Anticipating a dramatic growth of cable television and multinational advertising revenues in Europe, the European Broadcasting Union plans to launch a multinational commercial TV satellite "superstation" early next year, according to EBU sources.
The network, which would initially carry "two to five hours a night of the best programming available from European television," according to EBU's Neville Clarke, would be beamed off Holland's transponder on the European Communications Satellite to cable and community antennae television systems throughout Europe. Operating costs for the network could run close to $400 million.
The EBU's satellite service could be a direct competitor to media entrepreneur Rupert Murdoch's Satellite Television PLC, which launched a commercial English-language channel service for European cable consumption in April of last year. Murdoch, a media mogul with newspaper properties on three continents, has promised to market the service more aggressively throughout Europe and already has tentative agreements for broadcasts into parts of France and Germany.
Currently, only a fraction of Europe's television households are wired for cable or community antennae systems. However, most of the countries in Europe--notably West Germany, France and England--are actively promoting cable television. CSP International, a telecommunications consulting firm, estimates that more than 30 million European households could be wired for cable by 1990.
This move to multiply the number of channels via cable has posed a sharp challenge to Europe's traditionally state-controlled television broadcasters. In response, Europe's television establishment is trying to gain control of this media revolution by taking advantage of the same satellite technology that threatens them.
The European Broadcasting Union is essentially a confederation of the various governmental television networks throughout Europe.
Mainly providing technical support, the EBU maintains satellite facilities and has organized several pan-European television broadcasts of sporting and entertainment events.
This "Pan-European Broadcast Satellite," according to Clarke, the project's coordinator, would be the Union's first effort to launch an ongoing and self-supporting network. England, West Germany, Sweden, Italy, Holland, Switzerland and Ireland are now participating in feasibility studies.
Ultimately, says Clarke, the EBU may use the satellite to bypass cable systems and broadcast directly to people's homes.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the proposed network is that it will be supported by advertising. Clarke says the EBU is talking with Dentsu, the world's largest advertising agency based in Japan, J. Walter Thompson and unnamed companies that may want to advertise over television throughout Europe. The EBU is reportedly talking with such companies as Coca Cola and Unilever. However, says Clarke, no formal arrangements are expected within the next sixty days.
According to Joanna Spicer, a former British Broadcasting Corp. executive, advertising may prove a bone of contention for several of the EBU members. "There are types of advertising that are excluded by various EBU broadcasters and it will be quite difficult to find a formula to deal with this problem." In essence, says Spicer, each country has its own rules about television advertising and it may prove unwieldy to design a multinational broadcasting format that adheres to all of them.