DISCOP keynote paints it bleak for TV

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BUDAPEST -- The future of television is bleak and many in the industry will lose their jobs within the next 10 years despite best efforts to take on the challenges posed by the Internet and other new media, the head of one of Europe's leading networks said late Wednesday.

Michael Garin, head of Central European Media Enterprises, which runs 16 networks in six Central and Eastern European countries, issued his stark warning as TV buyers and sellers gathered in the Hungarian capital on the eve of the opening of the 15th edition of the DISCOP TV Content market.

The annual event -- taken over by NATPE two years ago -- has expanded from humble beginnings in the early 1990s to become Central Europe's key TV market, attracting some 1,500 media executives annually.

Garin, who in 3 1/2 years at CME has overseen a company whose market capitalization has grown from $450 million to $4 billion and now employs 3,700 people, warned that the good times for television are drawing to a close.

"The television industry in Western Europe and the U.S. is going to disappear -- our industry is subsidized by advertising and advertising is losing its audiences," Garin said.

The Internet, new media and technologies allowing subscribers to download programs and fast-forward through advertisements will rapidly erode the 90% of television revenue that currently comes from traditional advertising, he warned.

Garin made his remarks at an invitation-only dinner of leading European TV executives held the night before DISCOP'S 15th edition was to kick off.

Television's current, and hugely expensive, model based on what he called the "three Ps" of production, programming and promotion, is doomed to disappear under the onslaught of an increasingly fractured new media.

"I do not believe that people will watch serious programming on subscription or pay-per-view models. If you are dependent on people buying such programs on an individual basis, nobody in their right mind is going to make serious and balanced programming," Garin said. "Faced with the Internet and new technology, the three Ps will disappear."

Television networks as we know them in Western Europe and the U.S. will be gone within a decade, Garin predicts.

"In my view you will not see TV networks in 10 years time. In Central and Eastern Europe, it will also happen, but will take much longer because these countries are still only 15 years away from totalitarian pasts and are still developing, and news and public affairs are much more important here than in the West," he said.

Americans view seven hours of television a day, while people in Central Europe "still have a life" and spend only three-and-a-half hours in front of the box daily, Garin said, meaning that television still has room for expansion in the region.

But the challenge remains the same. "In 10 years you won't have a job. I believe that in my heart and soul. You have to start thinking about what you are going to do in the coming years now," Garin said, adding to laughter that he would be retiring within a couple of years.

He offered a crumb of hope to his audience. Asking what would replace the networks, he suggested that only a public-service model -- where viewers were prepared to pay a subscription or license fee for a network whether they watched it or not -- could work.

But even that model would be good for only one major network per country, said Garin, who in the late 1970s represented Britain's BBC in the U.S.

Central and Eastern Europe have not witnessed the sort of aggressive investment in YouTube and BBC-type news Web sites that the West has, Garin said, and CME is actively investing in that area now.

"For the industry, it is an overwhelmingly daunting challenge to come up with solutions," Garin said, adding that no one in television yet has any answers to the end of network television as we know it.
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