The appearance of national commercial TV services undoubtedly had a profound effect on public broadcasters throughout Central and Eastern Europe. From the moment the first – Poland’s Polsat and Czech TV Nova – made their debuts in 1993 and 1994 respectively, the writing was on the wall for many stations that had until that point enjoyed complete monopoly status.
Some, such as CT (Czech Republic), STV (Slovakia) and ETV (Estonia), took an early hit and managed to claw their way back to respectability in the ratings stakes. Others, including MTV (Hungary), arguably never recovered.
Poland’s TVP, against all odds, carried on as if nothing had happened. Despite competition from Polsat and TVN, two of the most polished commercial TV operations in the region, not to mention huge political pressures, it remained generously funded by both receiver licence fees and advertising. As a result, the audience share for its combined services, which now include several thematic channels, only gradually fell and even today stands at just over 50%.
Poland’s current government, which has been in office for four months, is certainly no fan of TVP and has hinted at far reaching changes. Speculation as to what these may be has reached a crescendo in the last few days, with various reports suggesting that one of TVP’s two national channels will be privatised and the other forced to stop carrying advertising, with the third (TVP Info) scrapped and replaced by regional programming.
While this has been denied by not only Poland’s finance minister but also Prime Minister Donald Tusk, far-reaching changes of some description are almost certainly in the pipeline. From a politically neutral industry perspective, this raises questions as to how, if at all, they will affect TVP’s strategy. Specifically, will the broadcaster still launch, as has until now been widely expected, a FTA DTH platform? And will the rollout of new channels, one of which will be an HD sports service sometime this summer, continue?
One can only hope that these developments, which would be generally beneficial to the country’s broadcast industry, still go ahead irrespective of what happens to TVP’s structure and method of funding.