace commercial terrestrial television, the Czech Republic is in the grips of the same digital revolution that is transforming the broadcast industries across Central and Eastern Europe from Budapest to Moscow.

Nearly one in four Czech TV households is geared to receive digital services such as DVB-S, IPTV, DTT and DVB-C. The industry expects digital reach to cover half of the Czech territory by the end of 2008 and grow to 70% of the market next year.

Three digital companies, including the regional powerhouse UPC, serve the country, and the upshot will be an explosion in both channels and demand for content. Like elsewhere in the region, some digital channels will embrace specialty programming, and new buyers at Mipcom may show interest in formats ranging from current affairs to travel.

TV Nova, the territory’s top-rated network, owned by Central European Media Enterprises (CME), is extending its reach. Having purchased the rights to develop a Czech version of MTV, Nova is adding a music cable-and-satellite channel to its empire, which already includes dedicated movie channel Nova Cinema and sports channel Galaxie Sport, soon to be renamed Nova Sport.

It is also going digital. Nova is already broadcasting digitally to half the market and is allowed by law to launch one additional digital channel. And with Nova executives publicly lobbying for a change in the law to permit more “compensatory licenses,” Nova’s digital universe may expand even more.

Nova’s chief commercial rival, Prima TV, 50% owned by Sweden’s Modern Times Group, is also going digital. And the digital revolution is encouraging other media players, namely the film industry, to enter the broadcast fray. Prague’s Barrandov Studio, the territory’s oldest and largest studio complex, will reportedly launch digital network TV Barrandov early next year.

Instead of low-cost specialized programming, TV Barrandov appears prepared to launch a general-entertainment network that will take on TV Nova and Prima TV.

Offering discounts to advertisers, the new channel hopes to attract a young, hip audience as well as a sizeable portion of the Czech TV ad spend, which grew by 4% in August across the market. No doubt this means the fledgling web will be looking to build a programming slate of international hit series and dramas, as well as first-release movies.

TOP 3

“Clinic in the Rose Garden” (TV Nova)

“Kriminalka Andel” (TV Nova)

“Dr. House” (TV Nova)

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