In October 2020 PPF Group completed the acquisition of CME. What were your first steps as the CEO for Bulgaria and were you happy with the financial results of bTV Media Group under its previous management?
I took over the management of CME Bulgaria in challenging times, at the peak of the pandemic, but I found the company in a good and healthy state. bTV Media Group secured profitability and retained the entire team despite the COVID-19 crisis. Naturally, my first steps were to get to know the team responsible and immerse myself in the local market and understand our stakeholders. I am grateful to the bTV team, so open and eager to embrace the new energy PPF wanted to infuse in the company. Together, we started working on the necessary changes and improvements for strengthening bTV’s market position very soon after the acquisition.What were the main changes that you introduced, or you plan to introduce in CME's strategic plans for Bulgaria?
The most important change that affects our viewers and partners is related to entertainment content. In less than six months we managed to prepare and deliver a visibly enriched and diversified fall season on bTV. Two new local productions on weekdays add to the typical fall bTV grid. Even earlier, we showed a variety of sports championships and events on our niche channels and digital outlets.
CME’s strategic plans include a 30% increase of investments in bTV, and all our channels and content genres will benefit from that. New Bulgarian original and local shows and series are already in planning and preparation for next year.
In terms of news, bTV continues to be unrivaled, we continuously work on fresh approaches in order to respond to changing viewer habits. Just as an example, the morning show is undergoing a format transformation for the first time in many years, with an even wider range of topics covered, which is highly approved by our audience on all platforms. Overall, we believe in the right mix of diverse and exciting entertainment, and strong, impartial journalism.What are bTV Media Group's main programming highlights for this fall? Are you happy with the viewership results this fall?
In addition to the established primetime hits The Farm and The Voice, we launched a new local fiction production – the Bulgarian series Daddies (adaptation of ViacomCBS’ Dear Daddies) in prime access. Soon we will start the landmark show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. I would also highlight our late-night The Nikolaos Tsitiridis Show, which has proven to be a great draw for advertisers.
We increased investments in live sports content as well. Apart from acquiring rights for the UEFA tournaments again, including Champions Leagues, Europa League, etc. for bTV Action, RING and VOYO, we literally revived RING. We have been adding a variety of other football tournaments to it besides Copa Del Rey – for example, the Italian Serie A and the Portuguese Primeira Liga are back after a long pause, and other sports like volleyball, rhythmic gymnastics, and boxing matches, all brand new to the channel.
Our next big highlight will be the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, when bTV will again put significant resources in quality reporting and outstanding studio content. This formula, combined with our journalistic talent and technological tools, has proven to work. Just last month, bTV was recognized as the most professional, impartial, and trusted coverage of the two election campaigns earlier this year.
Overall, we evaluate our content performance based not only on linear viewing but on its combined results on all channels and platforms, and we are satisfied by the initial results from the new investments.PPF, the owner of CME, also operates telco Telenor in Bulgaria. What are the synergies between CME's broadcasting operations and Telenor?
From a bigger picture perspective however, if you look at both telecommunications and media sectors, you will see that our challenges meet. CME´s strategy is focused on creating a parallel B2C revenue stream next to the traditional B2B model, and that is something that telco operators have mastered. CME can leverage that knowledge and technology, which is a real commercial advantage. On the other hand, telecommunications are looking to expand their offer as much as possible and being so close to exclusive high-quality, content is a unique opportunity to potentially add to its portfolio.
Currently both organizations are working on new offers and products for its demanding customer and I believe we are well positioned for the future.What is the situation with the ad market in Bulgaria? In some CEE territories the markets have started to rebound. Do you expect a quick recovery of the ad market in the country?
I can confirm that in recent months the market has grown steadily in terms of investment in advertising, and that the increase is significantly higher than the rate of recovery from the pandemic. We can see that trend in our sales results as well. Months after the lockdowns, businesses realized that it is mainly advertising that ensures their sustainability and profitability, and that TV is the strongest and the most efficient communication channel.
I am pleased that we are responding to the fast economic recovery in the best possible way – with new, exciting local productions and world-class sports content, and with innovative sales solutions for TV, digital and radio.CME has significant revenues from distribution in Romania and Bulgaria. Do you see room for growth in the pay TV sector? Will we see new channels from CME in Bulgaria?
I see a lot of additional potential in our existing channels that is still to be utilized in terms of content enrichment - especially local content, and distribution and monetization. New linear channels are not in our immediate plans. We are investing primarily in digital and intend greater investment into VOYO in the future. I would say that even though pay TV is still a relatively small source of revenues in our sector, as compared to the main income streams (advertising and carriage fees), it is in our strategic focus.