Discop sees rise of niche channels

East Europe grows more sophisticated

TV mart Discop wrapped Friday after three days of furious biz.

The emergence over the past year of some 300 digital thematic channels in the region has triggered a demand for specialized programming that powered dealmaking among the 1,050 or so buyers from Central and Eastern Europe, Turkey and Israel.

“The channels were more specialized this year,” said Cecilia Hazai, managing director of Budapest-based distribution company Twin Media. “They knew what they wanted. Discop has become more sophisticated.”

Distribs of specialized product fared well, such as the U.K.’s Screen Ventures, which reported heavy sales of concert programming and music documentaries.

Alek Kutela, senior VP of HBO Central Europe, which has helped drive digital expansion in the region, said his company has been focused on programming with a regional appeal.

Other distributors confirmed that Central and Eastern Europe is transforming into a single market.

“Networks like HBO and AXN cover the region,” said Hazai. “It’s no longer enough for a channel to run in one country.”

Hazai warned that distribs that come to Discop without licenses for all Central and Eastern Europe for a given product stand to lose deals to broadcasters with a regional reach.

One feature of the event this year was the number of companies that were both buying and selling local product. HBO, for one, is looking both to acquire and produce programming in the region, which it will then sell at next year’s Discop.

Levels of professionalism were also heightened at the mart. “In the past, Discop was famous for clients not showing up,” said Hazai. “This has changed. Clients kept appointments and arrived on time. Business has shifted up to another level.”

Sellers stated that the standards of business may be Western, but the prices aren’t. Russian buyers paid a premium, but not those from elsewhere in the region. According to one seller, “Croatia and Slovenia always try to low-ball prices.”

Sellers also reported intense demand from previously slow markets, such as Bulgaria and Romania.

Among those on a buying spree this year were Croatian pubcaster HRT, which bought a series of thrillers from the U.K.’s All3Media and 51 hours of nature programming from the BBC.

Other big Discop deals included: Poland’s Polsat purchased 300 hours of programming from a series of distribs, including the Netherland’s Endemol and U.K.’s Zodiac Intl.; Pro TV Romania purchased U.S. skeins “CSI,” “Without a Trace” and “Nip/Tuck”; VO Web, a new Russian video-on-demand service, purchased 1,000 hours of programming from Argentina’s Telefe Intl.; and U.K.’s Fremantle sold rights to gameshow “Family Feud” to Serbia.

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