NEM Dubrovnik 2024: Linear, FAST Channels and Streamers' partnerships

The three hot topics were discussed by experts and professionals during the second day of the CEE market. The BBC Studios has had its keynote and Disney and Amazon have shared their latest launches.

11 JUN 2024

Linear TV panel

  • Facebook
  • X
  • Linkedin
  • Whatsapp

NEM Dubrovnik 2024, the TV market with a view, started yesterday in Hotel Dubrovnik Palace. It focused on the synergy of content, telcos, and technology, especially AI. Representatives from more than 260 companies gathered worldwide, including more than 150 buyers, a record number of exhibitors, sponsors, and other attendees. 

The preponderance of Linear TV in the CEE region was a starting point on the second day at NEM Dubrovnik. The still-growing number of TV households with old habits of viewers and localization creates opportunities for channel owners to expand their reach and tap additional revenues via linear offers. Nicolas Eglau, Managing Director EMEA, APAC & Global Distribution of Moonbug Entertainment, mentioned the company has taken a unique approach to distributing children's content. "Initially focusing on YouTube, we acquired major preschool IPs known for their values like compassion and empathy. With around 9 billion monthly views, we became a significant player on YouTube", he said. Then, Moonbug's strategy reversed the traditional model by expanding from YouTube to premium streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, and eventually to local streamers and linear TV channels. "This approach capitalized on brand recognition from YouTube, making our linear channels top performers globally," he explained. Over 60% of Moonbug content is co-viewed by children and parents, especially on big screens. "We design our programming to align with family routines, enhancing the viewing experience and supporting daily activities," Eglau said. "We are now focusing on expanding into Central Eastern Europe, a region with strong traditional TV viewership, to continue growing our linear channel presence," he said.

Robert Šveb, General Director at Croatian Radiotelevision (HRT), asserted that the media landscape in Croatia and Eastern Europe is evolving, but traditional TV, particularly free-to-air channels, remains strong. "In Croatia, linear channels are still popular, especially in sports and entertainment, maintaining high ratings," he said. HRT operates five channels, benefiting from the fact that cable penetration in Croatia is only about 50%, leaving many households reliant on free-to-air TV. Regarding content consumption, Šveb affirmed viewer behavior is shifting, but despite these changes, "HRTs traditional content continues to perform well, although the audience is aging, with an average viewer age of 64," he said. In response to these trends, "We plan to launch our first digital-only show for teenagers this year, marking a significant step towards digital content. This initiative aims to attract a younger audience and could signal a broader transition towards digital media in the future," he concluded.

In the same panel, Adrian Ježina, President of the Management Board at Telemach Croatia, affirmed that linear TV remains a dominant viewing format in the country, especially for flagship programs and events like sports. "Despite the growing popularity of streaming, linear channels continue to attract significant audiences. This trend highlights the importance of timing and content selection in linear viewing habits," he said. Ježina also mentioned that historically, TV operators offered bundled services, which evolved with the rise of streaming platforms. "Currently, while streaming is widely used, some segments of the audience still rely heavily on traditional linear TV," he said. It was also added that the strategy for Telemach Croatia is to integrate both linear and streaming content, providing a seamless experience for all age groups. "This involves offering a diverse library that caters to varied content preferences, whether streaming or linear," he said. "In some parts of Europe, including this region, there is a gradual shift towards streaming, but the transition is incomplete. As technological infrastructure improves and consumer habits evolve, we anticipate a tipping point where streaming might rapidly gain dominance. However, for now, linear TV remains a significant player in the media landscape," he said.

Kenechi Belusevic, VP of Business Development and Distribution at Warner Bros. Discovery, commented that linear TV remains strong in many regions due to its established presence and familiarity with older demographics. However, "as streaming services grow, they present new opportunities and challenges." She mentioned that it's crucial to monitor and adapt to market trends. "If the popularity of linear TV declines, exploring and investing in streaming services becomes essential. Market dynamics vary geographically, and successful adaptation hinges on understanding these nuances," she recommended. She also said that linear TV's strength varies by region, often influenced by established networks and viewer habits; players must have a diverse content offer and must differentiate between scheduled programming and On-Demand. "Older demographics often prefer scheduled programming, while younger audiences lean towards on-demand streaming. This transition requires a hybrid approach, blending the reliability of linear TV with the flexibility of streaming services," she highlighted. She also asserted the future of media consumption will likely involve hybrid models combining digital and traditional media. "The key to success lies in providing easy access to content through technological advancements, ensuring seamless integration of linear and streaming platforms. " Regardless of the platform, Kenechi said that compelling storytelling remains paramount. "Quality content that resonates with audiences will keep them engaged, whether delivered through linear TV or streaming." Warner Bros. Discovery executive added that launching platforms like Max, which aggregate all content assets, can help bridge the gap between linear and streaming. "Such platforms can provide a unified viewing experience, catering to traditional and modern viewing preferences," she said.

For Paramount, the content is still the King. For instance, the company maintains its free-to-air primary channels on CBS and Nickelodeon. "Linear channels help to establish franchises, establish brands for the audience as we did with 'Paw Patrol' or 'Sponge Bob,'" affirmed Bernhard Schwab, Senior Vice President, Content Licensing of Paramount Global Content Distribution. "The strength of content drives both linear and digital viewing habits, and successful franchises are essential for maintaining and growing audience engagement," he said. Müge Akar, Head of Global Sales at ATV, offered an overview of Turkey's linear consumption and affirmed that it is predominantly linear, but there's a noticeable shift towards digital consumption. "Local streamers are expanding their digital services, reflecting broader trends in media consumption," she mentioned. Turkey's primary product for distribution is long-running TV series, which are highly sought after in regions like Central and Eastern Europe (CU), where linear TV is still dominant. "This demand aligns well with Turkey's production strengths," she affirmed. She also agreed with Kenechi that content needs to be diversified as digital consumption grows. "Audiences on digital platforms often seek different types of content compared to linear TV, such as historical series with higher budgets, shorter series, or unique formats," she said. The trend indicates that digital consumption will continue to rise, so "preparing for this shift involves creating and curating content that appeals to digital viewers while maintaining the strong presence in linear TV," she mentioned. Local streamers in Turkey are expanding their digital offerings, reflecting the global trend toward hybrid consumption models. "This includes traditional linear content available on digital platforms, catering to evolving viewer preferences," she added.

Complementing FAST Channels with the existing TV business was another critical point in better understanding the current landscape of CEE TV and audiovisuals. "There are different models that are working or being experimented with in terms of the codes, and I think that's also where that can be applicable in the CEE region. It's about what works for your business model and market and how we can participate," asserted Victoria Davies, managing partner of Davies, Stoychev & Partners. "It's just additional great content that Telco Operators can add to their offerings, that they can offer to their customers for free," added Iza Piotrowska, Director of Affiliate Sales and Business Development of MEGA MAX MEDIA. "They have to integrate FAST Channel to their EPGs in natural ways, where people watch content," said Karina Rompa, Business Development and Partnerships at Rakuten TV.

Something that was unthinkable in the past years is happening. Streamers are joining forces and offering their launches through new business models and streaming partnerships. Maria Rua Aguete, Executive Director, Technology Fellow, Omdia, mentioned that currently, there are 6,000 streaming video services in the world. "It's impossible for all of them to survive," she admitted.

Vanda Rapti, EVP of Viaplay Select & Content Distribution at Viaplay Group, said that currently, the company is offering core direct-to-consumer growth in the Nordics and the Netherlands, where they have from sports to originals to your US and international content, and the rest of the world they build on partnerships. "We create growth for us, but as well as partners around the world, and that model is, in essence, using our strengths with our leverage on acquisition and commissioning to provide a kind of premium test of European content offering to streamers as well as aggregators around the world," she said. Regarding the partnerships Viaplay has in CEE Region, Vanda Rapti said they have a collaboration with Pickbox in Croatia, "but generally, in every market, we are looking to find who is faster in holding hands with us, so our partners vary, they can be telcos like the deals we have in Greece or Germany, and other markets, we may have a partner that is a public broadcaster that appreciates very much our content, and sees the value of the service," she said. For Igor Draguzet, Chief Content Officer at CME, Telcos are critical elements of the ecosystem, and they are one of the most important partners that a broadcaster and streamer can have in every region. On the other hand, Draguzet said that for someone like CME, a leading broadcaster in their markets, "we don't necessarily have this need to partner with someone else to grow. We can generate growth through our power. The main axis of growth is the direct-to-consumer relationship, which makes us different," he said.

Levente Málnay, EVP/MD, AMC Networks International, referred to the thousands of streamers launched globally and affirmed AMC has decided to keep linear television as a priority, "that's not going to change," he said. "We strongly believe that in the Central and Eastern European region, linear still works well to the largest satisfaction of consumers. Traditional linear television is still a great value proposition in the region. This April, we have launched our 36th linear television channel in Romania," he said. Maria Valenzuela, former Sony and Movistar Executive, expressed that in the past four to five years, there has been significant effort in establishing direct-to-consumer relationships, "which is valuable for addressing clients and audiences," she said. "This direct interaction is beneficial for both the service provider and the consumer." However, "the proliferation of services and subscription options has led to an overwhelming amount of information for consumers. This overexposure has made it difficult for people to choose between different packages", she said. "The competition among services has resulted in price cuts, which has been surprising given the premium content offered at lower prices. This intense competition has created consumer fatigue, with people feeling they are constantly paying, even though overall costs may not be higher than previous cable or satellite subscriptions. The industry needs to address this consumer fatigue and ensure that the consumer remains at the center of their propositions," she explained. 

Bartosz Witak, newly appointed General Manager for the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) Region at BBC Studios, shared his vision for the region's British studios, insights into the evolving media landscape, and the strategies driving BBC Studios' success. He asserted that BBC Studios is working on a five-step plan that includes the definition of new approaches, the strength of the BBC brand, showcasing great content, expanding production and co-production opportunities, and engaging audiences with storytelling. "By implementing this plan, you can leverage the BBC's strengths and explore new opportunities, ensuring the brand remains relevant and impactful in a rapidly changing media landscape," he said.

Jamie Cooke, Group SVP and GM CEE, Middle East, Northern Africa, and Turkey, Warner Bros. Discovery, has revealed how WBD ambitiously plans to become one of the top 3 streaming services with Max in the next 3-5 yearsMax streaming service was launched recently across CEE and throughout Europe, and it is now available across 25 countries in Europe and 65 countries and territories globally. Cooke assured the streamers live in a different phase of their war, "like a Cold War," he said. "Digital services understood that they have to work together. Bringing together HBO Max and Discovery+ internally is one of the reasons it will happen. We've also announced that we will be bundling with Disney in the US and creating a sports joint venture in the US. We're entering into a slightly different phase now, and that's great in terms of the context," he affirmed.

Regarding what the streaming war looks like now, Cooke enumerated three things that will make streamers successful. "The first is profitability. For us, our shareholders, and the stock market generally, profitability is fundamental. He asserted that " whenever we're thinking about rolling out, where we go next, how we might do that is a key driver," he asserted. The second point that stood out for Cooke is Scale. "One of the advantages we've got is that we're only in 15% of what we see as addressable markets. So I think there's a lot of headroom for us to go with it," he said. The third side of success is engagement on the platform. "There are many ways to get your product out to consumers, whether direct to consumers or a lot of the time through partnerships, which are important, but you need the engagement on the platform," he concluded. 

The Walt Disney Company celebrated the 30th anniversary of "Lion King" and has shared their last launches. Kakhaber Abashidze, Country Manager, SVP, CEE, and CIS, stood out at Disney Channels in the region, where they have rebranded them. "It's a good indication of our commitment to this business," he said. "There is also a big shift, making our content available to our partners, and with a great performance and success," he added. On the movie side, the executive pointed out the red-carpet events they organize for the movie premiers. "This is a new trend which we started quite recently, and that is also an illustration of the fact that our theatrical studio distribution is working," he said. Abashidze, also called Disney+, is celebrating its second anniversary in Central and Eastern Europe. "We are delighted with how it's growing and performing. We announced our first local production in Poland. It's about a detective in a pre-war German town with some of the leading Polish talent. I'm confident that this is not the only or the last local production, and we will be working on it, and we will be bringing new talent and our local talent to the streaming platform," he concluded.

Disney executives Charlie Swann, Deal Management Senior Manager, and Arianna Buccino, Acting Sales Manager, CEE and Africa, presented the latest company launches, including the new drama "Becoming Karl Lagerfeld" (6x45'), the period drama "Cristòbal Balenciaga" (6x50'), the action venture and fantasy series "Renegade Nell" (8x60`), and the crime drama "Shardlake" (4x60').

Guro Viddal, Senior International TV Distribution Manager at Amazon MGM Studios Distribution, introduced the company's upcoming programming slate in a separate panel. "MGM is one of the smaller studios, with around four to six feature film releases annually. In 2024, we are taking to market these 17 feature films, six of which have theatrical releases, 11 are direct-to-service, and all will have their first window on pay TV in Prime Video globally," she anticipated. "For next year, our film slate will continue to grow, and we expect to bring another 20 to 25 feature films to market," she added. Vidal also confirmed that all Amazon Original feature films would be available for distribution through the group in the future. "This is a huge change for us, and we're suddenly not so small anymore. We are not currently distributing all Amazon Original TV series, as much as we would very much like to,  but as we move forward, there will be more added to that slate," she said. 

George Wilkinson, International TV Distribution Manager, Amazon Mgm Studios Distribution, the new series "Hotel Cocaine" starring Danny Pino (Mayans MC) as the general manager of a hotel during the Miami cocaine scene of the late 1970s and early 80s. The 8×60' series is due to premiere on streaming service MGM+ this year.  

By Romina Rodriguez, from Dubrovnik