EU newbie preps to go digital

Regs require elimination of terrestrial b'casting in four years

BUDAPEST — On May 1 Hungary and nine of its neighbors will formally enter the European Union. Media execs identify statutory digital broadcasting as the most dynamic and far-reaching change Hungary’s broadcasters will face as part of the new Europe.

According to EU regulations, terrestrial broadcasting will be phased out in approximately four years in favor of “digital frequencies,” which will allow markets such as Hungary to increase the number of national broadcasting license holders.

In Hungary’s case, eliminating terrestrial broadcasting and going digital will allow four or five licensed broadcasters to join the Magyar dial in a market that currently — under the terrestrial tower broadcast system — is able to accommodate only three networks: state-owned MTV1 and commercial nets RTL Klub and SBS-controlled TV2.

Going digital will reshape Hungary’s media landscape, but broadcasters do not appear to be worried.

“I don’t think it is bad news for us,” said Peter Kolosi, programming chief of RTL Klub, which currently leads the local industry with a market share of approximately 40%. “The big stations (like RTL and TV2) will have a dominant position in the future as well. But the competition will change in the future.”

Program quotas set up by the EU won’t pose much of a problem for Hungary, because Euro content on most nets already exceeds the required amount.

Magyar programmers have made it no secret that Hungarians do not have a taste for U.S.-made dramas and comedies, preferring domestic reality programs, European and domestic sports (such as Hungarian Soccer League action), and European series over American sitcoms.

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