Teutonic war at Euro gabfest

Commercial players demand ARD, ZDF give up ads

BERLIN — Germany’s sprawling Medienforum NRW, one of Europe’s top media talking shops examining trends in TV, film, print and technology, became a battlefield for hard-up commercial webs to attack Germany’s well-to-do pubcasters.

With the advertising slump continuing, commercial players demanded that pubcasters ARD and ZDF give up their limited advertising as they are also funded by viewers fees.

Georg Kofler, head of pay TV broadcaster Premiere, described the pubcasters as socialist relics that are the real pay TV channels of the industry and press for their viewer fees to be axed.

ARD and ZDF got more respect on the other side of town at another Medienforum event, the Intl. Film Conference, where producers praised the pubcasters for their support in the face of dwindling coin from commercial webs.

The advertising slump that has bedeviled the industry had a visible impact on the event, keeping some industryites at home as business trips fall victim to cost cutting.

“The attendance appeared lower than last year,” noted broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1’s Torsten Rossmann. “The confab is in a phase of consolidation, after all.”

Even event organizers noted the shrinkage: with the adage that “less is more,” they announced the concentration of events and topics would continue next year.

There were 3,800 participants at the June 22 – 25 event in Cologne. For some, like Bavaria Media’s Boris Ausserer, the confab is still an effective venue for face-to-face discussions: “I had lots of meetings but didn’t catch any of the panels or screenings.”

However, the Cologne Conference & Screenings, the intl. TV and film festival that comes under the Medienforum’s umbrella, reported a strong year.

The June 20 – 25 event saw an estimated 25% increase in its participants. Organizers counted 4,500 viewers, both trade people and regular folk, at the theatrical screenings of its top ten TV fiction and non-fiction programs, including this year’s award winners “White Teeth” by Julian Jarrold and Steven Silver’s docu “The Last Man,” about the Rwandan genocide.

In addition, 2,300 trade visitors went to the confab’s soirees and panels on the Rhine riverboat and in the Cologne fairgrounds’ Rhine Terrace.

Entertainment formats remained a hot topic at the Cologne Conference. Ute Biernat, head of RTL’s Grundy Light Entertainment, predicted increasing demand for “Pop Idol”-style fare as well as shorter and more flexible formats. But she declared, “eating worms in the outback is totally out. Nobody needs extra pain and repulsion these days.”

At the Medienforum, a lively discussion led by the New Yorker’s Seymour M. Hersh on press freedom Stateside during and after the U.S. invasions of Iraq drew considerable interest.

“I have the impression the spark has been reignited,” says Miriam Meckel, North Rhine-Westphalia’s state secretary for media. “The big media players have regained the energy to fight for new concepts to revive the industry.”

(Christian Kohl in Cologne contributed to this report)

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