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If Viewers Aren't Excited The Rest Doesn't Matter

Celebrating excellence in the media sphere is a honored tradition. Television being what it is, TV awards shows have been annual fixtures in the broadcast schedule. Audiences are good, if usually not spectacular, for cheering the stars and other creators who bring life to the small screen. But national TV awards shows are fading away in the Netflix era as even the idea of "schedule" has become so last century. Other ideas are also contentious.

the envelopeThe German Television Prize (Deutsche Fernsehpreis) is the latest televised TV awards show to bite the dust. The four big TV networks - public broadcasters ARD and ZDF, private broadcasters RTL and Sat.1 - will no longer support the awards show, costing about €2 million to produce, and relegate the event to a professional trade function, reported Der Spiegel (January 22) and later confirmed by a joint press statement. Rumblings about the award show's future have been heard for several months.

The public TV networks wanted to keep the awards show in the schedule, "not surprising as they regularly win most prizes," opined FAZ media critic Michael Hanfeld (January 23). RTL and Sat.1 were ready to throw in the towel, "not surprising since they have hardly offered innovative or outstanding programs in recent years." The awards for outstanding German TV productions have been selected by industry jury. An RTL spokesperson said the decision had nothing to do with the production cost. A consortium of German production houses also failed to find sufficient common ground to establish a new awards program, on TV or not.

Ending the German Television Prize is "not an encouraging sign for the industry," said media portal DWDL (January 22). "Unattractive ceremonies in recent years are only the surface of a deeper problem. The mood was poisoned by the sponsors, because public and private channels define good television differently. The German Television Award was something like the lowest common denominator, but even that is now lost."

Certainly the Emmy Awards in the US and Bafta's in the UK - both industry-led and televised - will continue for years. Telegatto in Italy, produced by Mediaset, disappeared after the 2008 awards show while Premio Regia Televisiva, produced by public broadcaster RAI, continues. Similarly, the TP de Oro awards show in Spain, produced by a readers poll by TV magazine Teleprograma and almost always carried live on one of the private TV channels, was merged into the more public TV-centric Iris de Espana awards in 2013. By contrast Sweden's Kristallen TV awards show, organised and produced by an independent foundation, lives on.

The Sept d'Or French TV awards show finally sputtered out after the 2003 broadcast. There was a nice gold statuette for industry-selected luminaries. Recognition for achievement - or even longevity - is essential for creating a primary narrative in any industry and creative people need it most of all.

"My ambition is to make France the champion of creativity and audiovisual innovation," said Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin to the FIPA (International Festival of Audiovisual Programs) annual assembly, quoted by Le Figaro (January 24). France has several heavyweight TV and film producers and production houses and more than a few have been drifting to the US, UK and Scandinavia for inspiration (read: money). Minister Pellerin indicated a forthcoming relaxation of rules separating production houses and broadcasters, to the delight of French TV broadcasters.

Current French rules mandate broadcasters to acquire 75% of their programming from French production houses, all in the name of diversity, pluralism and keeping the producers happy. Broadcasters, on the other hand, have been clamouring for changes that would allow them to more seriously enter vertical businesses and keep control over content. "It's like buying a house, but the architect has the right to sell it to somebody else after three years without compensating you," said NRJ Group CEO Jean-Paul Baudecroux.

TV producers, obviously, have a dissenting view. Broadcasters are "too conservative and do not encourage innovation," said Audiovisual Producers Union president Thomas Anagyros. "Only independent producers know how to take risks." Any return for a French TV awards show is rather doubtful.

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