Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Shows Scooped Up at Global TV Market but Europeans Voice Concern over Megamergers, Access to American Market

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Shows Scooped Up at Global TV Market but Europeans Voice Concern over Megamergers, Access to American Market

Article excerpt

Aided by the explosion of commercial TV channels around the globe, the rapid growth of cable, and a dramatic increase in satellite services, American television shows are dominating the world's airwaves to an astonishing degree. Yet while their popularity is as high as ever, their quality levels are often questioned.

This was evident at the giant television market, MIPCOM (International Film and Programming Market for TV, Video, Cable, and Satellite), held earlier this month at Cannes, France, which attracted a record 9,000 international TV executives from some 91 countries.

They came to engage in the annual ritual of a buying-and-selling spree of TV programs, which also represents a pulse-taking of the industry worldwide.

The main topics of conversation this year included: the need for more children's programs and a notable rise in animation; the decline of the once all-powerful, state-run public television networks; and concern over the impact of media megamergers in the United States, such as Time Warner and Turner Broadcasting, Disney and its new Capital Cities/ABC organization, and the combination of Viacom and Paramount Pictures.

There was also a strongly voiced resentment by European program producers who note a rise in the number of US shows in their countries, but cannot get a foot in the door of the vast American market.

There has been a slight improvement when it comes to documentaries, they say, which are gradually finding a home on US cable channels such as Discovery and Arts & Entertainment, which co-produce with Europeans.

But this doesn't reduce the frustration of men like Joost van Breukelen, a documentary-film producer in the Netherlands who observes that "you Americans have a kind of conspiracy against European programs: You just don't want to give them a chance, regardless of their quality."

Mr. van Breukelen is upset by the fact that not only do American program distributors turn down his films, but they also often won't even take the time to view them.

Lenka Smidova of Czech state television argues that "it isn't fair that the Americans take up as much as 15 percent of our program schedule - and a much higher percentage on the commercial stations - but they won't even consider buying any of our shows."

Of equal concern to Europeans is the concentration of power implied in the various US media mergers, which puts buyers in a weaker position.

Douste Blazy, France's minister of culture, alluded to this in a speech. He argued that the mergers should generate closer and more effective cooperation among Europeans to meet what he felt was the overpowering American competition.

"Otherwise we are too weak," he says.

To a degree, such cooperation already exists. Italian, French, and German companies joined to produce "The Bible" miniseries (with a very pricey - for a European production - per-episode budget of $12 million) in Morocco. …

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