Record 260 buyers deal at Discop

BUDAPEST — The Discop ’97 TV programming market held here June 26-28 attracted a record 260 buyers from 20 countries and spawned enough deals to reinforce its reputation as the foremost such trade show in the rapidly maturing territories of Eastern Europe.

Although some Western programmers dismiss Discop as a poor man’s L.A. Screenings, buyers — Eastern European TV stations and sales agents — report last week’s Discop fulfilled its original mandate as an accessible market for the fledgling stations.

“Programming markets are a very new thing to us,” said Alla Popova, manager of the Kiev-based TV distribution agency Artis. “I came to Discop simply to find out what goes on.”

In addition to the advanced central European markets of Poland, Hungary, Slovenia and Czech Republic, Discop attracted new buyers from Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, the Ukraine and embattled members of the former Yugoslav federation — Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia-Montenegro and Croatia.

Newcomers to Discop included Georgia and Kazakhstan.

For most of these buyers, Discop is their chance to meet with big-league sellers — mainly North American and European firms, including Buena Vista Intl., King World Intl., the Discovery Channel, Gaumont, the BBC and Alliance Communications.

“A big distributor doesn’t want to bother with small stations at a market like MIP,” said Patrick Jucaud, co-owner of Happening Prods., the L.A.-based company that organizes Discop. “They pay too much for a stall to be interested in small-money deals.”

Sellers admit that Discop does not yet yield big-money deals, but they expect this to change. “We’ve made sales,” said Anna Karin Strom, acquisitions executive for Stockholm-based Nordisk Films Intl. “But we haven’t made a lot of money. We’re here to establish ourselves in these markets for the future.”

After five years (since Discop’s inception), this whole market now has its act more or less together,” said Jucaud. “It is a mature market. Many of the major buyers have a better understanding of programming strategy.”

The market’s sophistication is reflected in its changing tastes. Where steamy telenovelas sold like junk bonds at previous Discops, hot products this round included documentaries, blockbuster films and cable-network packages.East Europe’s awakening cable industry is quickly becoming one of the most lucrative markets in the region. “Cable operators are faced with the situation where they have to expand their existing subscriber base and become more professional,” said Jucaud, who reports that cablers are now buying “packaged channels” like the Discovery Channel and Bloomberg News.

“Here sellers still have access to some fairly important cable networks,” said Jucaud, “whereas the cable market is full in the U.S.”

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