Players' perilous paradise in Central and Eastern Europe.

Author:Swartzberg, Terry

In the European business world, new opportunity seems to lie in the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) mass media field, although accurate growth figures are hard to come by.

Take Russian television, for example. In 1995 it generated advertising revenues of between $650 million(*) and just under $1 billion(**), making it the largest TV market in the CEE region.

The Russian media sector's revenues, growing at a rate of between 20 percent and 30 percent, are largely produced by advertising from such multinational companies as IBM and Daimler Benz.

"The problem with economic statistics from Russia is that the advertising and media areas are especially unreliable," commented Christoph Westecker, a Berlin-based veteran media consultant for Central and Eastern Europe and a senior executive at Germany's SAT. 1 TV network. " In Russia, or anywhere else in Central and Eastern Europe, figures are at best guess estimated, put together by adding the presumed value of barter and third-party deals to the conditional commitments to pay, plus IOUs and a core of hard cash from the western multinational companies," he added.

Although sector statistics may be questionable, there's no doubt about the quick pace of TV growth or the high stakes involved.

Ask Sergei Blogovdin, Vladislav Listyev's successor. A well-positioned journalist before he was tragically assassinated, Listyev was in charge of implementing the commercialization of ORT (the former Ostankino) on a sound Western-style basis by eliminating Mafia-related deals. Blogovdin, who has been in office since last year, is now bravely continuing the work of his assassinated predecessor.

This quick pace of action stems from the sheer number of players in Eastern Europe. With more than 20 television stations and a population of 2.7 million, Latvia, for example, has probably set a new record for the number of TV channels per capita. In reality, however, many of these stations are nothing more than loose shifting groups of independent production companies that change programming and formats on a moment's notice. Even the so-called "established" stations are prone to a bewildering unreliability. Take Picca TV, for example. Picca recently completed its second year of broadcasting and is one of Latvia's more successful newcomers. The company's secret has been to split its broadcasters into several distinct areas by allowing for the simultaneous broadcasting of advertising.

This rampant profusion of TV channels...

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