Keshet - Breaking Records at Home And Abroad
BY Georgi R. Chakarov
2019 has been an excellent year for Keshet Media Group. In Israel, Keshet 12 not only remained the most-watched channel but increased its viewing share with the whopping +35% to 27.5% primetime share. At the same time, the company’s international business continued to grow at an impressive rate with new operations in Germany and a record volume of commissions both in the UK and U.S. where Keshet Studios now ranks as the biggest non-major studio in terms of new productions.

In this exclusive interview, Avi Nir, CEO of Keshet Media Group, tells Georgi R. Chakarov that they aim to keep this momentum in 2020 with proven hits and new shows and series in Israel as well as even more international productions.
The Baker and the Beauty
Avi, what were the main drivers of Keshet’s growth last year?
On the international stage, we’ve had a record year, with two US network drama pick-ups and a number of shows breaking through on global streamers and premium services. For us, HBO’s Our Boys is one of the most important shows we’ve produced. Also, the output of Greenbird was the highest to date, bolstering our biggest ever MIPCOM slate. At home in Israel, we’ve created the leading broadcast channel by launching a large volume of new content, while continuously refreshing existing content.

In Israel, Keshet 12 not only reaffirmed its leadership but also increased its viewing share in 2019 with the impressive 35%. Congratulations! How do you explain this success?
It is this strategy - of introducing new content while refreshing shows that are engaging audiences - that has undoubtedly driven this growth. The linear TV market in Israel has undergone many changes over the last couple of years but the viewing public keeps choosing Keshet 12, reinforcing its position as the most watched channel in Israel. The ongoing challenge for us is to continue to create content that can provide viewers with added value compared to what the streaming services and other channels are offering.

What will be the main highlights for Keshet in early 2020? Will you launch new titles besides the already proven hits?
We are renewing successful original formats such as What a Wonderful Country, Master Class and Rising Star, alongside new seasons of international hits such as Ninja Warrior, Married at First Sight, MasterChef; and factual entertainment titles such as Uvda, Imposters and Fair & Square.

We are introducing a number of new scripted drama and comedy series, including 24/7 Parents, a sitcom led by two of the biggest stand-up comedians in the country, and Home Grown - a hilarious family comedy that takes place in a village. We’ll be announcing more new shows over the coming months.

It looks like competition reality formats have become the preferred choice of the Israeli audience. Will you continue to rely on this genre?
Formats of that kind are indeed very relevant to the Israeli audience, but it cannot be said categorically. It depends on the show. We are in constant search of the next big thing and have learned it has no specific genre definition. The Israeli audience is very open to new ideas, but those ideas have to be adapted and personalized to the Israeli viewers’ DNA. It’s not a simple task and we don’t always succeed, but we always try to think from the viewers’ perspective.

What were the key international content trends that you have observed and how do they compare to what is happening in Israel?
The global trends this year include gameshows, and shiny floor variety entertainment. In Israel, we can see the stronghold of reality and talent shows like Rising Star and MasterChef in the ratings. Gameshows are less common although we are bringing Deal with It! back to Israeli TV screens this year after a break. We are also developing new gameshows that might be a part of our slate in 2020.

We also witness the increasing success of studio variety shows, with original formats like Night Club, which has recently returned for a new and successful season. It will be interesting to follow that trend in 2020.

You decided not to make a second season of 2025. Will you use the studios of the show for new productions?
We are discussing it internally. It will depend on whether there will be a meaningful break through, as well as the question of cost effectiveness.

Are you planning to increase the volume of the series you are airing? Any upcoming projects you can mention?
I’ve already mentioned our variety of shows for the upcoming year. Expect more news in the coming months.

Our Boys

We know that the TV advertising market is challenging. How is Keshet handling the ad spend drop and the increased competition from the tech giants and the streamers?
2019 was a record year for us in terms of TV ad revenues in Israel. The main reason is our ability to attract a very significant share of the Israeli audience with our content, both on Keshet 12 and also on mako. It is a fierce battle with the tech giants but our ability to simultaneously gather large audiences and create a mutual experience is a rare commodity for advertisers.

Are you planning to launch a streaming service yourself?
At Keshet, we already have mako, the leading video platform in Israel, in which we are continuously upgrading and evolving its’ technological and content foundations. As a business, we are always open to considering different models and platforms.

Let’s talk about your international business. Keshet has grown exponentially on the international scene in recent years to become the leading Israeli content creator with offices and productions in the US, UK and Germany. Are you planning to make further investments into new markets?
We are always open to new opportunities, if they make sense to us as a business. 2019 was a great year for our international production hubs, with Tresor launching their new scripted arm, Keshet Tresor Fiction, as well as adapting Keshet’s Masters of Dance for ProSieben. In the UK, Keshet Productions secured five series orders, including one with a major global streamer that we’ll be announcing shortly. In the US, Keshet Studios is now the 1 non-major studio with “two for two” for both TV - The Baker and the Beauty (ABC) and Lincoln Rhymes: Hunt for the Bone Collector (NBC) – and film, with The Sound of Silence and Save Yourselves! both being selected at the Sundance Film Festival. Plus, there’s Our Boys (HBO), and Dead Girls Detective Agency (Snap), now in its fourth series.

What will be Keshet International’s strategy for growth in 2020? Will you focus more on in-house development or look to acquire third-party content for distribution?
The TV market is constantly evolving and as is our way, we are already responding to this shift with a stronger focus on the supporting the production side of our business. In addition to the commissions already mentioned, Keshet Studios has also recently picked up orders for Skinny Dip (Quibi), The Vault (NBC), and Clues (CBS), more shows to be announced over the coming months across the business.

Are you looking to secure more fresh investments into your international content business?
We are always looking to develop new partnerships. Recent successes include our co-development partnerships with NTV, which created Drive Master, and Prisoner Number One with Telemundo.

How many projects are you currently developing? Is the focus now mainly on scripted?
We have well over a dozen projects in production or paid development with various streamers and broadcasters in Germany, the UK and the US. The majority are scripted titles possibly because we have a strong heritage in sharing stories with international audiences.

Have you considered opening new lines of business like streaming or international channels?
Outside of Israel, we are focusing on what we do best – distribution and production.

How do you see the future of the business now that digital and streaming platforms are taking the upper hand from TV in terms of consumption and ad spend?
We already have strong relationships with many of these platforms – millions of viewers around the world have been enjoying shows such as The Baker and the Beauty, When Heroes Fly, Commandments, Autonomies, Stockholm and Dead Girls Detective Agency on them for some time. Our job is to connect audiences around the globe with great stories, so we’ll be looking to build on these successes in 2020.
Avi Nir is the CEO of Keshet Media Group which he joined in 1993 and has been heading since 2002. Nir is the mastermind behind the huge success of the biggest Israeli media company. He also launched Keshet International with the goal to turn local hits into international ones – like Showtime’s Homeland (Executive Producer), which won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama, and global talent format sensation Rising Star. Nir has received numerous accolades, including Television Personality of the Decade and Executive of the Year. Since 2017 he regularly appears in the annual Variety500 as the only entry from Israel.
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