CME Bets on Streaming
In a series of exclusive interviews for CEETV and TVBIZZ, six senior executives from Central European Media Enterprises (CME) -a leading content creator and broadcaster operating in six Central and Eastern European countries – revealed the company’s content, distribution and streaming strategies for the region as well as the latest market trends and developments.

CME operates six television broadcasters in Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia, as well as Voyo, its original subscription video on demand platform. CME’s 43 TV channels reach a total of 49 million people, with market-leading channels in most of its markets.

TVBIZZ Magazine presents the main highlights from these interviews.
Dušan Švalek, Deputy CEO responsible for Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia

Dušan Švalek, Deputy CEO responsible for Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia:

CME Will Continue to Invest Heavily in Content
Dušan Švalek noted that “CME has one collective goal and strategy: to continue to be the CEE region’s top content producer offering high-quality and high-volume local content for distribution across our linear and digital channels.” In terms of expanding to new territories in the region, the top executives added that “CME will always review an interesting opportunity should it present itself”.

Regarding the CEE ad market, Švalek said that “CME’s advertising YTD revenues are up versus last year. However, we are seeing diverse trends in our markets. In markets such as Slovenia, there has been persistent caution on the side of advertisers since the end of 2022 and that is despite the relatively standard macroeconomic situation. TV advertising demand in Slovakia has shown encouraging market capacity trends and the overall advertiser sentiment in both Bulgaria and Croatia is optimistic, and we are expecting a positive outcome for 2023. The overriding positive indicator that we are seeing in 2023 is that the annual client contracting in each of our CME markets is above last year’s. That leads us to believe the diverse phasing trends we have seen so far will be re-balanced on the full-year basis.”

In terms of content strategy: “unscripted content will assume a progressively significant role in our programming strategies across all platforms. Scripted content, specifically tailored for streaming services, will drive an amplified demand for astonishing and stranger-than fiction stories inspired by real events. Such narratives will serve as powerful catalysts for marketing our platforms and products, setting us apart from our competitors. Since the acquisition by PPF in October 2020, CME has invested heavily into new, local scripted and unscripted content and this will continue to grow in the future. Over the last 2.5 years, CME boosted its investments into content by 82%, which consists of increased investment into scripted productions by 72% and by 110% into unscripted investments.”

Švalek, like the rest interviewed executives, noted that “CME is primarily focusing on the growth of our SVOD service as its momentum maximizes our current growth potential. We are evaluating the optimal timing and extent of further diversification of our streaming services portfolio... Voyo is offered in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia. We are very pleased with the growth to date and have high ambitions for the future. The Czech Republic and Slovakia have recently surpassed the 550.000 subscriptions mark. This is an incredible achievement, especially given the number of subscriptions in October 2020 (when PPF acquired CME) was around 60.000. We are confident we will reach 1 million subs in the Czech Republic and Slovakia by 2026 as originally stated. Our pan-CME achievements are also impressive: We are close to surpassing 1 million subs with excellent results in Slovenia and solid growth in Romania, making it a leading streamer on the local market. CME figures are without RTL Play.”

Talking about NATPE Budapest, CME’s deputy CEO commented that “we regard NATPE as a high-quality event and view it as an excellent opportunity to maintain a conversation with the industry’s most influential stakeholders. Aligned with our strategy of providing premium content, CME will be exploring the newest international scripted hits that we could add to our SVOD offering. Additionally, we will continue to showcase our content and products to our regional partners, recognizing that our content is specifically designed for the CEE region, making it highly adaptable and appealing.”

Stella Litou, CME Adria CEO

Stella Litou, CME Adria CEO:

In Croatia We Will Rebrand RTL Play to Voyo
Stella Litou who is responsible for CME’s operations in Slovenia and in Croatia commented that the two markets are “heavily regulated with strict rules regarding advertising, content and ownership, measurement. Audiences in both countries are seeking local content, consumed on all platforms. TV usage has the highest reach. On the other hand, content consumption on digital platforms is growing. Therefore, we need one currency measurement. Furthermore, in Croatia recently a new Law on Electronic Media was introduced with so called Must Offer rule. It means that we as content providers cannot negotiate a fee with platform operators for redistribution of our content. We must make content available but in return we receive a minimal fee defined by law. There is no European example of such rules.

Talking about the results, in Slovenia, Pro Plus is the undisputed leader in the local media market, with excellent results across all outlets - traditional TV, online portals, and especially SVOD with Voyo. This presents a unique set of challenges. Nurturing the traditional TV business that is still strong but delicate, optimizing our cost structure, and identifying new growth areas. In contrast, we are a strong number two in Croatia with a clear ambition to grow. Our latest results have given us confidence that we are on the right track. We made changes in our primetime schedule that resulted in significant growth in shares and sales.”

Commented on the ad market in the two countries, the CME exec said that “the TV market in Slovenia is the most important. It offers the greatest reach and has the advantageous KPI efficiency clients are looking for. We expect slight growth, and digital will grow too. Our main goal in Slovenia is to remain the first choice for advertisers, with our tailor-made advertising solutions. In Croatia, we also expect YOY slight growth, both in TV and digital. Creative offers give our clients different possibilities. We are and will continue to be trendsetters in both countries.”

In terms of content: Litou noted that “RTL Croatia is having an exceptionally successful spring season. Compared to the same period last year we increased in audience shares in primetime for the group of channels. The main RTL channel drove the growth with the excellent new seasons of Come Dine with Me, Married at First Sight and Farmer Wants a Wife. In the access primetime slot, we introduced the new season of the gameshow The Price is Right which also has great results and is an excellent lead-in to our main news and primetime slot. What’s most important is that we are growing, and our main competitor results are significantly downtrending. RTL has closed the gap in 18-54 by almost 10 percentage points over the last 11 months and we even beat our closest competitor in primetime in March.

In Slovenia, Pro Plus remains the first choice among viewers. Our channels maintain their leading position, with a 45% primetime share, with year-on-year growth. The most watched content on POP TV is the news 24UR with 46% share while local entertainment is also at the highest level. Currently, we air Home Makeover (Work Action), MasterChef Slovenia, and the reality show Power Couple. Kanal A offers Svet, a more magazine-like way of presenting news while the most attractive content for our viewers on this channel remains sport with Champions League Europa League and Moto GP.”

As far as the fall season is concerned: “RTL is preparing a mixture of local content. Our new daily fiction is completely developed and produced internally. Newly built sets, the biggest until now, great cast and excellent storyline will give our viewers a new level of content enjoyment. The reality project The Biggest Loser is coming back so is the new season of Come Dine with Me. Flashy Idols is in preproduction.

In Slovenia, one of the most popular realities The Farm is returning as is Got Talent, which is exceptionally popular. Our plans for fall are broad, diverse and exciting.”

Litou revealed exclusively that the company plans to rebrand its SVOD offering Play into Voyo in Croatia: “in the country, AVOD and SVOD options are currently available under the brand PLAY and PLAY Premium. Our goal is to establish a strong presence in the Croatian streaming market and become one of the leading players in the industry. Our strategy includes investing in VOD, expanding direct-to-consumer business with a new and improved wider range of high-quality content offering and improved user experience. We will rebrand Play to Voyo so we will have one umbrella brand for streaming and bring it to the market with additional features and a wider offer in fall.

In Slovenia today, almost 25% of internet households already use Voyo, more than 160.000 subscribers. We offer more than 15,000 hours of content in Slovenian or with Slovenian subtitles, which can be watched anywhere, anytime. Our users are loyal and regular viewers, with over 90% visiting as weekly.”

Matthias Settele, GD Markíza

Matthias Settele, GD Markíza:

Voyo is Our Key Priority
The GD of CME’s Slovak broadcaster Markiza talking about the TV market in the country said that “TV and online have proven to be the leading media types and this trend has been accelerated by the pandemic and other challenges we face these times. We have negotiated a double-digit price increase for last year and 2023 based on the high demand for TV ads. And if I look at the first months of 2023, volumes are up year on year. Markiza changed almost the entire spring grid and we are happy that with the exception of one program, all formats exceeded our expectations. Our new daily family series Mama na prenájom (Mom for Rent), our first period romantic series Dunaj, k vašim službám (Dabube, At Your Service) and our versions of Dancing with the Stars, Kitchen Nightmares and Liar - all of them attracted a huge audience so far. News and magazines have also improved year-on-year.” Revealing the network’s plans for fall, Settele added that “we will continue with our daily series Mom for Rent, our historic family saga Danube, At Your Service and reality show Na nože (Kitchen Nightmares), we will launch one new studio show and bring back successful reality shows The Farm and Love Island. Dragons’ Den comes to Slovakia as premiere under the local name Jama levova (Lion’s Den) and we continue with Výnimočná Nikol (Extraordinary Nikol), our version of the French hit series HPI: Haut Potentiel Intellectuel.”

Markiza’s GD also underlined the importance of the streaming service Voyo: “Voyo is our key priority. We have launched new original series and have prolonged our contract with domestic football Fortuna liga (Fortuna League). For the first time, we have produced an exclusive docuseries about the Slovak football club Spartak Trnava, the next four episodes will be released after the end of this season. Program and marketing investments pay off, we have reached more than half a million paid subscribers across Czechia and Slovakia. Besides that, we have relaunched both key websites and, and started a TikTok channel. Our YouTube channel offer has meanwhile more than 1.3 million followers, so we are active across all digital media. Soon viewers will see Vedma, the first Czecho-Slovak fantasy series, an amazing production with great value. I am proud to work in a company which is that courageous to invest into such high-quality productions. Our work is also about taking high risks. But we love our programs, and that is our strength: Passion for television in each form.”

Daniel Grunt, CEO of TV Nova

Daniel Grunt, CEO of TV Nova:

Voyo Aims to Reach 1 Mln Subscribers in CZ and SK by 2026
In January 2023 Daniel Grunt was appointed the CEO of TV Nova, the leading broadcaster in the Czech Republic and CME’s ‘crown jewel’. The senior executive, who was previously CME’s Chief Digital Officer, commented that “Nova’s strategy for keeping our long-term market leadership is to continue investing in quality programming, expanding our digital presence, and innovating our advertising offerings. The COVID pandemic, war in Ukraine, and economic recession have certainly had an impact on everyone, including the Czech TV ad market. However, from the media market perspective the negative impact wasn’t visible as expected. During COVID, people in general spent more time at home watching TV so our clients weren’t afraid to invest within ad market. TV ads are still considered extremely effective and essential part of media mix.” Regarding the spring TV season, Nova’s CEO commented that “TV Nova channels have performed very well this spring, thanks to the success of our top-rated programs. TV Nova was the only TV group in the Czech Republic growing as far as share. We have seen strong viewership for our news as for example presidential election “Road to the Castle” which as a great success and included the most watched presidential debate. Overall, TV Nova’s presidential election coverage reached 5.423 million viewers over the age of four. We plan to continue investing in quality content that resonates with our audience. Saturdays belong to knowledge competition Superlov (Beat the Chasers), which is the most viewed show in Saturday’s prime time. Sunday’s and Monday’s crime series work great as well and Odznak Vysočina (The Highlands Badge), Specialisté (Specialists) are the most popular formats in the Czech Republic. We also launched new series Jedna Rodina (One Family) and Zlatá labuť (Golden Swan) which have both a very good viewership base and positive feedback on social media. The fall schedule will feature a mix of new and returning programming across our channels. We’ll be continuing with successful formats like Chase and The Street (19th season by the way), and e’re looking forward to The Nightingale Music Awards, which we helped revive last year. We’re confident that our fall programming will deliver engaging and entertaining content for our viewers.” He added that “the content trends in the Czech Republic indicate that viewers are interested the most in local original Czech formats. That’s why we build strong line-up with Czech local program throughout all genres such as dramas, comedies, more crime series and true based stories. Reality shows work extremely well, and viewers enjoy not only culinary shows as MasterChef but shows as Survivor or Love Island as well.” Regarding CME’s streaming strategy and Voyo, Grunt commented that “as Chief Digital Officer at CME, my primary focus is on developing our streaming service. Our digital strategy for Voyo was centered around expanding our subscriber base, improving the user experience, and increasing engagement through original program- ming and content partnerships. Voyo is the leading local steaming platform bringing the strongest stories to our subscribers. And our target for Voyo by the end... well, you will see but we are very confident that we’ll reach our goal of 1 million subs by 2026.

Voyo’s key pillar is local content. We produce a lot of our own (Voyo Originál production and our TV content we provide the viewers in advance), currently, 24 projects of various genre are being filmed and other 22 projects are in pre-production. However, that would not be enough to profile Voyo as the best and biggest place for the best Czech content. Therefore, we have a strong acquisition strategy which includes also some titles from the Czech TV production and also old Czech and Czechoslovak movies, we also support the brand-new ones.”

Aleksandras Cesnavicius, CEO, Pro TV Romania

Aleksandras Cesnavicius, CEO, Pro TV Romania:

2022 Was a Remarkable Year for Voyo
Commenting on the record ratings in Q1, Cesnavicius said that “Pro TV had the best share since 2014 to date in February. During the entire month, on a national level, over 8.5 million Romanians spent at least 10 hours watching our programs. To name some of their preferences, I would say, Romania’s Got Talent, Undercover Boss, Las Fierbinti (a local series) and of course, last but not least, our daily News program. Romanians generally tend to enjoy a mix of local productions and foreign content. They like to watch shows that are entertaining, informative, and have good production value. Additionally, Romanians are known to be passionate about sports, football in particular, and major sporting events tend to draw a large viewership.” Regarding Pro TV’s plans for the fall TV season, the executive revealed that “every year, we bring novelties for our audience with every grid launch and this fall will be no exception. Considering the highly challenging environment, driven by both competition with the development of other media channels and audience fragmentation, we’re looking for formats that will attract and retain our audience. We are preparing a proposal that combines already established formats such as Las Fierbinti and new international formats and we will definitely continue our commitment to investing in strong local fiction.”

Pro TV expects a single-digit growth for the local ad market: “the Romanian TV ad market is fully developed, reacting as normal to societal changes. Consumers are evolving, consumption habits are changing and advertisers are therefore adapting their strategies to address their consumers’ needs. As for the future, we will most likely observe a single-digit growth in 2023, in line with the expected growth of the GDP, and we foresee the development of consumer consumption.”

Cesnavicius noted that “Voyo is a platform that comes with many benefits. Besides the original content, it offers its subscribers the opportunity of viewing our TV shows up to one week ahead. It’s also a unique destination for our audience to catch up with their favorite programs in a market in which telecom operators do not broadly offer this type of service.

Reverting to 2022, we can say that it was a remarkable year for Voyo. From a content point of view, the platform tripled both its titles and its subscribers. The users watched over 11 million hours of content on Voyo last year alone. This being said, we like setting the bar high so that there’s always room for improvement. Our expectations, therefore, are even higher for 2023. The search for and delivery of good quality content in both TV and streaming platforms is the key element to keeping our audience close to us. We are always looking for new content opportunities.

Ralf Bartoleit, CEO, bTV Media Group Bulgaria

Ralf Bartoleit, CEO, bTV Media Group Bulgaria:

Our Digital Assets Enjoyed Double Digit Growth Again
bTV Media Group’s CEO Ralf Bartoleit noted that “bTV is an exceptional brand with a remarkable history... Throughout the years, bTV has established itself as a preferred brand and a trusted source of news. Our newsroom and reporters are renowned for delivering quality journalism and reliable information. Given my background as a news journalist and foreign correspondent for many years, it is my priority to maintain and strengthen this positioning. I also believe it is crucial for us to be perceived as an entertainment channel and media group that offers even more diversity and excitement.”

bTV’s top executive also shared that “beside investments in entertainment and news content, bTV Media Group is proud to be the first television and company to introduce “green filming” standards on the Bulgarian market. Three of our most popular TV shows are already certified by the international “albert” standard.”

In terms of programming: “with The Bachelor we have a great primetime production that has already started to change the image and the perception of bTV into a lighter, more entertaining direction. Unfortunately, Survivor was weaker than expected. But besides TV, our digital assets enjoyed double digit growth again. I am especially happy about bTV Plus (catch-up platform). Here my team has made a big effort to implement changes to offer more diverse and different types of content. Besides The Bachelor we have in Access-Prime a fantastic show with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. This was a very good introduction by our programming team. Regardless of all challenges in the spring season, I am very happy about my team’s agility and flexibility... On top of this, we created a whole new summer pro- gram in prime time, I think the first to that extent. Our summer grid will also introduce a new Bulgarian fiction program with the title Sophia at Home. I am really excited about all of these shows.

In fall we are bringing the 10th season of The Voice, one of the most successful TV shows in Bulgaria. For me personally The Voice is a love-brand; we produced these spectacular shows at Sat.1 and ProSieben in Germany, but I also produced The Voice with my team in Hungary, when I was responsible for TV2. I am also very excited about MasterChef with three new judges and a new refreshed concept. In my eyes, the casting was fantastic. And I would mention The Farm. Yes, it is a known format, but also beloved by the Bulgarian audience and we intend to invest a lot of ideas and passion into The Farm.

Regarding bTV’s cable channels portfolio, Bartoleit commented that “we had some challenges in the first half of the year but our portfolio of smaller channels is an important pillar for the diversification of our group. We have a lot of ideas in this direction. We made one small step to improve the shares of bTV Lady. I am unable to reveal too many details at this stage, but we are dedicating considerable thought to this matter. And you know from my history when I was in Hungary, we successful- ly launched Super TV2 at TV2. I love to work on the portfolio.”

Talking about Voyo in the country, the bTV top executive said that “among the top five titles offered on Voyo for 2022 are the Bulgarian series Sunny Beach, I`ll Be Fine, The Farm, the popular saga Forbidden Fruit, and the Romanian hit series Vlad. More are added every month, and users can enjoy exclusive content, Champions League football, and other special events from the world of sports. The service was launched years ago in Bulgaria, and it is present in 4 more markets in the CEE region – the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. For the CME group the digital extension of TV channel business is a key factor. So, you can imagine, that we will also have a look at the future of Voyo and by this review the possible business models and options.”

bTV is one of the many CEE broadcasters that will be attending this year’s NATPE Budapest and Bartoleit stressed that “NATPE is widely recognized as one of the most prestigious events in the entertainment industry and serves as a remarkable networking marketplace.

The conference will showcase new trends, innovations, and advancements in content creation and distribution. We are excited to see firsthand the industry’s most exceptional content across a wide range of genres, formats, and platforms. I have a great acquisition team, and together with my colleagues we are always open to fresh ideas, seeking out new business opportunities and partners.”

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