The CEE region has long been regarded as lagging behind the more developed markets of Western Europe, the U.S. and Asia in almost every aspect, including the technological development that influences the way viewers consume content.
Even though the TV set still plays an important role in CEE households and cable penetration reaches the whopping 90% (or more) in countries like Romania and Bulgaria, newer OTT and VOD services are gaining popularity in the region. Despite factors like piracy (which is widespread with torrent usage in Eastern Europe) and an aging population which is not technically savvy, the digital platforms are now entering the homes and devices of people who start to discover their advantages, as studies have shown.
Last year, Digital TV Research forecasted that there will be 16.5 million SVOD subscribers across 22 Eastern European countries by 2022. This is four times more than the 4 million recorded at the end of 2016. SVOD will become the region’s largest OTT revenue source in 2017. SVOD revenues will total $1,300 million by 2022 (57% of total OTT revenues) – up from $190 million in 2016 (34% of total OTT revenues). OTT TV episode and movie revenues for will reach $2.23 billion in 2022 versus $552 million recorded in 2016. Russia will account for 46% of the region’s OTT revenues by 2022, with Poland generating a further 19%.
Additionally, TMT Consulting reported in April that the Russian OTT market (which is the most developed in the region) jumped 60% in 2017, and the number of viewers has reached 40 million. The size of the paying audience grew by 30% to 2.6 million users. OTT services that work with the paid model exceeded those of the advertising one for the first time. Income from the paid model increased by 91% and reached 4.47 billion rubles, taking 58% share of the total income.
Neighboring Ukraine which is also the region’s second biggest country is following a similar trend. OTT operators increased their revenues in 2016 and reported profit for the first time in five years. The total income tripled and reached 251 million UAH compared to 75 million in 2015. The profit was 48 million UAH against a 123-million loss in 2015, according to BRDO (Better Regulation Delivery Office).
All of these studies show the positive developments for the commercial players but miss one very important segment – public service broadcasters. The pubcasters also develop video platforms and are among the leaders on the free online video market in Western Europe. But what is the case with their counterparts in CEE? How developed are they and what is their popularity?
At first glance, it seems online video services offered by public and state media are more developed and popular (where data is available) in Central than in Eastern Europe. This can be explained with the overall viewership of the TV channels of the PSBs and the amount of originally produced content which drives interest for the online platforms.
Central European pubcasters sit better when it comes to VOD services, with Polish public broadcaster TVP clearly taking the lead. According to Gemius/PBI data for April, the most-popular service of its kind in the country,VOD.pl (Grupa Onet-RAS Polska), had 3.741.005 users, while TVP.pl – VOD reached 2.434.745 users. Ipla.pl (operated by Polsat) saw only modest growth (1.712.370), while the biggest drop was noted at Player.pl (down from 3.092.700 to 2.454.745). VOD.pl had the biggest reach (13.46%) and TVP.pl – VOD the most opens (40.009.507). For average time spent viewing, TVP.pl led with 4 hours and 37 minutes. The service offers all kinds of content – own productions and acquired content; fiction, non-fiction, kids content, TV theater, etc.
This fall TVP is planning to launch its first original production for TVP VOD users and Abo Zone (Strefa Abo) users. This will be the second part of the implementation of the online strategy of the public broadcaster - the first one aims at expanding the Abo Zone with premium content (initially from BBC’s portfolio). Maciej Stanecki, a member of the board of Telewizja Polska (TVP), told Wirtualnemedia.pl that the productions will be miniseries with a length of 8-10 minutes. For now, it is not known which distribution model the broadcaster will choose. TVP is now planning to launch a special video portal with content from its regional centers.
Czech Republic’s public broadcaster CT also operates an impressive VOD service called iVysilani. Currently, it offers over 3915 days of content in all kinds of genres. It acts mostly as a catch-up service for CT’s content but also features acquired content. Thru the web, mobile apps and HbbTV, CT generated 20 million views, with over 6.5 million hours of content watched in January. This means that every citizen of the Czech Republic, including babies, watched CT content for over 36 minutes. The data comes from the Association of TV Organizations. The presidential debate in January was the most-watched program with 120.000 views, followed by series Rabies and Dubbing Street. In January, in one hour Czech viewers watched 26.747 videos on average. CT’s web portal registered a record number of views around the Winter Olympics. On February 23, it got 1.74 million views which means 73.000 videos watched per hour.
In Hungary, MTVA’s platform mediaklikk.hu is successfully competing with the commercial players reaching two times more users (569.132) in May compared to rtlmost.hu (277.321), according to Gemius data.
Bulgarian BNT, Romanian TVR and Ukrainian NOTU (UA:Pershy) are on the other spectrum when it comes to development and popularity of their VOD services. All three are united by the fact that they have considerably lower ratings and smaller budgets compared to the pubcasters mentioned above. BNT has two sections: Multimedia which offers bonus materials, and archive.bnt.bg which, at the time of writing this review, was not functioning.
The situation at TVR is similar – there is no VOD section on their website, only web pages of different shows airing on TVR channels. TVR’s VOD platform called TVR+ is still in the process of reconstruction and offers only live streaming of the TV channels.
Ukrainian NOTU has a more robust strategy in this respect. On its website, viewers can find online streaming of the channels as well as catch-up TV – videos of most of its shows. Despite its under-financing, the Ukrainian pubcaster has managed to organize its video archive under several categories, with content spanning from 2012 thru 2018.
In former Yugoslavia, the picture is quite mixed moving from East to West. Last month, Macedonia’s MRT launched MRT Play which is still in the stages of development offering the pubcaster’s original productions and live streaming of its channels. In Serbia, RTS launched its RTS Planeta a few months ago, offering 11 thematic channels and access to its extensive library with over 4600 titles.
Croatian HRT launched its HRTi portal several years ago, with live streams of its channels and a library of the original productions of the pubcaster which are offered for free. In Slovenia, RTVS operates the third most popular online portal in the country rtvslo.si which also features VOD service RTV4.
In the Baltics, Lithuania’s LRT and Latvia’s LTV operate dedicated video platforms which offer content produced for their TV channels. LRT’s streaming service Mediateka ranked just behind commercial player TV3 in terms of real users in May: 234.703 vs 288.359, while LNK got 154.354, according to Gemius. With its new Deputy GM Gytis Oganauskas, former head of Delfi TV, which is the most popular streaming service in the country, LRT is set to start developing more original web content. In Latvia, lsm.lv is outside the Top 15 most popular online video services (meaning less than 80.000 unique users per month, based on Kantar TNS data).
While the situation differs from country to country, it is clear that PSBs in the region (whose operations present a challenge in their own due to various factors) still lack well-devised long-term strategies for the development of their VOD platforms. Compared to their Western European counterparts, they are obviously lagging behind in terms of quality of service and development of original content for the web. In this field, their commercial competitors are one step ahead, offering special online projects and pre-premieres of shows on their internet platforms. Unlike the Western part of the continent, VOD is still not on the agenda of the CEE pubcasters who are only just beginning to realize the importance of attracting the online audience with quality public service offers. State initiatives and a legislative framework for the public media in this respect are also missing.