A+E Networks Focuses on Expansion in CEE
BY Stanislav Kimchev
A+E Networks is one of the biggest factual Pay TV operators in CEE reaching viewers in 17 countries from the region. The potential for growth remains huge as the company is gradually expanding its operations into new markets, while continuing to build on its success in key territories like Poland, Romania and Hungary. Izabella Wiley, SVP and General Manager CEE, tells Stanislav Kimchev more details about A+E’s strategy for expansion in the region.
Storage Wars
Izabella, since 2017, you have been managing A+E Networks’ operations in 17 territories in Central and Eastern Europe. Which are the countries you operate in, and have you planned entering new markets in the near future?
In Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), we have a presence in 17 diverse markets, each varying in scale and depth of our business operations. Currently, our primary focus is on managing and expanding our existing markets, as they already require our full attention and resources. Therefore, we do not have immediate plans to pursue new business opportunities outside of these countries.

Furthermore, I have recently taken on the responsibility of overseeing the German-speaking territories. This means that in addition to our presence in Central and Eastern European countries, I am also involved with managing these non-CEE businesses. Our primary objective remains the growth and expansion of our business within the markets where we are already established.

A+E Networks has about 20 channels and brands - which of them are available in CEE?
Our key brands present in CEE region are HISTORY Channel; HISTORY2 (H2), which is a “brother” channel to HISTORY, and Crime+Investigation, a true crime channel. We also offer digital SVOD brands, namely HISTORY Play and C+I Play. HISTORY Play was first launched in the CEE region in Hungary, in collaboration with RTL Most+.

What are the main challenges for a pan-regional international broadcaster like A+E Networks operating in the region? And what are the specifics of the CEE TV market compared to other regions, for example German-speaking territories which you are also responsible for at A+E?
I appreciate how Central and Eastern Europeans still embrace traditional television viewing, despite the growing popularity of streaming services in other parts of the world. However, our region is not isolated from the global trends, as major streaming platforms are making significant investments and entering our key markets. They bring along high-quality, predominantly scripted content that we are well aware of.

The transition from linear TV to non-linear streaming is noticeably slower here compared to the United States, and one reason could be the difference in pricing. In the US, cable or satellite subscriptions can cost around $200, while Netflix subscription is priced at $15. Consequently, people in the US are more inclined to cut their Pay TV subscriptions and opt for more affordable streaming options. In contrast, in CEE, cable and satellite packages offer good value for money, making them an attractive choice, alongside which people also add streaming subscriptions.

In Poland you work with Polsat Media for ad sales. What about other territories? How do you choose your local partners and what are your expectations for the CEE ad-market this year and to what extent you rely on ad sales compared to other revenues?
As mentioned earlier, three markets hold significant importance for us due to their large scale: Poland, Romania, and Hungary. In these markets, we have established advertising partnerships with Polsat Media in Poland, Thematic Channels in Romania, and RTL in Hungary. While we are considering ad sales in Bulgaria and Serbia, it is still too early to provide any definitive updates on those fronts. Ad sales play a important role in our business, particularly as the subscription model continues to evolve. We constantly strive to achieve impressive viewer- ship numbers, and I am delighted to share that our efforts have been fruitful. In our core markets, we rank among the top three international Pay TV factual channels.

Pawn Stars

In some of your territories, you offer locally produced content like Poland and Romania. What is your content strategy for CEE for the upcoming years, will you invest more into local productions and how many hours have you planned?
For over 10 years, we have been making significant investments in Polish productions, building an extensive library of local content. While we are fortunate to have access to compelling content from the US and UK, nothing compares to the appeal of local productions. We prioritize quality over quantity, focusing on well-developed, properly invested shows rather than producing a large number of “cheap and cheerful” programs.

In Poland, our goal is to deliver two series per year for HISTORY Channel and three to four series for Crime+Investigation. One of our major successes on Crime+Investigation Poland is Once Upon a Crime, a local show that has spanned five seasons so far. In Romania, we developed The Mystery of Dacian Gold last year, a captivating series exploring the Dacia region, which was the largest ancient reservoir of gold in Europe and how that gold financed a significant portion of the Roman Empire’s expansion. We have plans for a new Romanian show scheduled for this fall.

Hungary is the logical and natural next market for us to invest in local productions. We recognize that local shows tend to be favorites among the audience. For instance, The Hunt for Baltic Gold nearly doubled the viewership for HISTORY Channel in its slot, and Polish Killer Women had the best premiere since 2021. How- ever, it’s important to note that our viewers also have a deep appreciation for our flagship US shows such as Pawn Stars, The Curse of Oak Island, and Storage Wars.

Are you looking into co-productions with local partners from CEE?
We are genuinely interested in collaborating with local terrestrial partners, especially considering their extensive libraries of content. By leveraging their vast archives, we can create fresh and captivating programs. Unfortunately, partnering with terrestrial players in the CEE region poses numerous challenges. It is regrettable because HISTORY has the potential to make significant contributions. We are renowned for presenting historical stories to our audiences in a relevant, surprising, and even entertaining manner.

What are your expectations for NATPE Budapest and what will be the highlights of your slate and will you offer CEE-produced con- tent at the market?
We won’t be offering locally produced content this year, but it is something to consider for next year. My colleagues from International Content Sales will be present at the market and they will be offering the international catalog of shows. We are interested in what others have to offer for our audiences across the region.
Named one of the 50 most influential women in Poland, Izabella Wiley is a blue-chip leader in TV in Central Europe. As GM and SVP Poland, Central and Eastern Europe, she drives A+E Networks EMEA’s business on the continent. Before joining A+E in May 2013, Izabella was SVP of Viacom International Media Networks. There, she brought the Comedy Central brand to Poland. Izabella is also the ambassador for A+E Networks EMEA’s ongoing CSR initiative, End Abuse Against Women.
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