A+E: building the scale in CEE
BY Yako Molhov
A+E Networks has been steadily growing its presence in the CEE region. Last year, the company launched its first channel in Turkey – Lifetime, and added H2 to its portfolio in Russia, while viewership for its nets in Poland and Romania has been increasing. Yako Molhov talks with Izabella Wiley, General Manager CEE & Poland at A+E Networks UK, about the company’s strategy in the region, plans for local productions and the potential to launch SVOD services in CEE.
Izabella Wiley
Izabella, you have been recently promoted to the position of GM Poland & Central and Eastern Europe at A+E Networks. What are the main tasks ahead of you now, what is A+E Networks’ short-term and long-term strategy for the region?
I am honored to now be responsible for the Central European region at A+E Networks. Having worked for A+E in Poland, building the business here for the past 4 years, I appreciate what a great content and channel brands A+E offers. I am confident Central European viewers will appreciate the content and the brands as much as Poles do. I think that to make Hungarian, Romanian, Czech, Serbian, Croatian or Bulgarian audiences appreciate our offer, we need to make it relevant to them and there are many ways to do that. Of course, we realize there is no CEE viewer –it just doesn’t exist. CEE is the region, but it’s not a nationality, shared history or culture. What we did with good result, is to use international products and make them relevant in Poland. We would like to try this in some of the countries in the region.

A+E Networks operates HISTORY, Lifetime, Crime+Investigation, H2; etc. What are the channels that you offer in the different territories in CEE and which are your most-popular brands in the region?
HISTORY is the brand with the widest distribution in the region. We invest a lot of money in creating the best factual male-orientated content and the channel delivers in the US and it delivers internationally. We grew over 16% year-on-year in Poland and we are the 1 factual channel in Romania.

Another channel available in the region is Crime+Investigation. It is present in 12 CEE countries e.g. Romania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Serbia and we see amazing growth potential for this brand. We have noticed, that it’s crucial to have local elements on CI – either on the channel or in social media. We’ve had great success with CI in Poland with local productions, personalities and experts. Only this spring local programming helped CI to grow by 15% year-on-year. Our crime and investigative narration is about getting to the heart of the issue, about pursuing the truth. When you think about the storylines behind the biggest programming hits on any TV channel imaginable, most of these stories are crime ones or stories with a question mark when you want to get to know the truth. And that’s what Crime+Investigation stands for. We will be working to make CI more local in the countries where it currently broadcasts and hopefully we will introduce the channel to more markets in the region.

H2 is the channel that we are very proud of. It has a very unique proposition – there is no alternative product that could offer something that H2 is offering. It’s history, science, pop culture in one place. It’s all about asking more questions about big stories of civilization and humanity. This channel does very well in Poland and Scandinavia, it’s popular in the UK and hopefully we will be rolling it out to other Central European countries.

Forged in Fire (HISTORY)

Which are the most important markets for you in the region? What is your performance in them?
We love all our children the same, but usually focus on the market where we have the biggest business. That’s how we prioritize the markets – we try to build our scale in each market and the more homes we reach, the more important a market becomes. To answer your question maybe a little bit indirectly I’d say our biggest distribution (outside of Poland) is currently in Romania– and in that territory HISTORY has been 1 factual channel in the commercial demo for three years. We are very proud of that and thankful to Romanian viewers. We have a good reach in Hungary as well, which allowed us to launch ad sales earlier this year.

In a recent interview you revealed plans for further expansion in CEE, namely for Crime+Investigation and H2. Can you give more details on your plans?
We believe Crime+Investigation is a powerful brand. Crime topics are in the mainstream right now. CI is the linear channel offering this type of stories, using a narrative that is modern and innovative. We would like to expand CI in depth and width in the CEE region.

H2 – as I mentioned before – is a very unique proposition. In a world full of fake news, propaganda and fast-food entertainment, H2 offers much deeper and much more nutritious knowledge for your mind. It should be an interesting product for our partners.

You have partnership deals in different territories, i.e. in Turkey with MCD Medya; MBG in Russia. Have you planned similar partnership in other countries?
Turkey and Russia are outside of my remit. We are obviously always open to partnerships and working with various local companies in a way that expands our respective businesses and presents good local opportunities. At this point it’s too early for me to say about potential partnerships in the region – I’ve only been responsible for the CEE for a month now.


What are your plans for local productions for your channels in CEE? In Poland you have such productions, what about other countries?
I believe in local relevance. Whether local relevance means local production for a linear channel, is to be debated. We will look at the needs of the brands in the markets. We might want to create some stuff for digital platforms as we do in Poland – last year we produced more than 35 short-forms for that market only. But I’m not saying no to local productions for linear channel either – we need to take a closer look, see what makes sense and if that is what the market requires, we will be doing it.

There were recent reports about A+E planning to introduce SVOD services History Vault and Lifetime Movie Club. How far are you with these plans for Poland and will they launch in other CEE territories as well?
These products exist in the US, they do exist in Canada and will be rolled out internationally. We are in conversations with partners in Poland and if the scale of other markets is big enough for introduction of such products, we will do it. But we won’t launch these products just for the sake of launching them, just for the sake of claiming that we launched it in "x number" of markets. It has to make financial sense and that’s something I will be evaluating in the coming months.

You applied for a DTT license in Poland but you didn’t win one. What is your distribution strategy when it comes to digital terrestrial TV? How do you see the future of DTT in CEE?
I actually see the future in both free- and pay-TV as these are two different product categories and propositions. There might be some cannibalization, but when you look at the newcomers to the FTA market and the original, traditional three or four biggest networks depending on the market, cannibalization happens mostly among FTA players. It’s about the audience that craves the type of programs that you can reach in free-to-air space. Pay channels offer premium content – programs in more specific genres. They usually meet interest and tastes of more demanding and more specific audiences. I think that pay channels will continue to offer high-quality interesting content. Whether you deliver that content to your audience through cable, via satellite or IPTV – it’s just the “pipe”. Ultimately it’s about what you’re sending inside that pipe.

If it comes to free TV, this is also exciting. A lot of people go for certain types of shows to FTA TV channels. Not all FTA channels survive – it always comes down to the best and the most engaging offer. I strongly believe in the FTA market and we’re looking at various opportunities. At the moment I have nothing concrete to communicate.

Curse of the Oak Island (HISTORY)

Are you planning to invest in online content? What is your multiscreen strategy?
Online content is important to A+E. Digital audience has different expectations and we are constantly learning about it. We don’t consider content that premiered online as less worthy than something that premiered on alinear channel. We will explore both areas – we are quite fluent producing for TV; for digital we are experimenting a lot in both Polish and Romanian markets and we will continue to do so.▪
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