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Outage Cuts Nick Back in Hungary

Budapest, Hungary Financial difficulties at anoperator here have severely reduced the reach of two satellite-delivered niche channels.The change could also affect the Hungarian ambitions of both the Nickelodeon and Fox Kidsnetworks.

Hungarian Broadcasting Corp. -- which owns the twochannels, MSAT and SZIV TV -- has failed to fulfill its financial obligation to satellitecompany Antenna Hungaria, sources said. Neither company returned calls for comment, but asof Sept. 26, the two channels were available only in Budapest, cutting their reach from 39percent of Hungarian households to approximately 10 percent.

It's unclear why Antenna continues to transmit thenetworks in Budapest, but observers speculate that HBC has been behind in payments formonths and the partial blackout is a last-ditch attempt to get the company to ante up.

The drop is especially problematic for Nickelodeon, whichhas transmitted programming on MSAT since last fall. The pressure is on at Nick to gainmomentum, as its rival, Fox Kids Europe Ltd., plans to launch a Hungarian channel at theend of the year.

Fox is negotiating to broadcast a block of its programs oneither one of Hungary's two commercial stations or the state-owned station, whilealso developing its own channel.

"A lot of people don't know Fox but know ourcharacters," said Tatjana Vucanovic, director Central and Eastern European operationsfor Fox Kids. "HBC's problems are good news for us. Hungary is a small marketand three children channels would be a bit overcrowded."

Nick isn't the only kid-oriented channel it has toworry about: Cartoon Network also is transmitted in Hungary.

Bruce Tuchman, general manager of global network venturesat Nickelodeon International, would not say whether his firm was seeking to end itsrelationship with HBC. "For us, HBC has been a meaningful way to connect tokids," said Tuchman.

Until earlier this year, HBC's channels were also ameaningful way for advertisers to reach specific markets. Barry Cupples, managing directorat Optimum Central, the media-buying arm of ad agencies DDB Needham and BBDO, said heoften bought time on both stations.

SZIV TV, with its theatrical movies and local programming,was an especially good way to reach middle-aged housewives.

However, Cupples had not advertised on the stations for sixmonths because ratings company AGB would no longer verify the stations' viewership.Lately, SZIV has broadcast mainly music videos.

Nickelodeon continues on MSAT, which also telecasts seriessuch as Pacific Blue. "For a while they were really doing okay. I need thesecable-satellite stations but I if I can't verify, I can't take the risk withclients' money," said Cupples.