Aleksandras Česnavičius, PRO TV CEO: We know how to find the perfect mix
BY Yako Molhov
Next up in our series with CME execs is PRO TV’s CEO Aleksandras Česnavičius, under whose leadership the Romanian media group has been setting new records year after year. In the first quarter of 2024, the PRO TV Group reported its highest market share in 10 years, exceeding 29% quarterly share for All Day and 33% share in Primetime in the Commercial target.

In this interview, Česnavičius tells Yako Molhov about the changing conditions on the traditional TV market and how PRO TV amanges to successfully adapt to them, while also putting a focus on CME’s streaming brand VOYO.
Aleksandras Česnavičius, PRO TV CEO
Aleksandras, you have been the CEO of PRO TV for more than 10 years now. Romania has always been one of the countries on top of the charts when it comes to TSV but if in 2022 over 3.2 million Romanians watched TV, on average every day, in 2023 the number was reduced to just over three million. Do Romanians still love their TV and what are your forecasts for the future of TV in the country?
Romania is leading the linear TV average charts in terms of average daily viewing, with typically more than four-and-a-half hours daily. This keeps our traditional business in very good shape. I do expect in the future to see a similar path of high consumption of both linear TV and streaming platforms, and local content is and will remain the main differentiator.

In our previous interviews with us you noted that Romanian viewers are very traditional in certain aspects, and it takes time for them to accept and truly embrace a format. What are your plans for the fall TV season, will you rely only on proven formats, or will you try something new?
Romanian audience is intriguing in terms of consumption habits. They are indeed high TV consumers, just as they are high consumers in terms of streaming platforms; they like traditional aspects and have a tendency of following long term their favorite shows, but at the same time, they are early adopters when it comes to technology….

This is the beauty of our audience – they challenge us, but based on our audience results, we know how to find the perfect mix that keeps them in front of their TV screens and us in a leadership position.

So, for the autumn grid we are considering a mix of new entries and well-established formats.

What were the highlights of your spring TV season, are you happy with the ratings?
We are all very happy with the current results of this spring grid. In the first months of 2024, nationally, on any given day, the average viewing time of the group’s stations was two and a half hours (153 minutes / day), the highest average viewing time calculated per quarter in the last 10 years. If I were to mention just a few highlights, I would refer to our main news bulletin from 19:00 o’clock, which had a share of 32,2%. Las Fierbinti, local series, which is already known as a “phenomenon” – its audience results being more than double compared to the audience of the main competitor and lastly but not least important, Romania’s Got Talent, which is the most watched entertainment show.

These are just a few titles as we can simply say that we had an overall strong grid – on PRO TV Commercial target (National target aged 21 – 54, as per ESOMAR ABCD categories) the group recorded 29.1% share for All Day and 33.1% in Primetime.

The Romanian TV ad market is fully developed one, reacting to societal changes and the current economic volatility. What are your forecasts for 2024?
Like any media outlet, our business is dependent on the economic environment. The year is progressing well so far, and we are optimistic about the second half of the year as well. Additional advertising spending boost is expected during EURO 2024, driven by the fact that Romania is playing in the competition.

Let's talk a little bit about content costs. What is your strategy in terms of balancing costs and revenues, will PRO TV cut production budgets this year or on the contrary?
Without proper investment, one cannot expect to achieve proper and sustainable revenue. We are a cost-aware company, but for us it’s not about cutting budgets, but rather about spending the allocated budget in the most efficient manner and about obtaining the best possible quality of our products. Both in terms of content and visual quality.

Adaptations of Turkish formats are working well on Romanian TV. Will PRO TV adapt more Turkish fiction programs?
Indeed, we had great success with the adaptations of some of the biggest Turkish series and if the right opportunity will arise in the future, we will for sure do it again. We, however, must acknowledge the fact that our focus is on developing original Romanian scripts.

Do you believe TV co-productions between CEE countries, bearing in mind the specifics of each market and between CEE countries and international partners are viable as this seems to be one of the latest mantras in the industry? Does PRO TV plan to shoot such projects?
We are not excluding the possibility of co-productions between CME countries, although this may be somehow challenging. For countries like Czech and Slovakia or Slovenia and Croatia, it is easier due to shared history and similar languages. But Romania is significantly different in that respect, so the right opportunity for a CME co-production has not materialized yet. We are, however, actively discussing an international co-production for the series with other, non-CME partners, and we will disclose more at the right time.

PRO TV announced that it used artificial intelligence (AI) for its newest spring campaign; you also used AI (Deepswap in particular) in one of your NYE sketches and you also introduced E-MIL, your first virtual host for Will you expand the use of AI and in what areas?
Innovating, adopting new technologies, experimenting are some of the trademarks of our teams. Over the years we have been the first ones to introduce new technologies, new concepts, to improve our productions. This is why leveraging AI is not a surprise. We will for sure continue expanding the use of AI, into our projects in particular sound generation and editing, graphics packages, adaptation and promo editing for various media formats. We will also use AI in projects that will involve the generation of animations as part of video editing, and we will improve the quality of existing footage using AI-based software. It is a fast-moving field, and we adapt flexibly to the new possibilities.

CME has announced a major landmark for its streaming service Voyo in February - over 1 million subscribers, with the biggest growth in Czechia, Slovakia and Slovenia. What is the situation in Romania, can you reveal some numbers for the country and what is your content strategy, will you invest more in originals?
VOYO in Romania, is developing steadily, but we are still in the early phases. This platform offers first of all the catch-up proposition, which is unique for the Romanian market and at the same time, it offers the possibility to view the biggest shows up to seven days before they are broadcast on TV. Additionally, VOYO is the home of sports events. We will offer the coverage of EURO 2024 football tournaments, as well as the ones of EURO 2028. As for investments in originals, it is part of our long-term strategy and soon, a new series VOYO Original, called Atletico Textila, will be launched. In addition to original content, VOYO in Romania starts offering increasing number of live streaming channels, and we expect to develop this proposition further later in the year. Subscriber numbers are moving in the right direction, and we are confident in developing VOYO in Romania into a strong and highly demanded brand in the coming years.

Voyo has started recently offering the must-carry channels in Romania. Will this lead to getting additional subscribers?
We saw that viewers appreciated watching our own live channels in the past, especially when they are on the go. This leads us in the direction of expanding the live TV offer on the platform. Indeed, this year we will build a strong position by offering around 70 existing live channels, but this can be easily expanded in the future in several directions. In our mind live streaming fills in the opportunity on this market, where people love TV and we will bring more modern and technologically advanced ways to stay in touch with TV content, no matter if they are at home or on the move.

Except for Poland, which is its CEE hub, Netflix has not been investing significant sums into original content in Eastern Europe, but this is starting to change. The international streamer recently announced a new Romanian original series, are you concerned the streamer will become an even stronger competitor of Voyo?
We know that our fight for the attention of the viewers is becoming more complex every year and it is moving into more and more areas. We no longer compete only with players coming from the local market, but also with all international players offering video content, including SVOD platforms as well as content on YouTube and social media. We believe that our advantage of being a leading local content producer is more important than ever before and we will continue to ensure that this continues to be our main differentiator regardless of competitive pressures. Eventually the competition is good, and the viewer wins, as it leads to better quality of our products.

What is PRO TV's niche net strategy for 2024? Will Romanian viewers witness the launch of new cable channels from CME? Or will you continue with rebranding/repositioning some of your channels like Acasa which you transformed from female-skewing to a general-entertainment net in March?
We are happy with our current portfolio of niche channels. They serve the needs of both our viewers and advertisers. Romanian market is also quite crowded when it comes to long tail niche channels, so for the time being, we do not look at launching new channels. Our priority remains securing the right content for their audiences and developing niche channels into even stronger brands.
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