Discovery has been the Number 1 non-fiction channel group in the CEE region. How do you manage to keep this leadership in the wake of so many new channels and especially new VOD platforms?
Well, we live in the world of accelerated change which definitely requires a consumer-centric approach. Our strategy is to invest in content that people love and I can say it works perfectly. As a content-driven company, we are keen on our fans, providing them with a diverse range of genres including factual, lifestyle and sports. Now we want to bring it to more audiences, across more screens. This means we make our channels and content even more accessible in all countries we operate. However, while jumping into the new screens, we continue to cater to traditional audiences with a linear distribution model as the substance of our business is quite stable.
What are the key territories in CEE for Discovery and what countries you would like to focus more on in the future?
I'm pleased to manage this complex and culturally diverse region which encompasses 13 markets. The biggest territories in our pay TV business are Romania and Hungary, however in addition to these two, we see several other markets as catalysts for our growth in the region. These include Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Serbia. Bearing in mind the upcoming Olympic Games, this year we plan to focus even more on our business in other markets across the entire region.
What are your newest and what are your most-popular channels in the region? Have you planned the launch of new channels in some of the territories in CEE this year?
We’re continually developing our channels across the region, based on the feedback we received from our fans. However, our focus is on the quality of our offering and driving the consumer experience, rather than purely volume of channels. Also, based on our global expertise and experience, we’re looking into building online apps for the Discovery portfolio, together with our business partners and also into taking to the next level the user experience around Eurosport Player, our subscription service offering full and unlimited access to the Eurosport channels and exclusive content LIVE and on demand.
Regarding the most popular channels in the region, which are leaders in their segments, I would say that these are Discovery Channel, Eurosport, TLC and IDx, which is on a growing trend in terms of popularity.
Your company is investing heavily into content, namely non-fiction and sports, for example you hold the rights to the Olympics. What other types of content interests you and will we see Discovery expand its reach also to fiction content?
People are changing their habits, and as one of the world’s leading programmers, we need to stay current and continually adapt our content strategy. Indeed, only in 2017 we have invested more than $2.5 billion in our loved content globally. In New York, we have just announced our exciting 2017 plans for our flagships. So this year Discovery Channels’ fans will enjoy not only returning global franchises – we will air also our latest noisy specials Mosquito, one-off documentary about the single greatest agent of death in modern human history, as well as a highly-anticipated scripted series - Manhunt: Unabomber which tells the dramatic and gripping true story of the FBI’s hunt for the deadliest serial bomber in history. Meanwhile, TLC is set to create even more OMG moments with a fabulous line-up of new original programming and returning favourites that viewers love. Last but not least, we keep investing strongly in top sports rights that are relevant for global and local audiences, so more also to come in the sports area soon.
Do you plan additional acquisitions in other countries in CEE? Are you also looking into digital platforms?
Obviously, we are closely watching all possibilities and acquisitions are one of the ways for a dynamic growth in today’s fast-moving media world. Whilst I cannot disclose our growth strategies, I can say we are focused on looking for strategic partnerships that will help us both - reach out to consumers with our brands and content as well as implement technological innovations. For example, globally we cooperate with Amazon and Snapchat, providing these platforms with our shows and short-form content. Lately, we have announced a cooperation with CA Technologies which became our official software partner for Eurosport’s coverage of cycling’s Grand Tours. All in all, our business model and solutions adopted must be in-line with not only our global business strategy but also specific local markets’ needs.
Last year you announced a new virtual reality (VR) project in Romania, together with the Hunedoara municipality. Do you have other similar projects in the pipeline with local producers in other territories?
I am very proud that we are amongst the pioneers of the industry in this process of satisfying curiosity in a new medium, which is VR. Discovery VR debuted in August 2015 and it brings together compelling content from across our portfolio – from our linear networks to Discovery Digital Networks, and we are adding new content weekly. Eurosport VR is also important for us, and it was re-launched at Roland Garros last year. A few examples of original VR content and series that we launched were around Racing Extinction, Gold Rush, Mythbusters, Birds of Prey with Bode Miller. We are also looking into developing custom content with advertisers (for example, we had partnerships with Toyota and Gillette) and in fact I think that here VR can proof its real value. Of course, we are interested in local stories which could travel globally, such as the Haunted Castle project we identified in Romania.
What is your strategy when it comes to all new trends like digital platforms, binge viewing, multiscreen? Is CEE lagging behind compared to other territories in this respect?
I believe CEE citizens are innovative and adopt novelties from the world instantaneously. CEE consumers keep up and do not have to catch up with the ones from the western countries.
In terms of our strategy, thankfully our stories are ones we can tell in any and every medium – free channels, Pay TV, digital, on mobile phone, and in all formats - long & short form as well as epic movie style content. This means thinking of ourselves as an ecosystem, rather than a TV channel with extensions and having strong brands means we’re well positioned to develop our portfolio more broadly.
Disruption is in Discovery’s DNA from the very beginning, so we are very well-position for the change. As I mentioned, as a company, we are keen on striking innovative partnerships that help us meet consumers’ expectations and let our business evolve. For example, we have created a new exclusive Olympic Games partnership opportunity for mobile operators to be associate with the Olympic Games and bring highlights of the action to their customers for the first time ever, through the launch of the first “Official Mobile Broadcaster” product.
Say Yes to the Dress
In the beginning of this year you resolved your long-lasting disagreement with Romania’s leading cable operator - RCS&RDS. How did you manage to reach this agreement after 4 years of negotiations?
Indeed, we were really happy to go back to a negotiation table with RCS&RSD which resulted in a deal that satisfies both sides, I believe. The expanded partnership is first and foremost great news for our fans in Romania and Hungary who can enjoy Discovery’s shows. We do appreciate working with partners who share our vision of providing consumers with the best quality content.
One of the biggest problems in our region when it comes to distribution of channels is the under-reporting of the number of subscribers by operators which is done in several countries. Does this hurt your business a lot and how are you managing this situation?
We always aim at building long-term relationships based on trust and transparency with our business partners. I think there are common efforts done in this direction and I’m confident that together we can set up the right framework, mutually beneficial.▪