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Staffers check out of hard-up Czech TV

Co. will have to cut 12% of its 2,700 employees

PRAGUE — Cash-strapped pubcaster Czech Television has very little to look forward to this year, following a bleak 2003.

A deficit of 500 million crowns ($20 million) forced it to cut 100 jobs last year and it must ax another 200 in the first half of 2004 — about 12% of its 2,700 staffers.

Even execs whose jobs are secure are feeling the crunch. “I’m worried about my salary,” one confides.

It also has delayed feature film funding for six months. The 12-year-old CTV is the major co-producer of local films, providing 20% of all film funding.

“The last co-productions were signed last summer,” says Pavel Strnad, president of the Czech Producers Assn. “We will see major changes in the 2005 film output.”

“We’re under financial pressure,” counters a CTV spokesman. “Cooperation has a long tradition and is advantageous to both sides. Perhaps we can provide more in-kind services.”

Filmmakers are doubtful. Without cash upfront, they expect to find it harder to bring in private sponsorship as well as the finishing funds that distributors invest. Some also question whether CTV’s labs, the station’s most popular in-kind service, will be available to them.

The effects could have a long-reaching impact. Even the Karlovy Vary Film Festival is feeling cautious. “If there isn’t money to produce films, we won’t have Czech films to show, and the government might not want to give money to a festival rather than the filmmakers,” says a programmer.

While CTV insists the film financing cut is temporary, the crisis is not.

CTV has cut $16 million from its $80 million budget this year. One producer of a respected art film program has been told the show will not air until he comes up with private sponsors.

Help is on the way, however. The government has proposed a 30% increase in the monthly $2.80 license fees, which could bring in another $25 million a year on top of the $?? million it already receives. The last increase was in 1997. The pubcaster also raises funds through advertising.

If, as expected, the fee increase goes into production, that still leaves CTV without cash for its planned switch to digital in 20??.

“We don’t need reality TV programs in the Czech Republic,” a CTV exec quips. “CTV is its own reality TV show.”

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