HBO is shopping here for product to launch a new pay TV service in the Czech Republic in April, sources at the Mifed market say. HBO film programming and acquisitions’ veep for Europe, Perry Schneider, is making the rounds at Mifed, purchasing pay TV rights for the new venture, according to distribs working in the area.

The U.S. cabler already operates a pay TV channel in Hungary, and announced start-up of a terrestrially beamed pay TV channel in Turkey at Mipcom, with partners Canal Plus and Turkish industrial conglomerate Koc group. The Turkish joint venture is due to launch as soon as early next year.

Hungry HBO

HBO’s interest in extending its pay TV operation in Europe is well known and the channel has been actively looking for new territories with the right combination of elements to start up new channels along the lines of HBO Hungary, which combines local and foreign programming targeted at an upscale audience.

Sources at HBO in New York said it would be premature to confirm the launch of a Czech channel now.

Talk of HBO’s possible move into the Czech Republic was accompanied by a flurry of activity from Eastern European territories from distribs shopping for TV, theatrical and homevideo rights to a wide range of independent product.

But despite an intensive schedule of meetings, distribs working those territories say market conditions are still incredibly difficult and it will be several more years before they start to see significant profit margins.

Indie distributors scramble

Nonetheless, several independent theatrical distribs that started up over the past few years after the “meltdown” of the state monopolies have managed to carve out a secure niche for themselves in their local markets. Budapest-based Hungarian distrib Flamex acquired theatrical and homevideo rights to “Short Cuts” and “Much Ado About Nothing” at Mifed, and was negotiating rights to several more features as the market wrapped Thursday.

The distrib controls a chain of 10 theaters across Hungary, handles a slate of about 15 indie pictures a year and just launched its own homevideo label in September.

International Production Associates signed deals here for homevideo and TV rights to the J&M, PM, Weintraub and Hemdale catalogs for the Czech and Slovak republics and Hungary, president Robert Jones said. IPA licenses its product to Flamex in Hungary, Golden Crown in the Czech Republic and Starcut Film in Poland.

Jones said he now buys TV rights to all product, along with theatrical and homevideo, since private channels will be coming on stream in the region over the next year. But he notes there’s a huge gulf between what channels in Poland and the Czech Republic are paying for feature films ($ 1,500-$ 3,000) and what the MPEAA or AFMA pricing guidelines recommend ($ 10,000-$ 20,000 for video alone).