Thursday, April 13, 2006

"Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head." Not only has that been the weather condition since Tuesday evening, it was one of the songs played, as I ate dinner tonight. I dined at a restaurant across from my hotel--identified as a four star establishment--I wasn't that impressed by the food. The band consisted of an acoustic guitar player, bass, violin, accordion and clarinet player. Besides rain drops, I heard two 35-year-old songs from the movies...the Godfather theme and Love Story. The musicians were in their sixties and I can't help but believed they were young, hip guys when they first learned these tunes.

My workshop has gone very well this week. The participants have asked good questions, they've been attentive, we've started on time each morning, and we've actually stayed a few minutes past our official quitting time. All of these are remarkable, given my experiences with other workshops I've done.

My translator, Masa (pronounced as Masha) has been wonderful. She is a delightful person and an excellent translator. Ten of the 13 participants understand English quite well--they probably don't need a translator to achieve understanding but she is certainly needed they need to ask questions. I know she's good because they never offer to correct anything she translates. I had dinner with Masa and her husband--his name is Alexei--and also a great guy. We dined on steak--horse steak. No kidding. I had a fillet. Nicely cooked and amazingly good. I'm not sure why this local restaurant serves horse--perhaps because of the opening date....around 1994 or so. Was it the meat most readily available at the time? People in France and Belgium also dine on horse. The Wall Street Journal carried an article about processing houses in the U.S. that sell to this market.

I stood on a traffic island, waiting for the light to change so that I could complete my street crossing, when a fellow next to me asked a question. I'm sorry I replied in English. He answered back with an apology in accented-English. "What did you ask me?" I wanted to know. He told me he wondered if I knew where the Czech Embassy was. Oh, I do....I told him and gave him directions. We were just a couple of blocks away and I had noticed it on a previous trip. What are the odds that he's asked me a directions question, that I could give him the answer and that he's speak English so we could communicate.

People: Most people in Serbia don't like George Bush but they typically dislike Bill Clinton even more. Clinton backed NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999. There are buildings that still show signs of the bombing. A secret police building has never been repaired and sits abandoned as a reminder of the past. (Yes...I know it seems odd to talk about knowing the location of the secret police building.)

I had previously met on of my participants, when I visited his newspaper a couple of years ago in . "We're out of the porn business" he told me. To support his legitimate and independent newspaper--which struggled in a very competitive market with limited advertising revenue and a soft economy--his company published some soft-porn and horoscope magazines. Thinking that he had seen the light as to the ills of the porn business, I congratulated him for focusing his energy on his newspaper. "Yes, we had to because we were getting all of these claims of copyright violation against us because we were just downloading pictures from the Internet that we published." Oh well...his newspaper is doing well and he is ontrack to purchase his competitor--a municipal newspaper that must be privitized. If he's lucky in the bidding, he will inherit 200 employees. His paper, publishing the same number of issues, has 20 employees.

I'm a small town kind of guy but it has been so very nice to be in Belgrade. It is a beautiful city, especially when the weather is warm and sunny. The cloudy and gray of winter can be pretty depressing.

The cable television system has not only local Serbian stations but also channels from the U.S., England, France, and Germany.

Cheap Chinese goods are standard fare in the U.S. and they are common here. We have dollar stores; Serbs have 75 dinar store--that's about $1.02. They sell kitchenware and the usual array of cheap junk.

Flooding is taking place as three rivers overflow in Serbia. The Danube and Sava Rivers in Belgrade have already caused traffic routing problems. Things will get worse not only because of the recent rains but because the mountain snows still haven't melted.

A to Z. I have now seem car models beginning with almost every letter of the alphabet....from Alpha or Audi to Zastava. Zastava is a Serb built car from the city of Kragujevac--pronounced like Krag-uh-vitz--might be better know to you as the Yugo. There's a deadlership along my route to NUNS. I glanced in the window today and might stop in, if there's time tomorrow.

More news on Big Brother. I have a meeting tomorrow with someone who can probably tell me more about Big Brother and other broadcast issues. I'll update when I have more info.

I hope you've found these comments reasonably interesting...will try to add some pictures soon.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

In a blog post, “Seeker” from Spain asked me these questions about media in the Balkans. I thought the questions asked justified a blog post instead of just a reply. My comments follow the questions.

Seeker said...

Hi! I just read your post. It's very informative, thank you!
I have some questions for you:
- What free TV stations do you have in Albania? and in Serbia and Montenegro?

All of these countries have many stations…really more than they can support with advertising. That’s also true for newspapers and radio stations. Media firms often are connected with a political party. Independent media—with fair, accurate and balanced news content—are the extreme exception, not the rule.

Without turning over every rock to find precise answers, here’s my approximation of the situation. There are two government channels each in Serbia, Montenegro and Albania. In Tirana, there are approximately 14 or so stations….plus other stations in cities throughout Albania. The top three stations, are Top Channel, Vizion+, and Klan TV. Top and Vizion+ have websites—in Albanian—but the sites are worth a look. Not sure about Klan.

In Montenegro, there are 8 or 9 channels in Podgorica and most of these cover other cities as quasi-national networks. Government TV is probably the most watched service—for news. Four private stations carry news but the on-air look is pretty weak….content, as well as I can determine, is lacking also. Several municipalities also operate stations.

In Serbia, there must be more than a dozen stations in Belgrade along. Pink—it also operates Pink-Montenegro—is probably the single most popular station. Other stations include B-92 (they have a website with some English content), BK, Serbia TV 1 and 2… others. There are also private stations in the country and municipal stations. Serbia also has a number of “garage” stations. They may have an actual license but they’re a low budget affair operated by people who seemed to think it would be great to own a TV station.

Government broadcasting in Serbia and Montenegro is being pushed to become public service. They do carry ads—about 6 minutes per hour, maximum. Most private TV stations may air eight minutes of ads.

- Do they (Montenegro and Serbia) share the same TV stations?

Some are shared…but generally not as specific planned efforts. There are individual stations in each country that only cover the specific country. Government TV, from the other country, is available in each country. Pink runs its Serbian channels but also Pink-Montenegro.

- Do Serbia and Montenegro or Albania share TV stations with Bosnia Herzegovina or Croatia, too? Which ones?

They don’t share any channels with Albania….though Albanian stations do broadcast in Kosovo. Kosovo has some of its own stations—not sure how many. There’s a Montenegrin station that broadcasts to Albania and to Montenegro’s Albanian minority.

Some Bosnian stations do have rebroadcast rights with at least one station in Montenegro—that I know of. A station in Pljevlja, called Panorama, airs programming from a Sarajevo station—I’ve actually watched their morning show rebroadcast.

Broadcast signals don’t stop at country borders—they keep moving and traveling according to the power of the transmitter and local terrain. I am sure people along the borders in all of the countries likely receive signal spill-over.

- About Pink TV. What countries does it cover? I mean in which countries they can watch Pink TV freely, not talking about satellite services. I read somewhere Pink TV has 3 different channels: one for Serbia, another for Montenegro and a last one for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Do these three broadcast the same? I mean, people from these three (or two, if we count Serbia and Montenegro as only one) countries watch the same in TV?

People in North Montenegro or South Serbia, might be able to receive cross-over signals but generally, these are distinct channels for the local populations of each country. It is my understanding that you are correct about Pink’s channels…Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia. I think there are some shared programming purchases and some local content likely airs between Serbia and Montenegro…perhaps in Bosnia but I am not sure. There is certainly an economy of scale that is achieved by running stations in three countries.

- B92 is preparing a Big Brother show. Which countries will be able to watch it free? Is it possible that Pink TV will broadcast it for Bosnia and Herzegovina?
In Albania, Top-Channel is preparing their own adaptation of Big Brother after signing a deal with Endemol. What countries will be able to watch it free?

I would be surprised if either of these Big Brother shows is available via Internet streaming—because, as you indicate, they are licensed versions. There are probably territory limits?? Top Channel might be available on satellite.

- What about the other reality adaptations in Albania as Kafazi i Arte, Syri Magjik or To Sam Ja?

Syri Magjik (Magic Eyes) was a Big Brother knock-off that aired on Vizion+. I think they had a pretty substantial audience for the show but as is often the case, selling ad time or other placement sponsorships was a challenge and they probably did not profit from the project. I watched Magic Eyes…like all B’ Bro’ shows,they can have their moments but much of the show is not compelling.

- How is the TV stations situations between Albania and Macedonia?

I’m not sure….have not traveled to Macedonia, I am sorry to say.

Well, that's a lot of questions. I'll be thankful if you could help me a little.

Thanks for making an interesting blog like this one! Keep up the good work.

Greetings from Spain (and sorry if my English is not good enough)

NEVER, NEVER apologize for your language skills…it is so impressive for me to meet the multi-lingual people I encounter. I took Latin and one brief Spanish course in college. I wish I at least understood another language and look forward to finding time to improve my skills at some point. (Spanish will probably be my language choice.) Thanks for looking at my blog! How on earth did you ever find it??

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Belgrade. I am in Belgrade today...actually arrived Sunday...and began a workshop Monday for middle-managers with local media--print and broadcast. My topics include management and personnel issues and ad sales and media marketing.

A media reform bill is supposed to be enacted shortly in Serbia. It would push through privatization of most municipal media companies--television and radio stations and newspapers that are owned by local governments. One of my participants, who currently owns a small private newspaper, is considering buying his municipal competitor. What does he get for his purchase? Basically the name/masthead of the paper. Few real assets beyond that. Some minor examples of used equipment...low-end computers, nothing special. His biggest liability: more than 300 employees--for the WEEKLY PAPER--in a town of 70,000. And, he can't fire anyone in his first year of ownership. At the end of one year, he can see that workers he wants to fire are put into a government program to "train" them for new jobs.

His current weekly newspaper employs about 20 people.