Ralf Bartoleit, CEO, bTV Media Group: Our digital assets enjoyed double digit growth again
BY Yako Molhov
CEETV wraps up its series of exclusive interviews with CME executives today with bTV Media Group CEO Bartoleit and his Q&A session with Yako Molhov focusing on bTV's plans for the new season, the latest trends and challenges on the Bulgarian and the digital and streaming strategy of the group.
Ralf Bartoleit, CEO, bTV Media Group
Ralf, you were appointed CEO of bTV Media Group on January 1 this year. What are the main perspectives of the company in 2023 and beyond?
First and foremost, bTV is an exceptional brand with a remarkable history. I am thrilled to be a part of this team. Television is widely regarded as an innovative industry, however, implementing significant changes often requires longer cycles. As a result, my ability to fully influence our programming schedule will be seen with the start of the 2024 season.

Throughout the years, bTV has established itself as a preferred brand and a trusted source of news. Our newsroom and reporters are renowned for delivering quality journalism and reliable information. Given my background as a news journalist and foreign correspondent for many years, it is my priority to maintain and strengthen this positioning.

I also believe it is crucial for us to be perceived as an entertainment channel and media group that offers even more diversity and excitement. We should strive to be less conservative, broader in our content, and provide a lighter atmosphere. We aspire to become a powerhouse of wonderful stories and evoke a wide range of emotions.

Beside investments in entertainment and news content, bTV Media Group is proud to be the first television and company to introduce "green filming" standards on the Bulgarian market. Three of our most popular TV shows are already certified by the international “albert” standard. I would gladly say we transform the media industry by producing quality content with consideration for the environment.

What are your expectations for the Bulgarian TV ad market this year?
Despite the seemingly stagnant advertising market, our performance in the early stages of 2023 has been promising. Television continues to be a robust and influential player in the advertising industry. Our priority is to maintain and, if possible, enhance this positive trajectory. TV remains the ideal medium for reaching a vast audience, which does not mean that we should neglect our digital business. Having experienced the decline of TV advertising by double digits in the German market, I am well aware of the need to invest in expanding our digital presence and influence.

Interestingly, our media group also boasts thematic radio channels within its portfolio. It is worth noting that the radio market has exhibited notable growth and favorable outcomes this year, providing additional avenues for our success.

How have bTV's channels performed this season?
Everybody knows the numbers. And yes, business-wise we had a good first quarter, but ratings-wise it could have been better. With The Bachelor we have a great primetime production that has already started to change the image and the perception of bTV into a lighter, more entertaining direction. Unfortunately, Survivor was weaker than expected. But besides TV, our digital assets enjoyed double digit growth again. I am especially happy about bTV plus (catch-up platform). Here my team has made a big effort to implement changes to offer more diverse and different types of content. Improving inventory here will be also one of our future steps. I also have ideas for new digital formats in mind, on which we are already working.

What were your most popular programs this spring?
Besides The Bachelor we have in access a fantastic show with Who Wants to be a Millionaire. This was a very good introduction by our programming team. Regardless of all challenges in the spring season, I am very happy about my team’s agility and flexibility. We are now able to show our top 8 special episodes of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Kudos not only to the team but also to our external producers who made this show possible in a very short time and with a new concept and content. On top of this, we created a whole new summer program in primetime, I think the first to that extent. Our summer grid will also introduce a new Bulgarian fiction program with the title Sophia at Home. I am really excited about all of these shows.

What are your plans for the fall season? Will you offer new productions and which programs will be returning?
I think the fall grid will already be a step in the right direction. We are bringing the 10th season of The Voice back, one of the most successful TV shows in Bulgaria. For me personally The Voice is a love-brand; we produced these spectacular shows at Sat.1 and ProSieben in Germany, but I also produced The Voice with my team in Hungary, when I was responsible for TV2. I am also very excited about MasterChef with three new judges and a new refreshed concept. In my eyes, the casting was fantastic. And I would mention The Farm. Yes, it is a known format, but also beloved by the Bulgarian audience and we intend to invest a lot of ideas and passion into The Farm. As a leading media group, we will continue to focus our efforts on creating relevant brand integrations for clients and partners, along with providing high-quality media products and memorable user experience.

bTV is attending NATPE Budapest. What is your acquisition strategy? What will be bTV Media Group looking for in terms of content?
NATPE is widely recognized as one of the most prestigious events in the entertainment industry and serves as a remarkable networking marketplace. The conference will showcase new trends, innovations, and advancements in content creation and distribution. We are excited to see firsthand the industry's most exceptional content across a wide range of genres, formats, and platforms. I have a great acquisition team, and together with my colleagues we are always open to fresh ideas, seeking out new business opportunities and partners.

Will CME offer Bulgarian content on the market?
CME's strategy has always been about growth in the markets where we are present. Our vision and commitment are focused on building a sustainable business, evolving our business model, and producing the best media content.

Are you satisfied with the results of your cable channels? Does bTV Media Group plan the launch of new ones?
We had some challenges in the first half of the year, but our portfolio of smaller channels is an important pillar for the diversification of our group. We have a lot of ideas in this direction. We made one small step to improve the shares of bTV Lady. I am unable to reveal too many details at this stage, but we are dedicating considerable thought to this matter. And you know from my history when I was in Hungary, we successfully launched Super TV2 at TV2. I love to work on the portfolio.

Can you reveal some figures about CME's streaming service VOYO in Bulgaria? How many users does it have and have you planned more original content for the service?
In Bulgaria, VOYO offers a catalog with over 7.000 hours of quality video content from various genres - Bulgarian and foreign series, films, live sports, children's content, and TV shows from the bTV portfolio. Among the top five titles offered in VOYO for 2022 are the Bulgarian series Sunny Beach, I`ll Be Fine, The Farm, the popular saga Forbidden Fruit, and the Romanian hit series Vlad. More are added every month, and users can enjoy exclusive content, Champions League football, and other special events from the world of sports.

What is VOYO's subscription model and how can viewers buy a subscription? Have you considered introducing ad-supported subscriptions/hybrid models as many international streamers have started doing?
The service was launched years ago in Bulgaria, and it is present in 4 more markets in the CEE region –the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. For the CME group the digital extension of TV channel business is a key factor. So, you can imagine, that we will also have a look at the future of VOYO and by this review the possible business models and options.

How do you cooperate with the local telcos and what type of new synergies are you planning with them for the consumers of content?
Synergies with other companies are analyzed at a strategic level, and if they would contribute to the joint success and sustainable growth in the region, a new collaboration could be created. This is also closely related to technological development and the new opportunities it provides for reaching the audience in different ways.
With 20+ years of media experience, Ralf Bartoleit became CEO of bTV Media Group in 2023. Throughout his career, Ralf has consistently played different roles in transformation and business innovation projects as well as managing organizations with 200+ employees. He started his career as a journalist and foreign press correspondent for the German Press Agency („dpa“) and „Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung“ newspaper and further gained a wide senior management experience at ProSieben Sat.1 Media SE. He brings a wealth of digital experience from leadership positions at TV 2 Hungary, PlutoTV in Los Angeles, and maxdome and Joyn in Munich, some of ProSieben’s most significant digital projects. His media and entertainment experience spans both operational and financial expertise, while also extending into content production and digital exploration. He holds an Executive MBA from the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland) and a Master‘s in Eastern European History from the University of Hamburg (Germany). He also participated in IESE‘s Advanced Management Program in Media & Entertainment in Barcelona and New York.
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