Prima TV Group would like to increase its share of the television market in the autumn, which is to be supported by its new autumn schedule. It rests its hopes on the romantic story with a happy ending Eliška a Damián. Other new shows include the detective series Pod hladinou and the second season of Einstein - příběhy nesnesitelného génia. The ZOO series remains a mainstay. The thematic channel Prima Cool will also present a number of new titles. Some of them will also appear on the VOD service prima+ that was launched this year. “Since the Covid-19 period, everyone has started to arm themselves more because they know that they will otherwise lose,” says Marek Singer, CEO of the Prima Group, describing the market situation.
The new autumn TV season kicks off at the end of August. What will Prima Group bring to the table?
We expect the autumn programme to deliver even better results than this spring when we hit 30% share in June. However, we are aware of the very strong competition. The autumn battle will be tough again, the competition also has its guns loaded and we will see how viewers decide. It is good news for the audience because they have a lot to choose from.
Do you mean that this year’s battle will be more heated than last season?
In recent years, this has been the case. Since the Covid-19 period, everyone has started to arm themselves more because they know they will otherwise lose. Today’s market is no longer dominated by just three TV companies but also by a range of video services. So, there is a much wider range of offerings.
If you compare the set-up of this autumn’s schedule with the spring and the previous autumn season, did you want to make structural or genre changes? You are going to air crime series on Mondays and Wednesdays, which may be a change...
More precisely, we are returning to detective stories on Wednesdays. As for Mondays, we do not have a strong weapon against the competition at the moment and the rerun of Polda represents a high standard and we are not wasting money at the same time. On the other hand, we want to shake things up more on Saturday night, when we think we can perform better. Over the week, we will bring the traditional ZOO and believe to confirm our leading position.
The biggest news is the series Eliška and Damián, which is the first original romantic and historical series of TV Prima. It will run on Saturday prime time, which is usually reserved for entertainment. Why is that?
Eliška and Damián is a twelve-part romantic story with fairy tale elements, but it is not a romantic fairy tale. We believe that dramatic stories or fiction have a tradition on Saturday. After all, we tried it out on Polda which performed very well in that slot. Viewers have less established habits on the weekend and are more selective about what they want to watch. Offering different genres and alternatives is more important than competing with others. We do not want to go against the competitors with the same format on the weekend, so we believe a family-type romance series could work.
Even though the dance contest StarDance is starting in mid-October, which usually takes Saturdays for itself?
StarDance is always tough competition. But there are two factors. StarDance will come after about six episodes of Eliška a Damián, and if the audience is hooked on our series, they will finish it. And whether they finish it in linear or catch-up TV is not critical for us.
Does TV Prima’s autumn schedule follow the characteristics of the previous ones in general?
Yes, the autumn schedule extends our existing programme schemes. But our competitors are doing the same. We are all trying to do the same thing, which is to fill in the blanks and strengthen the offer.
One factor that has changed for the viewer is the new VOD service prima+. For you, that means producing more content. How does that translate into programming for TV Prima’s main channel? Do you expect shows from prima+ to appear in linear broadcasting over time?
We expect that most of them will eventually appear on the air. But there will be exceptions. Prima+ is also a platform for more daring original production than what we do for television. The Bodyguardi or Banáni series would not have been made just for linear TV. At the same time, users will find most of our broadcast TV shows first on prima+ - in the form of previews or, prospectively, some additional content relating to series or reality shows. That is our idea. We are still at the beginning; we are six months into the operation. It is a fast-learning process, and we are getting to know what people want on prima+ and how their preferences differ from TV.
How do you decide which titles go to linear TV and which to VOD?
There are some titles that are primarily intended for TV, and we think that is right. TV Prima and prima+ are not two completely separate piles, they are two linked libraries. However, the content is being handled much more dynamically than it used to be, and this will accelerate. Not just the whole shows as is the case now but parts of them or side-lines will be available on other platforms. That is all to come.
At the beginning of August, you recorded 700 thousand registered users and over 90 thousand paying users on prima+ in half a year of operation. Unlike your competitor Voyo, you offer subscribers a lower subscription fee with advertising in addition to the “full price” for watching without ads. Which type of subscription is more in demand?
The results are in line with our plans. Users are more interested in non-discounted subscriptions, i.e. with no ads.
Foreign competition, specifically Netflix, is currently pushing this hybrid version with advertising and a lower subscription price. Is it a promising model?
Netflix’s latest numbers show that only 3% of users in America have an ad-supported subscription, which is terribly low. Once a Netflix viewer has gotten used to ad-free Netflix, I think it is very hard to convince them to switch to an ad-supported subscription, even if they could save a little money. Users have known iPrima, or nowadays prima+, as an ad-supported service since the beginning. We added the option to watch it without advertising, which I think is a more natural process than the other way around.
Do you think the subscriber growth curve for prima+ will continue to rise further in the ad-free subscription column?
It may be a little different. For us, it is very much determined by the economic environment and by how the mix is put together. By starting earlier, Voyo has a head start on paying users. But we also see a future in non-paying viewers because our basic business model is a high-reach advertising model. The subscription model is good for offsetting the loss from the decline of linear TV, but it does not help with advertising.
It is a fact that the reach of linear TV is declining. How can this change the financing of Prima Group?
It can’t yet. The TV reach is still so high in the Czech market that even if it decreases, it will not have any effect on the mass target groups that form the core of TV advertising. Television will innovate and evolve in the future, and it will not only be linear TV but also hybrid models with advertising. SVOD is no longer the most attractive. Now, FAST channels are on top but in a year, it will be something else. All this just means that TV as a medium has finally started to innovate.
Will advertising revenue still be key in the next three years?
This will not change fundamentally for the time being. But, of course, PUT [persons using television, Ed.] is decreasing every year, which will lead to television advertising becoming more expensive year by year. As TV reach is still high and cost-effective, brands will continue to use TV advertising. But we see that the competition is wider. I mean YouTube and prospectively streaming ad-supported services, not Facebook three-second videos.
Will you expand your channel portfolio in response to these developments, whether it be paid, unpaid or FAST channels?
I am not saying we won’t. We are always looking for ways to expand our portfolio, whether in the form of linear or non-linear content. But at the moment, we have not finished any project for another channel.
Will you finish it by the end of the year?
That is a long way off, but I do not deny that we are working on some projects.
There was talk about the sports channel Prima Sport. Is it realistic that you would come up with it?
That is the question. I have long held the view that it will become increasingly difficult for any local broadcaster to acquire a quality portfolio of sports rights, especially international ones. There is so much demand for them, and prices are going up so fast that I cannot see it being worthwhile for local broadcasters. However, if they can team up with a strategic partner and find a sensible business model, then why not? But not at any price. I remember this from the days when Prima Cool used to broadcast the UEFA Champions League. We thought the Champions League broadcasts would help us build the brand but we found that they had no effect on brand building. When the Champions League finished and moved to another channel, people went to wherever it was broadcast.
What about a kid’s channel?
Maybe, but you have to look at the offer of Czech Television and the funds available to it. The second factor is competition from online and VOD services. According to statistics from the UK, there are two genres in which the multinational streaming platforms are doing better than average, and these are drama series and children’s programming. Fighting Netflix with premium series is terribly difficult but it is important not to give up this fight and to use your knowledge of the Czech mainstream audience. The range of children’s content on offer at Disney+, for example, is unbeatable and it is very difficult to compete with it and with ČT.
On the other hand, you could use some extra space for GRP...
We want to expand the portfolio, and it is not just about the linear channel but also about other ways to offer content to the viewer. It can be either a paid model or a differently structured advertising model with a TV target. Working with ad pricing, continuous investment in local content and increasing ad inventory online will be key.
And the FAST channels you mentioned? According to the competitor’s statement in the annual publication, they intend to include them. Do you plan to do the same?
FAST channels are in this year, it almost seems like everyone wants to do them.
A number of new titles are coming to the thematic channel Prima Cool in autumn. Is this an effort to “reboot” the channel?
We are trying to do that. We have been in pilot mode for the past year trying out different formats of original work in the entertainment genre. Which is really hard. But I think we have some interesting stuff, and we want Cool to be cool again. That is why we continue trying new formats but we see that Cool viewers are also close to online shows, for example. That is what I was talking about. We need to push the content more on different platforms to get the desired effect.
Are the formats transferable to prima+?
That is what we are trying to do but we are also trying to do it the other way around. For example, we will offer a documentary about the worst criminals, Bez lítosti, prepared for prima+ Originals, on Prima Cool in the autumn. Viewers who wanted to see it on prima+ have already seen it, but that is far from all Prima Cool viewers. So why not offer it to them if we believe they will enjoy it?
Is it still possible to increase the overall market share if we add up all the channels of Prima Group? Are you not shifting viewers between your channels?
There is minimal overlap between our channels, they are built so that there is no genre overlap. And viewership trends over the past few years have been pretty much stable, showing similar viewership for the three main TV groups.
Will this change with the new CEO of Czech Television?
I do not think it will change dramatically. It will still be a battle for every air slot and every viewer.
What about advertising in the autumn, is your capacity used in full?
So far, demand for TV advertising is expected to be even higher than last year.