Gallic TV coin crunch

Pubcasters grapple with budget cuts

PARIS — France’s public television broadcasters are looking to the new socialist government to ease the pressure on network finances.

The board of France 2, the country’s main pubcaster, will be officially informed next week that the network lost 70 million francs ($12 million) in 1996, compared to making a $10 million profit in 1995. Similarly, Franco-German cultural channel Arte has lost $3 million, while regional pubcaster France 3 and education channel La Cinquieme will report small profits. All the networks face a tough 1997 if they are to balance their books.

Under the previous conservative administration, both Arte and La Cinquieme had this year’s budget cut by 5.2% and 8.9%, respectively. France 2 and France 3, which are financed by a combo of license fee cash and advertising coin, have been given virtually no extra public funds for 1997 and have been told to increase their budgets through advertising revenue.

Under the conservatives’ plan, France 2 is meant to be majority funded this year by advertising for the first time since 1990, while France 3 is supposed to up ad revenue by 13% — at a time when its audience is stagnant at 17.5%.

In order to meet financial targets, France 2 is set to cut $35 million in spending this year, but given that pubcaster execs see little chance of significantly growing income from the advertising sector, all the signs are that the 1996 deficit will grow this year.

The budget restraints were part of the previous government’s overall tight economic policy, designed to limit public spending as part of the French effort to meet criteria for joining Europe’s upcoming single currency.

The new socialist government of Premier Lionel Jospin has openly criticized the fact that the pubcasters have been forced to seek increasing amounts from the advertising sector. However, observers in Paris now say that given the parlous state of France’s finances, Jospin and Culture Minister Catherine Trautmann will have difficulty finding the extra francs the pubcasters need.

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