ECONOMY

ERT in the black in 2007

Loss-making state Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (ERT) said yesterday it will break even for the first time in its 41-year history next year thanks to higher licensing fees and advertising revenues. «We project that 2007 will be the first year that we break even since beginning operations as a TV broadcaster in the 1960s,» CEO Giorgos Houliaras told Reuters in an interview. In the last fiscal year, to June 2005, ERT posted a net loss of 28.63 million euros on turnover of 263.5 million. For the current year to 2006, turnover is forecast to rise by about 50 million euros. And by next year, the broadcaster should break even, partly thanks to ads from big budget sports events such as the World Cup, Houliaras said, without providing a specific forecast. Like other public broadcasters in Europe, such as the BBC in Britain or RAI in Italy, ERT is struggling in a competitive television market which was deregulated in the late 1980s. Once the monopoly broadcaster in Greece, ERT now survives on the margins – its three television channels have a combined market share of just 17 percent. By contrast, Greece’s two most popular broadcasters, Mega and Antenna, each have more than a 20 percent share of the market with only one channel each. A proliferation of national and regional broadcasters occupy the rest of the market. Events up revenues Advertising brings ERT only 30-35 million euros a year, accounting for about 10 percent of its income, said Houliaras. Instead, ERT relies on licensing fees – which rose 31 percent this year to 4.2 euros a month – paid by every Greek household through monthly electricity bills. Now, however, ERT is focusing on a series of high-profile sporting and other events to drive income and give private broadcasters a run for their money. The broadcaster holds the exclusive rights to this May’s Eurovision song contest and summer’s soccer World Cup. It shares broadcast rights with Mega to various Champions League soccer matches through the end of the year, but will take over the exclusive rights from January 1, 2007. In 2008, ERT also has the exclusive broadcast rights to the European soccer championships. «The strategy of ERT is to deepen its broadcast offerings and to reach the level of other public broadcasters in Europe like the BBC or RAI,» Houliaras said. Long seen as the mouthpiece of whichever political party was in office, ERT began to improve its news programming a few years ago, rebranding the second of its three channels to compete head to head with private stations on news and information. The channel, now called «New Greek Television» or NET, has gained in popularity, rising in both ratings and public opinion polls that value its credibility over racier private news shows. «As you can see, our news has become much more serious,» says Houliaras. «There has been a very big improvement in the last two years.»