First Kyiv and Odesa, then Kharkiv: Live Holding aims for regional leadership in Ukraine
BY Georgi Chakarov
Under strict measures against the spread of the coronavirus Georgi R. Chakarov met with the new management of Live Holding in Kyiv. The recently (re-)started TV company aims to become a leader in the local markets with a full relaunch in March of Kyiv.Live and Odesa.Live which will be complemented by the launch of a third channel – Kharkiv.Live.

The former 1+1 Media colleagues Svitlana Paveletskaya, Dmytro Tsarenko and Viktor Berezenko now run the Institute of Cognitive Modeling which recently signed an agreement with the owners of the regional nets – the MP from Opposition Platform – For Life, Vadim Stolar, and his business partner Serhiy Turchinov, to take over the management of the new holding.

In this exclusive interview, the three managers talked openly about their strategy and plans for the channels, with the aim to create leading regional TV and digital platforms which would have an impact on the whole Ukrainian media market.
Svitlana Paveletskaya, Dmytro Tsarenko, Viktor Berezenko
What is the story of Kyiv.Live and Odesa.Live. What will be your goals and strategy to achieve them?
Svitlana: Initially, the owner entrusted the previous team with the task to launch the Kyiv and Odesa regional channels.

It was interesting for us that there were no quantitative targets. The first team was assigned with launching - they did great, achieving the goal in the shortest possible time. Indeed, to build two channels in three months is fantastic.

But everything has a price, and here the price is the stability and longevity of this story. Our task is to make this effective, self-sufficient and long-lived.

It seems to us that now, considering all current conditions and everything that happens in the country, ideas for decentralization and a certain polarization of society, and the fact that people want to see what is happening in their region, they want to feel how they influence something, regional television provides opportunities for this on the one hand. But on the other hand, we understand that our channels will be qualitatively different from other regional ones, because the regional for us does not mean local. This means adapted to the specific conditions of a particular area. Therefore, we will have a single center in Kyiv, which will set the tone and quality and create the preconditions for scaling.

We started with forming a team in the center. We will have a single conditional corporate center that will manage the concept, content, design. If you are from Kyiv, for example, and you are going on a business trip to Odesa or Kharkiv, then you would look for this channel with the Live prefix, knowing that you will receive a good morning show, local news with a certain quality of journalism, and central programs from Kyiv. For the viewer, it will be familiar and useful at the same time, giving the opportunity to immerse in this region.

Are there any competitors in this niche?
Dmytro: First, TV viewing differs by regions. Unfortunately, being the capital, Kyiv lacks the culture of watching regional television. In Kyiv, there were several attempts to launch commercial regional TV channels, for example City (1+1 Media) and historically it so happened that in Kyiv there is a state (communal) television company TV and Radio Company Kyiv, these are perhaps the only representatives of the palette of Kyiv television in my memory.

The audience, according to all our studies, perceives all television in Kyiv the same way, without dividing the Kyiv TV channel from everything else. For a Kyiv resident, all TV channels are (local) television.

It is very difficult to compete in this lineup, because having regional opportunities, you have to stand in the same pool with large TV budgets and production, and a completely different principle of building the television industry.

There is a completely opposite situation in Odesa. The residents of the city have historically had 24 of their own regional TV companies. At the same time, it turned out that those companies used world-class content for various reasons. For example, one could turn on a local TV channel and see Avatar at 13.00.

The launch of a new TV channel for Odesa has recently become a landmark event, as the residents of Odesa received a picture of the level of a national TV channel, but at the same time with absolutely relevant content to Odesa. All content is about the city they live in - about understandable streets, houses, heroes, politicians. This is a live channel about Odesa. The uniqueness also lies in the fact that there is not a single channel more efficient than Odesa.Live. There is always breaking news.

Svitlana: And this gives them the opportunity to feel like in the capital - a reality is created for them, in which their city is in the center of everything. Given the regional peculiarity of Odesa residents, this is important for them.

Dmytro: In Kyiv we will have to air content that speaks about the whole country. The uniqueness of our channel and the difference will be that we focus on the people of Kyiv through the prism of usefulness. We are still talking about the events that are taking place in Kyiv so that local residents can take advantage of it.

Kharkiv will be the next city, where the regional agenda will certainly remain, and there will be the same scaling model as in Odesa. The next stage in the strategy is each regional channel having its own base in Kyiv, and vice versa, Kyiv will have its own full-fledged base in the regions. Thus, we will definitely produce content of much better quality than any other regional channel. Such a synergy of the holding will be very helpful.

Svitlana; Therefore, we believe that in such a system we will not have competitors for now. Regional channels will not be competitors to us, because we will provide news on a national scale, and national news channels will also quickly feel very strong competition from us. We will be able to add regional blocs of such quality to the national agenda that a bureau of one or two people cannot provide. In fact, these regional channels will be bureaux of unique quality for the national Kyiv, that is, a correspondent point of 100 people.

Dmytro: As for the organizational structure, all people work in the same structure, in the same holding. That is, Odesa residents, Kharkiv residents, Kyiv residents are all one big corporate history.

Viktor: This is a unique experience, there are no such cases in Ukraine. We will be the first to build it and this is an interesting challenge for us to implement.

Yes, but the thing is, now we are faced with this in Odesa and Kyiv, and we will for sure encounter it in Kharkiv, is the difficulty with people. In Odesa, 40 percent are people who got on television for the first time. It's cool, but only if you have the remaining 60 percent who have been working in television for a long time, who can become the core.

This is an industry-wide problem that the holdings are trying to solve. The problem with education and the fact is that TV people are not trained. This is a specific story, not only regarding people who work in the frame, but also behind the scenes - editors, cameramen, etc. Therefore, in addition to people who must necessarily be in the field locally, we centralize here.

The main focus is on news here and now. What other content will there be in the programming grid?
Svitlana: We build useful information and entertainment television. Most importantly, useful. When we arrived, we started with research and now we are forming the grid.

Viktor: The audience was blurred as the main task of the previous team was to launch the channel. The guys really did a fantastic job doing it so quickly. We equate our work more with the tasks that marathon runners face - we have to run for a long time, accordingly, the entire structure and content must be rebuilt for a different format. We are also faced with the task of stable development of the channel with no sharp spikes. We conducted a number of qualitative and quantitative studies on the audience: how viewers relate to the content, how it happens on the channel, what it feels like, and have identified the potential.

If earlier the content was designed for a younger audience, now we understand that the channel's development potential is in the older audience. For example, here is Nadezhda. She is 56 years old and divorced. Her income level is below average, and the most important goal in her life is to own a piece of property. One of Nadezhda’s leisure options is to go for walks in the park. Or there is also Valery - he is 54 years old, married, has a son and two grandchildren. The income level is below average. One of the main goals is to have a good rest, eat a salad with chops, watch football and not go anywhere for leisure. Due to current restrictions, they are increasingly being drawn into the virtual world through television.

We change everything for our audience - from the picture and dynamics to the content and presentation. We are developing a new design of how our channel will look on the screen. Now we are exploring everything and will introduce innovations a little later.

Svitlana: We have set a relaunch date for ourselves. This does not mean that it will be a new channel, but rather a heavily updated one. We will remain Kyiv Live, but hope that from March 1 the channel will look different. We are now actively researching, doing ethnography and studying the biorhythms of our audience, and then will make the programming grid. For example, now the morning starts at 8.00, but we understand that it is too late for Kyiv and Odessa, because life is in full swing at 6.00 already. We will also create a linear production, because it allows to accumulate the library and gives the opportunity to control quality. We are actively recruiting new faces and expect to announce several transitions from other channels soon.

Viktor: One of the tasks is to form a great strong team. Not just to have a star team, but to make a star channel. We want the channel to develop an image of a channel where everyone wants to work, where it is interesting, where there is synergy, strong specialists, high-quality content, and a good rating. A place that would be an honor to work at. A channel that will become a point of attraction for specialists from all over the market, from the CIS countries. In particular, this is one of the tasks that the investor entrusted us with.

Dmytro: The channel should appear on radars, ratings should go up, and it should begin to grow. We have to get a good place in the coordinate system.

Here is how we see it. Next year we launch Kharkiv. Then, when we have a revamped Odesa and Kyiv, this is what the market will look like: there will be the big four – the four major holdings; then, us with our model, and then all the rest. We understand that if we achieve all we have planned (and they can hate us for what we are saying (laughs), – they will have to transform and adjust to us. Because they will not be able to satisfy the need that we will satisfy. Now the national news channel sets the average temperature in the hospital. On the one hand, it is relevant to everyone, but irrelevant to anyone. And when a high-quality alternative appears with a picture that does not make the eyes bleed, and something that does not show the fear and horror of the town but shows the process and makes people part of this process. And also, just makes your life more convenient, comfortable and easier so that you can understand. For example, a piece of legislation is adopted in Kyiv – what does it mean for residents of Odesa? Or Kharkiv?

Viktor: It is important to note if we look at the local elections campaign. Our company is the Institute of Cognitive Modeling, first of all, we deal with social technologies and study all the processes that occur in society, including the political ones. The local election campaign showed that the people distinguish between the central government and the local. Absolutely. They even vote for representatives of different parties when it comes to the parliament and locally. This is also the relevance of questions about decentralization that Svitlana raised at the beginning. So, the relevance of local regional projects is incredibly high because people are interested in the area where they live and the regions are important for them.

On a completely different side, in parallel with this, we are developing digital in addition to television as a separate direction. On the channels of our holding, it will not be just an application that will cover the channel's activities, but a self-sufficient product. Our digital will have its own products that will be interesting to people who do not watch TV. Moreover, our digital research makes us suspect that the audience of this direction will be slightly younger, therefore there will have a separate development strategy. We want to add elements of presence in the back of the screen and show life from the inside - what the studio looks like, how the presenters feel, what is happening behind the scenes. But the most important thing is that it will be a separate self-sufficient product.

Svitlana: It is important to understand that large television holdings are now trying to adapt to the challenges of the time and sometimes bring Digital into something. Some do it more successfully, as 1+1 Media, some catch up with them like StarLight, someone does nothing at all, like Media Group Ukraine, but they are trying. But since we have the opportunity to build from scratch, we will initially make digital as a direction equivalent to television, and this applies to the press center and journalists of the newsroom as well. Journalists will not shoot just for TV and whatever is left will go to digital. There will be separate editorial tasks for digital and television. It also seems that it will be very important to create synergy in this not only in terms of geography, but also in terms of types of presentation and signal transmission.

If I understand correctly, the main goal is to become a number one regional channel, and then become the national leader?
Dmytro: Generally, yes. By far the most important task is regional leadership for each channel and each media digital element. Plus, the goal is to take our niche at the local level.

Viktor: This is a horizontal growth.

Dmytro: We clearly understand that we will be able to maintain the specific weight of the audience by region due to the amount of audience and able to compete with any national media, especially considering all the resources – YouTube, websites, Viber, Telegram and the TV channels.

I recently read studies that showed a disinterest of Ukrainians in knowing who owns a particular TV channel. What does your research show? You also have a politician as the owner.
Viktor: In fact, the first and main idea is that in Ukraine most of the media is owned by someone. The most important thing is how this owner is configured to use this media. What are the agreements between the owners and the people who run the channel and those who form the channel's policy? What are the owner’s goals for this media. When we talked with the investor before clenching our hands and saying that we are starting to work on the channel, we had an agreement that the main goal of the channel is development. All what is needed for development is content formed in accordance with the viewers’ request. We did not have any political engagement or dialogues that we should support some politicians and not support the others. The agreement calls for the most objective coverage of events, an unbiased attitude to anyone according to standards. Ethical standards are important for us. This is a business - we are a managing company – The Institute of Modeling. We need to show a case of success, that is, we need to take a channel with some indicators and must show the result when our contract ends.

Svitlana, Dmytro and Viktor

What is the term of your contract?
Viktor: As of now it is a commercial secret.

Svitlana: It seems to us that the term is sufficient to show the result.

Viktor: We understand that the result of our work should be obvious to our potential clients, our colleagues, and the market, and everyone should see that we have done something better, we have made progress, and this is our successful case. This is our main task. We are outside politics, we are professionals and we fulfill our function here.

Svitlana: We have experience of working in large media groups at top positions, and now we want to show that it is possible to create a new configuration. It is obvious that for a long time there has been a period of stagnation on the television market in Ukraine - there is a certain alignment of forces, this is all somehow twisting some of its configurations.

Dmytro: But this is just a very small swamp of people – the same faces just move from one media group to another. They run out of creativity and inspiration in one media group, and find it in another media group literally a week later. This is the specificity of the Ukrainian media market. We decided to change a little.

Svitlana; There is a need of a positive disruptor. Someone to shake things up.

Dmytro: And to show just another form of media management, nothing more. We are not interested in anything other than a successful business case.

Viktor: This absolutely suits the investor, because he is interested in the media to be successful, to be high-rated.

Svitlana: What makes him differ from some other owners we have worked with is the fact that he does not influence the editorial policy, he does not want to see or know anything here at all. He has delegated the tasks and does not select the presenters or call them to make any changes.

Obviously, in Ukraine, as well as in other Central Eastern European countries - in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, it is still not the realization of business interests, not such of a primary business. If this is your primary business, then you definitely don’t have the resources to do it at the desired level. It’s a vicious circle. If you don’t have money, but you are trying to build television to build a business around it, and you cannot because you have no money. But if you have a lot of money and you build television, it still does not increase income in any way, but capitalizes you in a different way. Therefore, it is clear that any owner of any channel in Ukraine capitalizes on the image and influence, which are not necessarily built on the channel. Just like that television in Ukraine as an attribute can be compared with football or basketball teams in the United States. Rich people are moving away from the story with football, because it doesn't matter if the team belongs to you or not (but it definitely costs like a channel), it still hurts to watch it. At least owning a channel you can show something good. Therefore, it is an attribute of belonging for people who have a great influence on the side, and until the moment it starts to be used as some kind of an accessary or something. The audience immediately feels any imbalance. Some niche channels can show a friend of the owner for five hours straight, and people will not watch it. This is why some niche channels do not publish measurement data or not get measured at all, because here performance or numbers are not the result. And we directly set the result and therefore have no problems with this, but instead we have a problem with a shortage of personnel in the market.

Many young guys from big holdings are actively coming to us. They are interested because we can cover their two needs. The first is to activate. It is one thing when a person achieves a great product because he is at Starlight, 1+1 or Media Group Ukraine, where there is already a huge machine that works for you, but it is completely different to do it in a place where you do it yourself. And the second is the understanding that this is a different story.

Viktor: It is interesting that coming for an interview and different meetings, almost everyone asks questions about the limitations? Who are we not showing? We take the image of our Nadezhda and say - there are no restrictions, we must make a cool product that she will watch. The more Nadezhdas watch, the better. This is our main task and the main conditional limitation.

And people like it, it attracts attention because everyone can come to this office and share ideas on improving the work. We have announced it on numerous occasions to share, maybe the feelings or observations from the inside which we did not notice. You can come to talk to us to discuss show your vision, we will definitely consider and if this idea is such that we understand it will lead us to a result and make better, we will definitely take it. It's just that everyone can get creative realization. This is important. It is not just material that is important for people, but also self-realization. Moreover, the majority of people here are creative on television, this is a priority need.

What are the distribution models? What are your relations with cable, satellite?
Svitlana: We now have both channels, Kyiv and Odesa, on the satellite with sufficiently wide coverage. Both channels are also in the cable, both have analog and satellite licenses. Another advantage over national channels is very different types of receiving.

Dmytro: Odesa watches television via a satellite in the digital format or through IPTV. There is almost an equal of TVs in the three connections. In Kyiv the situation is completely different. Satellite gives the smallest connection (about 12 percent), IPTV a little bigger and cable provides the majority. This also gives us the opportunity to balance, that is, we do not need to lift all the TV channels to the satellite at the same time.

Viktor: As for Kyiv, we are present in the networks of most cable operators. The only thing that we are now actively negotiating, because we are not always present at the buttons we would like to.

Svitlana: Currently we are in the process of re-issuing the license, re-issuing the name, because the name of the channel in some cable networks differs. We are already starting work on wider distribution but are still waiting for March 1. We need all this to appear on March 1, because we do not want the person to turn the channel on and see some kind of trash content there. Therefore, we now focus more on the B2B communications and telling more about the channel because it is important to show that we have big plans.

Is there interest from the business? Advertisers?
Dmytro: We are convinced that in advertising, given the fact that the main specialization of our company is social technologies, we are able to work well with them. We always target deeply and distinctively. Building regionally allows the advertiser to very clearly target their audience and not shoot sparrows from a cannon. In fact, this can be regarded as support for the mid-sized business, not the FMCG, for example. Therefore, this will give an opportunity to enter the market and get their sites for regional business interests of the company, and so on. Also, the platforms we work on – Viber, Telegram, Internet TV, give us an opportunity to offer a fairly wide a palette of opportunities. The pricing policy will be adequate to all platforms that will most effectively lead business processes to its audience. We will attract the same money but through a difference process.

This project is interesting to us because it lets us look at the market from another angle in current conditions. Yes, we have to change the established canons, including in the advertising business, in television, in any other.

Viktor: Differentiate or die (laughs).

Dmytro: We understand it very clearly. On top of Kyiv.Live, we have another project - Coronavirus info, which we launched voluntarily last spring as the social responsibility of our company. We partnered with the Ministry of Health to support communication on coronavirus and the pandemic in general in Ukraine. We are the only structure that was able to systematize communication at the time of a pandemic between all authorities, between society. All the processes were systematized. This case entered the top five of the European Excellence Award, alongside Deutsche Post and Facebook.

Viktor: This is an influence tool, because the information campaign of Coronavirus Info covered 27 million people, the number of subscribers varies from 3 to 4 million. This number of users is several times higher than the indicators of some TV channels of the holding.

Someone would think that such a hype was completely accidental, we saw a great demand for information about studying when school started in the fall. People could not find verified information about studies, the parents, the students. and we realized that this is also a request and we can make a cool community about studying during the pandemic. We made a community, which gained 780.000 subscribers in the first day, now there are over 888.000 subscribers this is the largest community about studying in Ukraine and we broke our own record because Coronavirus Info accumulated such a number of subscribers only a week later. But here, it reached this high on the first day.

Dmytro: Given our experience in this regard, we see that the future is already here. It's not about building a large holding where you can buy 5000 GRP in one window.

The future is mobile. A small mobile group or a new modern approach with a fast-systematic thinking can make wonders, set records, innovate and get ahead. And our many successful nationwide cases prove it.
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