Just like many other European countries, Bulgaria had only two state-owned television channels before 1990. In those days, Channel 2 only started broadcasting at 18h30 and children had to await the weekend to get to see some cartoons. Between then and now, the media landscape changed dramatically. Most Bulgarian households now have access to no fewer than 60 channels of all different kinds.
Cartoon Network, Animal Planet, National Geographic and four different Discovery channels are all part of the standard cable package. Bulgaria has plenty of dedicated theme channels, with subjects ranging from romance to crime and from science to music.
..prefers the company of her friends over TV entertainment
Svetlana (22) uses her TV mainly to watch music channels. `I like to watch a Bulgarian folk channel called Planeta TV, and otherwise watch MTV or its local versions. Apart from that, I hardly watch anything except the 19h news at BTV2. It`s quick, clear and objective, and it saves me the time of reading newpapers. I spend entire days reading for my studies, I wouldn`t know how to fit reading a newspaper into the schedule`, she says.
`News programs are currently paying a lot of attention to the condition of children in orphanages and mental hospitals these days`, Svetlana explains: `An international reporter recently made a documentary about a children`s home near Ruse, in the North. The situation of these kids was really awful and the documentary started a nationwide discussion about how to properly address the problem of children without parents or children who are otherwise impaired from leading a normal life. The debate extends to the decision whether children`s homes should be located near inhabited areas or, instead, as far away from everything as possible. Whether to aim for integration or whether to consider them to be a danger to society.`
Most of the TV programs are a little more light-hearted than that. Many Bulgarians switch on the TV when they get home, only to switch it back off when they go to bed. They watch a little more careful when they really want to see something, but otherwise just don`t pay attention to the black box. Strashimir (26) watches TV for about 40 hours a week, and says he couldn`t imagine living without a TV: `I even have one in the kitchen. I can`t eat without the TV on.`
Melina (22, photo) has an opposite strategy. She decided to get rid of her TV: `I prefer enjoy the company of my friends. I have so much more time now. I don`t like feeling locked in the house, it makes me feel claustrophobic. If there`s something worth seeing, I will just download it from the internet. `
Melina`s housemate Stella (22) also uses internet to downloads films and TV programs: `It`s much more flexible. I think it`s a trend that will continue in the future. The old people will be watching TV, the younger ones will be `watching internet`. I am not sure which downloading sites are legal and which ones are not. It not something I pay attention to.`
Bulgarian TV viewers are exposed to many of the same programs that have flooded Western Europe. The names are not always identical, but the concepts usually are. Pop Idol is locally known as Music Idol and obviously has Bulgarian contestants. The program is broadcast every single weekday at 20h on BTV, the second channel. This year`s competition is only the second edition and the show keeps attracting plenty of visitors.
Big Brother also made its appearance on Bulgarian TV, just twice so far. It was followed by a VIP version, with actors elected by the Bulgarian TV audience. One of the participants was a politician, but he only stayed on board for a few weeks. A new Big Brother is expected to start after summer while many spin-offs like Temptation Island are being aired in the meantime.
Desperate Housewives are just Desperate Wives according to the Bulgarian translation and talkshows like Oprah Winfrey simply have local versions. Virtually everybody is familiar with international TV hits like Friends, Orange County, House and Sex and the City. Series in languages other than Bulgarian are usually shown in original version with Bulgarian subtitles. Dubbing used to be the norm, but this habit has faded out in recent years.
Manuela (24) likes to watch Mirrors, a typical women`s program that is broadcast on Saturday mornings at 10 o`clock: `It`s about fashion and girly stuff, advices for clothes, make-up, and styling in all its variants. I love TV and in particular the ads between the programs. I am studying Media and Publishing, that`s why.`
Ivan (34) has no particular preference for different programs, but rather selects channels instead: `I like to watch AXN Crime, Discovery Channel, National Geographic and Animal Planet. It combines all the styles I like: documentaries, movies and reality. For news, I prefer to watch the Nova news at 19h15. It goes a bit further into the news that the regular news emissions on Channel 1 and BTV.
In the old days
Before the rapid expansion of the TV offer in the early 1990s, all Bulgarians were watching the same programs. Children used to be wished a collective daily goodnight by the program `Leka nosht detsa` (Goodnight children), which featured 15 minutes of short movies and fairytales. Another program named `Ulitsa Ta` consisted of a complication of comic sketches which used to amuse both kids and adults alike. Then there was `Nupogodi`, a Russian cartoon about a wolf eternally chasing a rabbit. TV programs were generally concentrated around the lunch and the evening hours, when kids were home from school. The lunch program of each day was identical to the early evening program of the previous day, so the parents could decide which moment was most suitable.
Access to international channels was almost impossible before the fall of the communist regime. Satellites were available but pretty much unheard of, and especially, very difficult to lay a hand on. Pink Panther was a fixed part of a general discussion program called `Every Sunday`, but anyone who wanted to see Tom and Jerry, Maja Bee, Lassi and The Smurfs needed to be patient. Once a month, a program named `1001 Wishes` kept the kids amused with three hours of entertainment. Quite a difference from today`s abundance in TV entertainment, with 24 hours of broadcasting power screaming its way into living rooms, sleeping rooms and even kitchens.
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