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Playboy, History Tout International Gains

Cannes, France-While program sales were again the focus of the recent MIPCOM television market here, a number of global broadcast and multichannel programmers used the gathering to announce channel launches, beef up their global online presence or address significant regulatory issues.

During the show, which attracted more than 11,700 visitors and a record number of exhibitors, Playboy Television International announced plans to launch its network on the Polsat direct-to-home and cable package of channels in Poland in April.

Marc Zand, Playboy TV International's vice president of business and legal affairs, said the company has worked to significantly expand its European presence. Over the last month, Playboy TV launched in the Benelux region and in France, where its programming is now available on Kiosque, the pay-per-view service of digital DTH platform CanalSatellite.

Maria Komodikas, senior vice president and general manager of A & E Television Networks International, said The History Channel would become a full, 24-hour-a-day network in Latin America on Oct. 17. And History's branded block of programming in Australia will convert to a full 24-hour network in Australia on Foxtel's Entertainment Plus Tier package in early December.

So far this year, Komodikas said, History has expanded the reach of its full-time channels or branded programming blocks by 48 percent, to 111 million households in 63 countries.

Attendance by new-media, broadband and Internet companies-which, for the first time, had their own pavilion-was up dramatically from last year. Several more traditional TV companies also used the market to expand their international presence in the online and broadband arena.

Didier Bellens, the CEO of RTL Group, Europe's largest free-to-air broadcaster, said his company hopes to leverage the success of its Web sites-which currently tally 150 million page views a month-to create new broadband services.

As part of that initiative, RTL has talked to cable operators and broadband providers about possible alliances that could lead to new services or thematic channels, Bellens said.


Increasingly, programmers use the market to boost their new-media operations. Jane Kitson, the vice president of international Web operations for Discovery Communications Inc.'s, said her company now has nation-specific Web sites in 13 languages. It has cut "about 100" deals for local content on its international sites.

"In the last few weeks, we've launched local sites in Dutch, Swedish and Danish," she said, adding that Discovery will have a Web site in Norwegian and French by the end of the year.

Amid the generally upbeat mood, two trade groups-the Cable and Satellite Channel Association in France (ACCeS) and Italy's Association of Thematic Channels (ACTI)-used the market to discuss some regulatory issues that cloud the industry's future. They also announced plans to create the European Association of Thematic Channels.

The EATC will represent the programmers' interests before the European Commission in Brussels and other regional governing bodies.

ACCeS, which was established in 1997, now has about 45 members, while ACTI, which was founded in 1998, represents 22 niche networks.

Guillaume Gronier, the ACCeS delegate general noted that French thematic channels transmit more than 330,000 hours of programs per year. Currently, thematic networks attract about 7 percent of the audience in France, with a 30 percent share among the 5.5 million homes that subscribe to cable or satellite systems.


ACCeS members argue the regulatory systems in France and the European Community do not reflect the growing importance of these channels, and in many cases they discriminate against thematic networks-particularly those that operate only in one European territory.

"The current legislation in France poses an obstacle to their continued development," said Claude-Yves Robin, the director general of Canal J in France and a former president of the ACCeS. He and other members of the association would like to see changes in the rules regarding home shopping, advertising and programming in France and across Europe.

ACCeS also hopes to improve the advertising climate for thematic channels. It announced a broad-based initiative to work with audience-measurement agency Mediametrie to create better ratings for the channels.

Details of the new research are still being worked out, but the industry hopes to have the first French ratings available in the summer of 2001.

Finally, on the programming sales side, most companies said they saw continued strong demand for their product. E! Entertainment Television announced new program sales to Australia, while Discovery reported deals in both Latin America and Asia.

Though building the networks remains Discovery's main international objective, vice president of programming and sales operations Rex Recka said the programmer has put an increased emphasis on program sales this year. And that strategy has paid off in increased revenue.

"We are looking at more flexible and innovative ways to window our product," he said.