The Light Will Win: Starlight Media’s Contribution to Ukraine’s Victory
BY Georgi R. Chakarov
Into the third year of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the country’s leading media holding Starlight Media not only continues to operate with excellent results. But it has also introduced a new level of policies which put the focus on values and the transformation of Ukrainian society for the one single purpose – winning the war.

In this conversation more about values and less about business, CEO Oleksandr Bohutskyi tells Georgi R. Chakarov how Starlight Media aims to inspire Ukrainians to embrace the idea of building a strong democratic society on the basis of universal values which takes pride in paying taxes, regularly donates to the army, helps with the reintegration of veterans and stands united in solidarity for the sake of its own future.
The Bachelor - Oleksandr “Teren” Budko
Let’s talk about what happened two years ago when the Big War started and what happened in the first months. How did you manage to keep the company together?
It seems to me that it is too early to remember the first days of the war. These days I think about what we can do now to help our friends in the book publishing industry. Yesterday’s attack (May 23, - ed.) on a printing house in Kharkiv was, without a doubt, a targeted attack. Kharkiv is a special place; the country’s largest printing house is located there. This attack is direct evidence that the enemy is waging war against everything related to our culture: against language, books, freedom and our independence.

I would ask you to focus on what is happening now. The Russians, unfortunately, thanks to their propaganda, managed to make the war a common factor. The Russians continue to kill people, children and shell cities with millions. Why does this not surprise anyone anymore? This is a big question about global values. I still wonder why the democracies aren’t doing everything they can to stop it.

Even within the team, we still rarely remember how it started. Because nothing is over, the war continues. This war is not only against Ukraine. The Russians are at war with everyone who allows themselves to have their own point of view, shares the values of freedom, human rights, fair justice, freedom of the press.

Of course, we will preserve in the history of the company the memory of the courage of our people - journalists, engineers, cameramen, editors, managers and all the teams who, in the most difficult times, kept the 24-hour broadcasting, started making new products, informed people about everything that is happening on the front. However, now we are concentrating on the main thing - victory in this war. I am convinced that this is the task not only of Ukraine, but of all people united by democratic values. Therefore, every time I thank everyone who supports us in this struggle and every time I call on all our friends to do and help more.

Let’s talk about how your company helps Ukraine to win the war…
First and most important. Responsible tax payment is needed to support our military. We pay them and do a lot for the development of this responsible economy in Ukraine. In addition to taxes, we play a big role in the field of donations in Ukraine - we do it together with our viewers and thank them for their trust. Our shareholders invest a lot - both in the support of the Security and Defense Forces, and in the development of the country’s largest network of military recovery rehabilitation centers.

Second, we consider ourselves responsible for changing and introducing a new national culture. We strive to be leaders in supporting veterans, developing a culture of inclusivity and supporting mental health. We continue to promote the values that were with us even before the full-scale war - gender equality, human rights. War does not give the right to depart from human values, also because we consider this war to be a war for values.

We were also the first media company to resume the broadcasting of entertainment channels. We understand that there should be a balance - people should have the opportunity, apart from the horrors of war, to see the good, the bright, to be treated with a little humor, inspiration and emotional support. We need these emotions because we believe that the light will win. We have no other scenario. We try to inspire others to do so.

The Floor Ukraine

To me personally a very good example of this is your new project with The Bachelor which mixes all of these ideas together into one…
I want you to understand that we are not investing in a leadership-type company, but in a company of like-minded people united by love for what we do. And, without a doubt, very patriotic people. The war sharpened the understanding that we are all patriots of values, the embodiment and leader of the struggle for which Ukrainians are now. And in this sense, I like it when not only our citizens identify themselves as Ukrainians, but also those people in the world who defend these values ​​and are our allies in this struggle.

We talk a lot internally about what we can do more. You probably already know that we announced a new season of The Bachelor. I think this is also a reflection of our understanding of responsible leadership. We live in a new world in which our main heroes are the defenders, the veterans; there are more than 60.000 women in the Ukrainian army - this is also about values. I am very grateful to our partners at Warner Bros. that this new story, which is undeniably socially and culturally important, will become a reality. And, of course, most of all I thank our main character - Oleksandr Teren. I would really like him to find his love on this project.

However, this is not very typical for commercial companies, to focus on such values in such a way, still you also have success with such projects. How do you explain this?
This is a very difficult discussion about the values of commercial broadcasting and money. There is a great temptation to say that money is the main measure of success. I think that money cannot be a 100% measure of a company’s success or quality. It is clear that because of the war, some global things - the goals of sustainable development, for example - seem more distant. But don’t be surprised that we talk a lot about values. Even our money directly depends on the quality of society, victory in the war, investment climate in Ukraine, GDP growth rate. It is difficult to build a just society of happy people without a strong economy. But this is the next priority goal, the most important now is victory, the end of the war.

We hope that the advertising market at the end of this year will be at the level of 55% in US dollars of the pre-war level. We really hope. I have the honor to thank all our foreign colleagues who have given great discounts on content during this time, which helps us support our viewers. However, we see that some international companies have already decided that the war is over. It amazes me that there are people, who are very comfortable believing that war will not come to other countries. But they must understand that if Ukraine loses, there will be other countries. In this context, I think that we as a country invest too little in global promotion and counterpropaganda. However, we make up for the lack of money with huge human involvement, huge enthusiasm and an unprecedented level of partnership.

And when we talk about inspiring people, Ukraine faces one big problem: there are people who are in Ukraine, but there are also those who left, so you have to work on two different targets. How do you do that?
Does this mean that we would like to broadcast our programs for Ukrainians abroad? Without a doubt. But if you ask if at least one country helped and said: “We understand that there are a million Ukrainians in our country. We would like to broadcast your Ukrainian channels on our cable networks?” No. In Poland, for example, for cable operators to start broadcasting Ukrainian TV channels, it is necessary to spend a lot of effort, time and necessary investments. That is why YouTube now takes first place in this.

MasterChef Ukraine

Fortunately, YouTube is a global network, and our citizens have the opportunity in different parts of Ukraine and in different parts of the world to watch Ukrainian programs. We are the number one content producer in Ukraine. 51% of the traffic views on YouTube come from outside Ukraine. In the entertainment circuit, this percentage is 48%. When the economy started to revive at least a little, we started translating our entertainment programs into Spanish, English, and Polish. One must be aware that the world in general has no borders, except for the border between good and evil, which has now been very clearly drawn by Russia, as well as by the countries that supported it.

Local news will always be valuable, local product will always be appreciated. There will always be love for the Motherland in the heart. This means that if we make quality content, there will always be a place for it. Well, it is clear that now there is a war. But to the question of whether the war gives any discount in relation to the quality of your final product, the answer is no. When people consume content, they forget that there is a war in Ukraine. And if it’s quality content, they will watch it. If not, then the platform they have access to gives a million suggestions, and these offers are made by the best producers in the world.

Well, one looking from outside might argue that you have so many projects going on: documentary festival, showrunner initiative, new series and shows… So, they could be wondering how is that possible?
We already talked about what good business means. And it’s like talking about happiness. You know, sometimes happiness is in the small things. Our President Volodymyr Zelensky (by the way, he also comes from the creative industry) often says in conversations with us: “Don’t get tired and inspire others to fight.” We believe in this mission. Now there are many stories to be told, to be shared. Now there are many people, including foreigners, who are not afraid to come to Ukraine to help, and this matters: the arrival, even a friendly “Hello”, a friendly hug - this already means a lot to Ukrainians.

Solidarity, like love, cannot be bought with money. That’s why we do a lot and believe that when you do things correctly, fairly, and qualitatively, the money will come back. For example, almost all consumer goods companies have returned to television. Why? Because the first companies that brought back their advertising spots to the air now have a turnover greater than before the war. Advertising on Ukrainian television is not only solidarity, but also a direct desire to sell and earn more.

Talking about solidarity, in 2022 you shot the international co-production In Her Car. Do you plan more projects like that? Are the international partners still interested?
I want to say that this project is not only about solidarity. This is the great talent of Ukrainian producers and the great trust in us on the part of Gaumont and other European partner companies. We are glad that their trust paid off and they saw that, despite the horrors of the war, we can produce a quality European product that brings both success and reputational benefits for the partners, and economic benefits - obviously, our production costs are lower than for a European production. I am very grateful to all our partners for the fact that we managed to preserve in the series the lines of values that are important to us, reminders of how this war affects people.

We have new ideas that we are working on currently with Gaumont. At the same time, we are also looking at international projects which we would like to integrate in, because we want to become an increasingly strong European partner.

In Her Car

Let’s talk about the United News marathon. There have been a lot of discussions around it lately. How was it born and is it still relevant?
We were directly involved in the birth of the United News project. And I am not ashamed of the fact that I was the person who called our colleagues and offered to unite. Before the full-scale invasion, our newsrooms produced three hours of news per day. These were excellent news releases that gave us leadership. But that’s three hours a day. In the new conditions, we needed round-the-clock news broadcasting. We united, in principle, for the sake of three goals. The first is to provide twenty-four hours of news per day. The second is to have reserves, greater stability during constant attacks. The third is to give people a platform where all the information is collected, which is checked by the best journalists and editors whose names the country knows. And, of course, to show a great signal of unity - in which the fight for the country is more important than any competition of individual players.

It is true that over time certain discussions have begun. The war continues: the Russians attack, we defend. Someone suggested showing something else, with less news. But I believe that war should remain the number 1 issue.

It is very convenient to attack the telethon. This is a union of independent companies. But I think we are doing a good thing and will be glad to stop doing it as soon as the war is over. Together with the marathon colleagues, we pay ⅔ of the expenses for our teams who guarantee the broadcasts. In general, we will be able to maintain such a 24-hour, high-quality information channel, even if we are left with just three companies. Because this is our responsibility to Ukrainians. The country should have a place where it can come at any time and get access to quality and verified news.

We are also talking about info wars on a global level. Have you considered making news in English, not only in Russian for the international audience?
We thought about it several times. As of now, I believe that the tradition of American and English-language journalism in general is very personalized. They don’t want generic news; they want news with signature/names. Therefore, it could only be done in partnership - for example, if we could involve the BBC. But we won’t be able to pay for it. I think that the Ukrainian Voice of America service, for example, could cope with this task.

Also, there is this trap of honest journalism of the last thirty years called balance of opinion. But - what is the killer’s point of view or opinion? Through the Russian Federation, the world is facing such an organized lie for the first time. In their propaganda, the inverted principle is used - they have 99% falsehoods in the content of their materials, and there is only 1% truth in the phrase “good evening” or “good afternoon”. The Russians are making an agenda that is brilliant in its cynicism. They continue to invest in spreading the opinion that “not everything is so unequivocal”. Yesterday the Russians killed 10 children. Isn’t everything so unequivocal? But the Russians will say that these are either dummies, or it was done by conventional British, but not them.

Therefore, the best solution here is to maintain unity, maintain focus, not get tired and think, inspire. And, yes, of course, to have money. Because you can’t implement all the best ideas if you can’t pay the bills. That’s why we work this way at Starlight Media - we try to create important things, earn money, and provide a better service to advertisers. Striving to do better for our viewers and maintain leadership in this attention economy. And of course, expenses must be lower than the income.
Oleksandr Bohutskyi started his career in journalism in 1991 as an editor of the first independent Ukrainian radio station Radio Independence. In 2000, he became the Director-President of ICTV, and between 2009 and 2012, he managed the StarlightMedia group, to return again to the CEO post at the company in 2019. In August 2022, the President of Ukraine awarded him with The Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise Fifth Class.
Starlight Media’s social initiatives

Veterans Program whose mission is to foster a national culture that is friendly to veterans.

Supporting Gender Equality and Human Rights

Supporting Women’s Rights thru campaigns combating violence and fighting discrimination.

Promotion of Responsible Tax Payment thru on-ar and off-air campaigns.

Support for the Security and Defense Forces: since the beginning of 2024, Starlight Media has conducted 334 fundraisers for the needs of the country’s defense forces raising over 81.4 million hryvnias.

Support for Mental Health through the national campaign “How Are You?”
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