Coming of age

November 6, 2009

This year has special significance for the broadcast industry, marking as it does the 20th anniversary of commercial TV services in Europe.

It was against this backdrop that the Association of Commercial Television in Europe (ACT) held its second annual conference in Brussels earlier this week. Unfortunately, through unforeseen circumstances the event did not have a single speaker or panellist from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). As a result, the huge impact that commercial TV has had in the region in the last decade was at best left to the audiences’ imagination.

In truth, commercial TV services began to appear in a number of key West European markets such as Germany, France and Scandinavia in the late 1980s. By then, they had already existed in the UK for over 30 years.

In CEE, the first commercial stations made their debuts shortly after the end of the Cold War in late 1989. On a national level, Poland’s Polsat (1993) and the Czech Republic’s TV Nova (1994) were the undoubted pioneers and both are still around today, stronger than ever.

However, it is also clear that they, along with all other commercial TV services in CEE, have been as much if not more affected by the current global economic crisis as their counterparts in Western Europe.

There is nevertheless an interesting difference between the two regions, as pointed out to Broadband TV News by ACT president and RTL Belgium CEO Philippe Delusinne, in that the level of expectation in CEE was much higher in the last 3-4 years.

While the crisis has undoubtedly been a shock to the commercial TV industry in CEE, the market still has, in Delusinne view, potential to grow.

Which is undoubtedly what is already happening, despite slumps in TV ad spend throughout the region – 12% in the case of Poland in the first nine months of this year, 21% in Russia in the first six.

We may not yet be out of the woods yet, but the next two decades in CEE’s commercial TV industry – which has, like its Western counterpart, developed into a pluralistic and diverse media landscape – look as if not more promising than the first.