CEO Gerkens: Nova is focused on growth
Dirk Gerkens was officially named CEO of Nova Broadcasting Group, part of United Media, in November last year. In this exclusive interview with Yako Molhov, he talks about his plans for the broadcasting and digital business of Bulgaria’s leading media group with a focus on growth and optimization.
Mr. Gerkens, you have been involved in Nova Broadcasting Group's management since its acquisition by United Group nearly a year ago and now you are the company's new CEO. What will be your first steps as Nova CEO? What areas would you like to focus more on in 2022?
First of all I would like to say that unlike in previous cases like TV2 in Hungary, I take over from my predecessor Nikolai Andreev a very efficient and profitable operation that doesn’t require a turnaround and major changes. This enables me to focus on some potential optimizations and focusing on growth instead of cost cutting. My main areas of focus will be programming, advertising sales including digital, radio and print. I will also focus on distribution and monetization on our content both in Bulgaria and outside.
What have been the main challenges for NBG this year?
The main challenge has been not to get over confident and keep the momentum of being a strong market leader and continue to invest in content across all our platforms. We also took part in some major sports tenders which we won such as FAPL, Euro 2024 and 2028 rights as well as Qatar World Cup 2022. Through this we have secured for the future the best football league in the world as well as the biggest international football competitions.
2021 proved quite difficult for Bulgarian society and was marked by both political and health crises. What were the repercussions on the advertising market? What will be your sales policy and what are your expectations for next year?
The good news is that the market has remained strong and recovered strongly from the previous year despite these events. Obviously being the market leader and having decided to keep investing in content including the European football championship was a major boost for us.
In a recent interview for us your main competitor bTV Media Group announced an increase of investments of 30% in original content. Has NBG also planned additional investments in content for 2022?
Yes, we have decided to increase further our Programming budget to be able to produce more local shows as well as to share the World Cup in Qatar with BNT, the public broadcaster. We also extended FAPL and acquired further sports properties such as FIBA.
Nova has been enjoying strong viewership results this year. What are your programming plans for 2022? Will you rely more on drama or entertainment?
We will continue investing heavily in both but in reality covering all the genres as well as news, infotainment and sports.
During the pandemic viewers have turned both to TV and streaming services all around the world. NBG is the leading digital player in the country, have you witnessed a surge in consumption in this respect and what is your strategy for this segment?
Well, we already have our own streaming services for both Nova and our sports channels (Diema Xtra) which are extremely popular. We do not necessarily see streaming platforms as competitors but rather another way of monetizing our content like in the case of Vivacom with its highly popular streaming service called EON. We will have to see the longterm impact of platforms like Netflix or Disney+ and the best way to defend our position is to differentiate ourselves from them by continuing investing into local content. The same way FTA was threatened by the birth of Pay TV 25 years ago, I think that streaming will become a complementary service on the market.
Are you planning any synergies with Vivacom on the pay TV and streaming markets?
Yes, as I mentioned, but we are open to work with all distribution partners as well as going B to C like in the successful case of Diema Xtra.
For many years you managed both RTL and TV2 in Hungary. What would you say are differences between the Bulgarian and Hungarian markets? How can Bulgaria ‘catch up’?
Bulgaria doesn’t have to catch up anything with Hungary. On the contrary the market is as developed as the Hungarian one and much better in certain areas such as digital and streaming as an example. One of the big differences is the lower fragmentation in Bulgaria similar to Romania where the main stations still remain extremely strong unlike in Hungary. Here, anything below 25% viewing share is not good enough while in Hungary it’s a major success.
Are you concerned by the start of major international streaming players in the market?
I partially answered this question before. I am not really concerned since I believe these platforms will be complementary services and they will fight hard among each other. Also I don’t believe that it will make too much sense for them to invest massively in local content in a market like Bulgaria. Streaming is also an opportunity for us to distribute further our content and monetize it with our distribution partners.