Viktoriya, what is Ukraine channel’s program strategy for the upcoming season? You are known for your series, but will you also focus more on non-scripted content?
First of all, TV series work well not only on our channel, this is a global trend. For instance, today’s trendsetter Netflix has gained its popularity owing particularly to series. That is why Ukraine is planning to further ground on TV series in shaping its agenda.
At the same time, we have been also creating non-scripted content for some time now. We started with daytime reality shows for weekdays like Mission: Beauty, based on our own format, and Global Agency’s Rivals-in-Law. Then we tried this category in primetime. This spring we premiered the grand show Amazing People based on the Endemol Shine format The Brain. We are going to develop similar projects in the future, but only together with TV series instead of replacing them.
What are the new projects for this fall?
It is quite hard to say definitely since not all of them have been approved yet. But speaking of TV series, I can tell you of one format-based primetime project. Usually, to create new series we actively search for new formats which, on one hand, are cheaper than our primetime projects and, on the other hand, will meet the expectations of both young and adult audiences. This year we bought a Turkish format which we first planned for the 18.00 slot, but then we decided to shorten it to 24 episodes to make it more dynamic and add drama and run it in the primetime slot. The premiere of the series is scheduled for this fall.
You have been actively developing original series productions since 2014. What is the number of fiction projects currently in the pipeline and are increasing your investments each year?
The channel needs 480 hours of premiere fiction content in the primetime slot. This is about 50 primetime weekend and 40 weekday projects a year. That is, we are currently working on around 90 primetime projects, all of which are on different stages of completion. As a rule, we try to form the agenda for the next year by April-May, which is why some projects may be on the stage of approval, while others are being shot. Anyway, 90 projects mean two seasons, for instance, spring-fall or fall-spring. They are all being developed now.
At the same time, we are working on our daytime projects. Some of them have turned into franchises, like Agents of Justice, True Mystery, Story of a Crime, or Doctor on Duty. For these projects we simply shoot new seasons. However, we also have some new stories which are only being developed and thus not fixed in the upcoming program plans yet. We believe they will enjoy success, which is why we do not give up on them. As for now, there are about 10-15 such off prime projects, both regular and new ones.
What are the latest trends on the Ukrainian TV market? What are viewers mostly interested in watching in terms of genres?
You know, it’s melodramas. Though apart from them there is a demand for detective stories, which we have many of, both in the primetime and off prime slots. People want to see stories that unveil the truth. For instance, even though True Mystery is not a regular detective story, it has been highly popular for five consecutive years. It is a reality show. By the way, the other realities Mission: Beauty and Rivals-in-Law are also extremely popular. Considering that our country is actively developing, I cannot but mention informational broadcasting, entertaining projects – concerts and weekend shows – as well as comedy projects since they have always been popular and will remain so.
Are you actively following the format trends? What formats have attracted your attention recently?
Since we are actively looking for an entertaining show which will help the channel prove its leading position, our primary focus is on primetime entertainment projects. However, we have not decided yet what format we will develop during the next season. This spring we tried The Brain. I am not sure whether we will have the second season of the show. Generally speaking, we are now working on developing entertaining primetime formats.
How have the language quotas affected the channel and the market in general?
Any changes to the broadcasting laws influence both the channel and the market. We are carefully following the trends, legal trends in particular. That is why even before the law entered into force, in late 2016-early 2017 we began altering our production process by adapting it and shifting to the Ukrainian language. We formed lists of Ukrainian actors, directors and other creative crew members who would ensure constant production of projects in Ukrainian.
What is your digital strategy? Do you plan content specifically targeting online audiences?
You know, we have been thinking of it quite a lot because digital platforms are actively developing both in Ukraine and worldwide. Therefore, we, as a national television leader, must look for new ways of working in the digital sphere. But before speaking of creating content specifically for the online audience, we first must study its needs as this kind of audience differs in many ways form traditional TV viewers. That is why we have a task to produce content for digital platforms, but this is only a second step, while the first one is to understand what kind of content the online audience expects from us.
Does the fact that the new Ukrainian president comes from a TV background spell better future for this business?
I do not know the plans of the new presided and cannot comment on it, but in general, I believe in Ukrainian television, and I am sure it has good perspectives regardless of any external influences.
What is your strategy for international co-productions? Any key partnerships you can mention?
I have heard this question many times before and my answer has been the same: we are highly interested in co-production and we are open for new offers. Besides, we are actively looking for partners for co-production ourselves, and we already have good results – we are now working on one of our primetime series in cooperation with our Latvian colleagues. In our system of values, co-production is when the creation of a product involves actors from both countries, investments of both partners and, in our particular case, it should use both Ukrainian and Latvian locations. We are very happy with this partnership. The series I’m talking about will be presented at the 10th Odesa International Film Festival in July. On channel Ukraine it will be aired this fall in primetime. Therefore, we are happy we can both go on developing partnership with our Latvian colleagues to make other series of the same quality and accept offers from other countries.
Olena, Ukrainian series are getting increasingly popular abroad. To what do you attribute their success?
Thanks for mentioning of our locally made series. It was right to the point. They are actually gaining in popularity. I don’t think there are a lot of countries which might boast the rapid development of series production the way we can. There is a great deal of shooting now in Ukraine, so the competition is tough leaving no room for mistakes. Producers strain every effort to draw up any idea and to implement it while engaging the best expertise possible. The productions have learned to meet the target audience needs and tastes, analyze their response to content and to promptly take it into account. Prospective sales are also kept in mind. A good series is deemed a good asset and a steady source of revenue worldwide. Ukraine is no exception in this case.
What are some of the major projects you are currently working on?
TelePro as production company proceeds with new seasons of its successful projects, such as True Mystery, Agents of Justice, Mission: Beauty and Star Path. A new police procedural series with a strong character arc is in the preproduction period. We are right in the middle of prepping a pilot episode on rescuers, and we always have a few ideas in scripting.
What kind of scripted formats are you looking for?
We are always in pursuit of ideas that might give rise to unique format features which thus would enable us to transform a relevant project into a new brand. We are hunting for new territories. I don’t mean geography, not in the least. I mean the areas to develop long vertical multi seasonal series.
You have been shooting more and more series in Ukrainian due to the language quotas. Is it now harder for you to sell the content?
No doubt, it affects the sales of our content to the countries of CIS and the Baltic region. Broadcasters in these territories when it comes to quality content always choose the one which is in Russian. Not to mention, that when it comes to the content produced in Ukrainian it is more expensive (dubbing or subtitling) for the buyer and not every client is willing to spend extra money and time in order to adapt such content to the viewer when there are plenty of other finished series and programs already produced in Russian. However, the good news is that over the past couple of years we’ve had quite a lot of cases when Ukrainian language was not an issue and clients gladly bought our high-quality TV series, reality shows and programs, so I guess the quality is still more the priority than the matter of language.
Who buys your original content?
Even though our primary clients are CIS countries, we have many deals with Western Europe and Asia. Together with selling content, we are also working on developing our international platforms – Ukraina 1, Ukraina 2, NLO 1 and NLO 2 – and actively promoting them around the world, particularly in Western Europe. For instance, we have contracts with Germany and Poland. I would also like to note all of the aforementioned channels base on the content of Ukraina and NLO TV. ▪