CEO Peter Gažík: Local content drives Markiza Group's success
BY Yako Molhov
Continuing our series with top CME executives, today CEETV publishes the interview with Peter Gažík, CEO of the Markiza Group, the leading Slovak commercial broadcaster.

Last fall and this spring, TV Markíza and Voyo continued to break records and this is all due to the high-quality local content offered by the Group, as the CEO tells Yako Molhov. The two also discussed the current political situation in the country, the current trends on the media and ad markets, and also the strategy to co-create content with Czech sister net TV Nova for both linear and on-demand services, as well as the cooperation with the other CME broadcasters in the region.
Peter Gažík, CEO of the Markiza Group
Peter, you were appointed CEO of TV Markíza in September 2023. The broadcaster has been the TV market leader in Slovakia since its launch. Was 2023 a good year for TV Markíza and what are your expectations for 2024, what will be your biggest challenges?
Last year was indeed a successful one, credit for that goes to the whole team, including my predecessor Matthias Settele. TV Markíza launched a successful program lineup, with a number of the titles becoming rating-beating ones – Na nože (Kitchen Nightmares), Dunaj, k vašim službám (Danube, At Your Service), Let‘s Dance (Dancing with the Stars) to name a few. We have also managed to grow financially, which is ultimately the reflection of the business being well done.

The 2024 challenges remain similar – growing further from a leadership position is not easy, but we aim to appeal to even more viewership popularity. Thus, we want to see our program share grow, Voyo subscribers grow, and financial result as well. We are also going through a hectic period with a lot of political context – change in government, presidential elections, elections to the European Parliament.

The Slovak TV ad market is one of the smaller ones in CEE. Do you expect growth this year and in which segments?
We are indeed happy to see TV still being a very relevant medium in Slovakia. Total TV remains strong, which keeps the demand for advertisements growing further. In our case, this is further supported by the improving program performance, including one-off events, such as the UEFA EURO 2024, which will be aired through the Markíza Group exclusively for the first time. We believe we can deliver even stronger results this year across the segments, be it linear TV, our SVOD platform Voyo, or online.

2023 and 2004 have proven very successful for TV Markíza in terms of ratings: Dunaj, k vašim službám (Danube, At Your Service), Let‘s Dance (Dancing with the Stars), Na nože (Kitchen Nightmares), Klamstvo (Liar), Zrada (Doctor Foster); etc. delivered hefty results. What were your other ratings successes, and which shows are returning this fall? What about new shows?
Practically all titles from our spring programming grid performed very well, so we are satisfied with the results and grateful to the viewers for their support. In the autumn, we will continue with the successful series Mama na prenájom (Mom for Rent) and Dunaj, k vašim službám (Danube, At Your Service), we will bring the long-awaited new season of Druhá šanca (DOC – Nelle Tue Mani), a new season of the popular reality shows Extrémne premeny Slovensko (Extreme Makeover Slovakia) and Farma (The Farm), or the entertainment show Možné je všetko! (Anything Goes), which established itself very well last year.

The international TV and streaming industry is witnessing significant budget cuts, layoffs, and cost optimizations. How is TV Markíza reacting to the continuing crisis, will you lower your content spend and budgets for fiction and non-fiction or on the contrary?

Slovakia is not a big market, so over the years we have continuously worked on maximizing our cost optimization. We focus only on slots that have high total TV and that are attractive for advertising clients. Of course, despite striving for the highest possible efficiency, it is important for us to maintain the quality of production and to support the perception that TV Markíza delivers the best content on the market.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia have been actively doing co-productions for many years, both in terms of fiction and non-fiction. Will TV Markíza intensify its partnership with Czech sister TV Nova and are you planning to work with broadcasters outside of CME and from other territories in the region? What are the biggest challenges for co-productions in CEE?
We cooperate intensively with our Czech sister company TV Nova with whom we produce joint projects, both for the linear broadcasting and for SVOD. The closest cooperation in recent years has been primarily on Voyo Originals for SVOD. However, we also produce joint projects for television. At the same time, we exchange programs with each other, which also works overall within CME. If a country is interested in content from another country then, of course, we work together to share content. For example, Voyo in Croatia offers the Czech-Slovak Voyo Original Sex O'Clock, at the same time Slovenian stations have bought content from Slovakia or even adapted our successful comedy series Horná Dolná (Middle of Nowhere). So whenever there's an opportunity to exchange content or to get some inspiration, of course we take it.

In terms of the biggest challenges for co-productions in the CEE, it has to be said that we are a group in which each country has a strong focus on local audiences and therefore looks for topics that are strongly locally relevant. That's why our main focus is on differentiating ourselves from those transnational platforms with general multinational content. So those co-productions across the CEE tend to be themes that are sort of generic and transnational, whereas our focus, on the other hand, is very strongly local and specific to our local markets.

Period dramas proved very successful in Slovakia, i.e. your Danube series and Čas nádejí (Time of Hope) on Jednotka RTVS. Are you planning to produce more costume dramas?
We are always open to any kind of content from scripted formats, so definitely it is possible that we will offer more costume dramas in the future.

CME recently announced that it has hit 800.000 subscribers for the Voyo streaming service in Czechia and Slovakia. Just recently you announced many new projects for Voyo together with sister Czech net TV Nova. Tell us more about your new slate and commissioning strategy for Voyo, are you increasing the budgets for original streaming content?
Voyo is mainly driven by the local content, 60-70% of the Voyo catalog is made up of local content including Voyo Originals. Voyo Original is a content category that mainly represents scripted series that offer great local relevance and are usually based on true stories, topics that people are talking about or are highly relevant for the audiences across the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It’s clear that this category is gaining in importance and popularity, as we have won several prestigious awards. We cooperate with the best creators and producers on the market, so this is a high-premium, highly sought-after category of content. We are very happy for all the positive viewer reactions and that we can bring new and new projects every year.

We continue our strategy of strengthening the Voyo brand through Voyo Originals, while still maintaining strong linear broadcasting through linear projects.

The FAST service has not been very popular with CEE viewers but this year it has picked up pace, especially in markets like Poland. Do you plan to launch FAST channels in Slovakia?
We are actively monitoring and searching for viable innovative products and services that we could bring to our views and customers, yet FAST channels are not part of our pipeline for the time being.

In Romania Voyo has started offering must-carry channels recently. Do you plan to offer live broadcasts of channels outside of the CME group on Voyo?
Voyo is truly in the center of our focus. We are proud of the partnerships we have with some of the distributors in the Slovak market, the enormous exclusive content and the award-winning Voyo Originals that we brought to Voyo this year. The overall positioning that Voyo has among its competitors - offering a blend of linear channels, original content and relevant library - makes together a strong offer for the customer, and we will certainly pursue opportunities in this direction should they be available, including further linear channels.

In February, TV Markíza, Doma, Dajto and Markíza KRIMI scored an average daily market share of 32.3% in the commercial target group 13-55 which is the highest since September 2016. What is your strategy for your niche channels - in January you confirmed the launch of a new niche channel for 2024, can you reveal more details to us?
We are happy to expand the offer/range of our channels, which has been envisaged for some time already. We'll be able to reveal more about the focus of this station really soon, viewers definitely have a lot to look forward to.

There has been an issue with Czech channels being distributed by Slovak cable operators and most recently Czech pubcaster CT required Slovak operators to stop distributing its CT Sport channel. TV Markíza has complained previously about the distribution of Czech channels in the country due to violation of your programming rights. Has the situation been resolved now?
We see some progress on this topic. It has to be said that distribution of content without grant of rights is illegal. Hence, we are not against “Czech channels” or “Czech content”, but we address the fact that certain, mostly international program content in Slovakia is not distributed in a compliant way. Therefore, while the whole topic may seem sensitive and/or even misused, it is about pure respect for copyright law.

We are happy to see that also other broadcasters started to address and execute this topic and we expect the distributors in Slovakia to abide by this direction and follow suit by removing the content that fails to comply.

How are you addressing the current political situation in Slovakia, with the new government attacking both public and commercial broadcasters? You issued a statement regarding a recent attack against one of your reporters; PM Fico has earlier spoken against and is boycotting TV Markíza. How is TV Markíza ensuring its editorial independence against such attacks?
From its onset, TV Markíza has been at the forefront of media professionalism with the aim to ensure the versatility of information and plurality of opinion, as well as objectivity and impartiality of news and current affairs programs, as required by the law. These principles are followed by all CME newsrooms including TV Markiza. Adherence to these principles in Slovakia has been clearly demonstrated a number of times, most recently by the coverage of presidential campaign and elections. Our work is further scrutinized by respective regulatory bodies in the country, as well as our independent CME editorial board, who have on multiple occasions stated that TV Markiza delivers ethical and professional journalism and follow the principles of objectivity, impartiality and factual accuracy.
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