Ákos Erdős, Paprika Studios CEO: Our plan was and is to avoid major changes
BY Yako Molhov
2024 marks a new stage in the development of Paprika Studios, the biggest independent producer in Central and Eastern Europe, as the company passed into the hands of its management leaving the Viaplay Group. CEO Ákos Erdős talks with Yako Molhov about the plans of the company to continue its growth in the region.
Ákos Erdős, CEO Paprika Studios
Ákos, the major news around Paprika Studios this year was the management buyout of the company from Viaplay Group. What changes are you planning for the company now that you are a fully independent producer?
We finalized the transaction with Viaplay in January. The actual deal was preceded by relatively long preparations, but given the magnitude of the transaction, I think it was still a fairly quick process. We are now in a new and fascinating era: figuratively speaking, we are not just building a nice house, we are actually building our own beautiful house. I must add that due to the circumstances, Viaplay has decided to take a different path and limit its business strategy – this has created a situation where we thought that departure from the group would be more beneficial for both parties. However, our plan was and is to avoid major changes. On the contrary, we want to strengthen values such as continuity and consistency, which have always been important to us and have kept us on track with many successes. I think that five months after closing the deal, we have not only managed to retain our valuable clients and colleagues but have also reached new heights and seen the positive response from the market, which has opened many doors and provided us with new opportunities.

Can you reveal more details about the MBO, how are Paprika Studios' shares distributed among its management?
The opportunity to participate in the management buyout was offered to my senior colleagues, who were already involved in the international management of the company and were prepared to bear the financial obligations associated with such a decision. But of course, we also needed external financing — after all, we are talking about a company that has been in business for seventeen years, operates in eight countries and is recognized in many ways as an industry leader in CEE.

Paprika has grown a lot in the past years, tripling its income between 2018-2023 and it has offices in many CEE territories. What is the main reason for your success, what is your winning strategy operating on such diverse markets?
We have indeed had a very exciting decade and I am sure there is more to come. I believe that apart from commitment and passion, the key element for success is to accept the fact that content creation is ultimately “people’s business”, i.e. if you can lead your colleagues in a way that makes them feel trusted and valued, then you are certainly on the right path to success. I would also like to emphasize that as an international company, our colleagues can work and compete in a geographically and culturally diverse environment, which not only makes us unique, but also attractive in the eyes of the best professionals on the market. And if you can have them, then the company itself becomes the first choice for clients. I see it as confirmation of this thinking that the programs we have produced in recent years - series, films, reality and entertainment as well as branded content - have won so many awards that it would be too long to list them here.

What countries are you looking into in terms of expansion and opening new offices?
We currently have branches in Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Slovenia and Bulgaria as well as a head office in Budapest, Hungary.

As the Central and Eastern European region has played an increasingly important role in content creation in recent years, we continue to focus on this region. It's interesting to see that in the early days of reality shows, the best ideas came from the Netherlands, and then Israel took over that role and became a creative hub. I think now is the time for Central and Eastern Europe. Overall, we are keeping our eyes open and seeing which markets are exciting enough for us to justify our entry.

Love Island

How do you overcome the cultural differences between so many countries when adapting formats for them?
Cultural differences definitely exist, but I think they are not only inspiring, but also something that any content creator transferring content from one country to another has to be able to deal with. In this regard, we are fortunate to have a multicultural team that practices dealing with these cultures and cultural differences on a daily basis.

How would you describe the current state of the CEE TV market? The international TV and streaming industry has been hit by cost-cutting measures and layoffs but the industry in our region continues to witness a boom in production. Do you think there are enough professionals in the different territories to satisfy the increasing demand for quality production and what do the results of your fiction initiative Hypewriter show each year about the level of talent in the region?

I am optimistic about the market in Central and Eastern Europe. I believe that although it varies from country to country which genres are more successful, overall, the region can cover the most important genres with excellent professionals.

The cost reductions you see on the client side are no longer limited to streaming companies - they also affect the market as a whole. However, cost-cutting is a "double-edged" phenomenon: hardships and opportunities go hand in hand. While we are going through tough times like all our competitors, we are also involved in dozens of international productions in the region where our relatively low-price levels and ability to utilize available tax credits make us more attractive than ever before. So, while on the one hand we are facing difficulties, we also see new and exciting opportunities in this situation. In addition, efficiency has always been high on our agenda and these times give us the impetus to go further. Having been able to observe so many markets, we have learnt a lot and gained experience, so that we can share Paprika’s approach and world view even more successfully.

You announced plans to deepen your partnerships with international streamers. Each year you produce nearly 600 hours of content, in 16 different languages for more than 30 partners, including platforms like Voyo, HBO Max, Netflix, RTL+, Viaplay. Who will be your new streaming partners?
Who will be our next partner? First of all, I have to put Amazon Prime on this list, mainly because a series called Furia, which we co-produced with the Norwegian production company Monster, premiered in mid-May, which we shot in Poland, and which is doing well on the platform. Our clear goal is for Paprika Studios to be represented on all major global streaming platforms with its own content by the end of next year.


Paprika is one of the few companies in CEE that produces and distributes its own original formats. How many original formats do you have in your portfolio, which are your most successful ones (alongside your flagship Fish on the Cake) and will your sales strategy change after the MBO? Paprika produces content in all kinds of genres - entertainment (with which you started), fiction, documentaries, branded content, digital content, commercials. In 2022 you told us you focused more on fiction projects, some of which have become very popular and travelled to many countries. Have you planned even more fiction projects for this year?
Fish on the Cake is certainly our "flagship format". I think there are about two thousand episodes now and it's been broadcast in about a dozen countries - and of that huge number of episodes, we've probably produced well over a thousand episodes ourselves in six different countries.

We also develop various reality, entertainment and fiction shows. A couple of programs from the reality and entertainment genre that I can highlight are Meme Over and Ultimate Spy. The first was recently aired on Viasat3 in Hungary and is a very entertaining show that brings comedians together. The other is Ultimate Spy, which aired on the Norwegian channel NRK and is an eight-part reality show in which two teams compete against each other and have to prove who is more skillful at various espionage tasks.

And of course, I have to mention our own developed drama Tiger Daddy, which has already travelled, or The Teacher, which was not our own original, but which we adapted for the Hungarian market a decade after the original in collaboration with RTL Hungary. The success of the show attracted so much attention in neighboring countries that we were given the honor of producing 6 seasons in Slovakia, 2 seasons in the Czech Republic and another 2 seasons in Slovenia. This amazing work that transcended borders was led by Bence Trunkó who, together with our colleagues and local partners, did a great job and proved that we can successfully adapt a good story to many different cultural settings in Central and Eastern Europe.

In our previous interviews you shared you have big plans for your Poland office; its head Kristoffer Rus is among the new owners of the company. What are your ambitions for the country which has seen a boom in content production in recent years, including from international players like Netflix which uses it as its CEE hub?
In just a few years, we have achieved a great deal, including documentary films, series for the Scandinavian market and original developed series, The Murderesses, which reached number one in the Polish charts just days after its release on Netflix. These great dynamics wouldn’t be possible without the dedication and talent of Kristoffer and his entire team behind these great achievements. I personally believe that the Polish market is very exciting not only because of its size and diverse commissioning landscape, but also because of the preference for local content. I am convinced that we will not only find our perfect place in this market, but that we will also have many nice surprises in store for this audience.

Paprika produces a plethora of international hit formats like Survivor, The Voice, The X Factor, Big Brother, The Traitors and many others not only for CEE territories but also for broadcasters around the world. What new projects do you have in the pipeline for 2024? and how many territories do Paprika produce content for?
That is a very good question. I always tell my colleagues that we should count how many different contents we have produced in total. Once we got to 18, but we just got sidetracked from counting. And if you look at how many countries we've done it in, it's even more. In 2024, we're doing Big Brother for Hungary, which recently started with very good results. We also did a local version of the show called HIP, which was very popular with viewers. We also recently completed our first program for the History Channel in Romania. One of the most popular programs on the Lithuanian LRT is the series Born On produced by Paprika, which already has 6 seasons behind it. I must also mention Fort Boyard, which we are filming in France, and here is one of the English-language productions we were involved in: Coma that won its place in the UK. These are just examples, but we have many other programs that are not yet at the stage when I can talk about them.

Meme Over

What are your ambitions outside of production? Have you been tempted to explore launching your own streaming service or channels in the future? Or expanding your presence outside of CEE?
I can assure everyone that we are definitely not planning to launch our own streaming platform. We are content producers and our responsibility, and our goal is to produce content that people want to watch and that entertains them. So, we want to be independent of any platform. I also believe that it's becoming more and more difficult to be a streaming platform or a TV channel as viewer interest and content consumption is changing rapidly. In terms of expansion, it has always been part of Paprika's DNA to look for opportunities to expand reach by entering new markets in the region and we have done this successfully many times. As I mentioned at the beginning, our aim is to continue the journey with Paprika on the path that has already brought us so many great things. So, we are always on the lookout for new opportunities.

You traditionally attended NATPE Budapest, the most-established TV market event in the region. How has the event helped your company grow throughout the years and what kind of partnerships/content will you be looking for and offering this year?
NATPE is an important professional forum for us, which we attend every year. It's a great forum to discuss the future of our industry and the trends that are shaping the landscape of the television and entertainment industry with other decision makers, distributors, manufacturers and commissioners. And it's always a great opportunity to meet great professionals from all over CEE and beyond here in Budapest.
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