Duo Media Networks and Its Formula for Success
BY Stanislav Kimchev
Duo Media Networks and flagship channel Kanal 2 have just closed a very successful 2022/23 season in Estonia and the Baltics. In this interview with Stanislav Kimchev, CEO Jüri Pihel talks about the company’s formula for success, content production and its different strategies for the free TV, Pay TV and digital platforms.
Jüri Pihel, CEO of Duo Media Networks
Jüri, Duo Media Networks is the largest and one of the fastest growing media companies in the Baltics. How many channels does your company operate and what are your target audiences?
We are operating altogether 17 channels, it means we have a large variety - from Kanal 2, which is the biggest commercial channel in Estonia, starting with very broad, diverse programming, to really niche channels and everything that is between - thematic channels. Two and a half years ago, we merged two different companies, a company that owned Kanal 2 and a company that owned the international kids channels Kidzone. That’s why we still have two different directions.

While programming on the main channel, Kanal 2, is primarily direct- ed at the 18 to 59 age group, then the programming of its sister channels targets different groups, from small children to the elderly. The selection includes Duo 5, a more masculine and documentary-oriented channel, and Duo 4, a softer and more feminine channel. Comedy, crime, and thriller channels are Duo 6 and Duo 3 – showing mainly series, film channels are Filmzone and Filmzone+, while TV channels specifically targeted at children are created according to age preferences – Smartzone, Kidzone TV, and Kidzone Mini. Eesti Kanal brings the best moments and stars of domestic TV history to our viewers.

A wide selection of channels is also available for Russian-speaking viewers. In addition to the main Russian-language channel Kanal 7, there is also the movie channel Kino 7, the entertainment channel with the best series and Hollywood movies Kanal 7+, and Semejka, a TV channel for Russian-speaking children offering fun and educational content.

The flagship of Duo Media Networks is the oldest private television channel in Estonia – Kanal 2. Tell us more about its programming strategy?
The talent on television, on linear television today is same for everybody. How do you keep your loyal viewers, these viewers who are getting older, who have been like 30 years with you, to keep them, to involve them still and to attract new viewing? We have a 2-in-1 strategy. It means we are building the channel schedule until 20.00 in a very traditional way: daily soaps, some international German family viewing series and one hour news magazine at 19.00. It’s a news magazine show which means it’s really mixed - it starts as news and goes more entertainment and it’s quite funny at the end. It’s quite an interesting mix and from 20.00 we are going with a little bit more different programming. We have investigative journalism, we have charity programs, and they are meant for very broad audiences, they are quite attractive for new viewers. We are trying really to involve the best producers and best faces. They are quite young, starting from 30 or even less. We have a news anchor on weekends who is 22. Compared to, for instance, the public television, the average age is like 15 years younger.

So, we are growing, we have grown heavily over the last two and a half years.

What were your most successful programs this TV season and what are your plans for the fall? Will you offer brand new shows to Estonian viewers?
We got an enormous success with two different international formats, both from Fremantle - The Ultimate Entertainer and I Can See Your Voice. We did both in a very proper way, they are looking glamorous. Both show established our Sunday nights. They are 2.5 hours as live programs and are absolutely amazing.

We have a couple of phenomena and one of them is good-old Jeopardy! On Sunday between the news and the shiny floor show The Ultimate Entertainer, we air Jeopardy! which has been on Estonian screens for about 25 years. We have a young female host, it’s quite untraditional and it really involves, rating-wise, 10+ percent on Sunday, the most crowded primetime. I’m absolutely happy and I know that these ‘old’ formats are coming back in many countries. This is a great example for everybody - use younger hosts, younger players and a little bit brighter colors, and that works.

We also have successful original formats, and probably the most successful this season was A Heart’s Desire. It’s a charity program with very strong journalistic background, well done research, and we don’t collect money from the audience, but we find people who are fulfilling other people’s dreams. A perfect format, absolutely amazing results. It’s in the top ten every week.


Another successful show is Full Hour. This is another investigative journalism program - three stories, 6 to 7 different journalists every week. We have a very strong concept behind it: we are trying to talk to smarter people and to everybody about the difficult topics, but in a very, simple and understandable way. We started last fall, and after 12 episodes, it was voted as the best journalistic program of the year at the Estonian Television and Film Awards.

The same team which is behind A Heart’s Desire are doing the program called Let’s Turn Flats for Money. It’s a renovation show hosted by an Instagram star, a young lady who’s very popular on Instagram as a home renovation, self-taught phenomenon and she is hosting the show together with a very famous TV personality. They renovate for very small money people’s flats and the people rent them out.

Then we have the news magazine, but it’s very original, very nice format and later, at 21.30, we have a talkshow called The Night, with three hosts that have been voted over last three - four years as most popular TV hosts of the country. Again 30 to 35, young people.

To sum up, we made the channel go bigger each year because we don’t lose our traditional viewers, but we are involving new and grabbing viewers from different channels.

What are the latest trends on the Estonian TV market? What are local viewers watching the most?
It’s quite easy to answer and it’s not about television at all. Times are turbulent. There are so many different messages, around the relative closeness of the war, uncertainty. This uncertainty is the key influence of the minds of the people. I can’t say that people feel insecure in Estonia but something’s there. But it’s not just last year – we are talking about the last 4 or 5 years as populism has been growing, all the Trumpism was growing. This means that these current programs are doing really well, programs that are talking about the future, about the present, less about the past, but more serious topics and well-made entertainment. It’s quite obvious - public television in Estonia does really well with quite simple two-person interviews, a simple talk-show, just because people need more information.

How is the Estonian ad market faring amidst the uncertain economic situation, the war in Ukraine? Do you expect growth for 2023?
It has been surprisingly stable over the last year. Even the COVID years, we felt few months of serious drop, maybe even only a couple of months of serious drop, but it has been stable. In an established economy like we have in the Baltics we haven’t seen any drops really, switched be- tween digital and television. TV has the share what we used to have over the last 15 years. It didn’t change. We are growing maybe 1% to 4-5% a year as a market and then the share stays safe. So we can plan, we can rely on our plans and budget. There’s never enough money to make good television, but we can survive. It’s not bad at all.

What is Duo Media Networks’ dig- ital strategy? Do you plan to invest more into digital content?
The answer is yes. Every country is a bit different and the Baltic region is that we have some specialties. One of those that stand out are digital platforms like Netflix, Disney+ or Viaplay who are key players here, even Go3 but they are actually mixed, they are not a standalone service. Everybody is talking about them, about HBO, but in reality, the number of paying subscribers is surprisingly small especially in Estonia, but also in Lithuania. We are so well digitalized: everybody has fast connections, everybody has several devices. But the phenomenon is that that local telecom companies started before any of these standalone services came on the market. They started as content providers. It means that in people’s mind, big telcos like Telia or Elisa - they are in people’s mind content providers and that’s why for standalone services it’s so difficult to enter. Let’s say that out of these major international players no one has a six-digit number of clients in the Baltics, let’s say much less.

The Ultimate Entertainer

It means that we are working very closely with telcos on delivering our content digitally.

I can’t really tell today, maybe in six months, what we are doing but we have officially and publicly started doing branded services on telcos. It means we have own content that is branded with logos but we don’t stream ourselves, it’s just today we are in the beginning of the process. We are going to launch some services hopefully next spring. Duo Media is strong because we are trying to execute as many rights we can obtain - one localization, one file and as many clients, as many different platforms as we can involve. That’s the only way. It’s a really small market and we have four languages. Localization is just expensive if we’re talking about it.

Duo Media is attending NATPE Budapest. What kind of content will you be looking for? What about potential co-productions with companies from CEE?
The NATPE Budapest market is different from all of these mega markets. It’s smaller, but it’s really important. We are attending mainly to meet people. It’s about networking, connections, to get ideas to keep eyes open - this is really good.

Last year, I met a few of my friends who introduced me to some other peo- ple and conversation went so well that next spring we are launching one big Finnish format because of networking at the market. For example I chatted with Rosario Cosentino from CBS Par- amount and she said “I have a solution for you”. We are looking not just ideas and formats, but also we are very open for scripts. We talked about Dear Daddies (Sres. Papis) and from this chat it happened so that in three months we produced the format.

An important trend on the market is that we are co-producing with telcos, with digital platforms. They have the strong digital offer and we work with them. For example, we launched the first episode of a show on Kanal 2 with some introductory half-hour interviews, made it like an event and it got amazing ratings for the first episode. Then, for six months the other seven episodes will run on a digital platform and come back to to Kanal 2 in the fall. We made it like an event and a brand on the biggest commercial channel with just one episode.
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