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TV2 CEO Stanchev: We are looking at every investment opportunity in our region
 13 Jul 2022
TV2 Group closed the first half of the year with improved results in both Hungary and Slovenia. The company also made headlines in the region looking for new investment opportunities. In Croatia, the Group was among the bidders for RTL Croatia, while it is currently in the race for a national FTA frequency in Serbia.

In this exclusive interview, CEO Pavel Stanchev talks about TV2 Group’s success in its home markets and the ambition to export its expertise into other markets in the region, like Serbia, where there is a great potential for growth.

Pavel, another TV season has come to an end. What have been some of the highlights for TV2 during that period?

We performed strongly in the first half of the year, both audience and revenue. We increased our lead on our main competitor, RTL Hungary. TV2 Group got first place in overall channel ranking also in primetime in terms of total population. The portfolio’s flagship channel TV2 became market leader in all three main target groups in terms of average all-day audience share.
We successfully launched our B2B OTT service TV2Play Premium and finalized new distribution agreements with Vodafone and Digi. In Slovenia, Planet TV group increased its audience by the impressive 24% while all our competitors lost shares. Our key hits were Your Face sounds Familiar and Wheel of Fortune in Hungary, and Married at First Sight Slovenia. I would also mention Tények Plusz, our daily tabloid magazine on TV2 which performed an impressive turnaround and now leads its slot, as well as the introduction of UEFA National Teams on our Spíler channels whose ratings exceeded our expectation.

Can we now say that the crisis caused by the pandemic has been overcome?

We saw the first signs of recovery already in 2021, now the inflation brought some challenges, but I am an optimist that the year will end strongly as far as Hungary is concerned.

A number of channels in Hungary have faced financial difficulties. To what do you attribute this and is TV2 Group stable in that respect?

I have been always saying that measuring daily 85 channels in Hungary doesn’t make sense, when in France or in the Czech Republic they are around 30 which produces much less GRPs. The market needs to consolidate in order to return to normal GRP pricing and the local channels to be able to invest in content which is key to compete in the era of worldwide streaming euphoria. I expect this consolidation and TV2 Group is well prepared to take a leading role in it. In the last 3 years we put our costs under control, we increased and diversified our revenues, so today we are in good shape to face all challenges.

Will you continue to increase investments in content?

For sure and the good management of our production and acquisition costs allows TV2 to invest in local production and original content also for our thematic channels and TV2Play. We will dedicate more investments for Hungarian productions in channels like SuperTV2, TV2 Séf and TV2 Comedy, for instance.

Talking about investments, let’s switch to your international operations. Are you satisfied with the performance in Slovenia? What are your plans for growth?

As mentioned, Planet TV is performing a spectacular turnaround, with the audiences back to the 2017 level. It established itself as the strong number two commercial player and, often, number 2 channel in the overall ranking. The synergies with Hungary operate perfectly. We are gearing up for Exatlon 2 this fall and more than 400 Slovenians applied to the casting. Despite all kinds of headwinds, we brought the choice the market badly needed. And we are in Slovenia to stay. TV2 Media Group is not owned by an investment or VC fund, we are long-term investor and brand-builder. The key question is for how long advertisers will accept to block 80% of their TV marketing budgets with one player. This situation is far from being healthy and it won’t last for long.

Are you still planning to acquire TSMedia if Telekom puts it for sale again?

Historically there have been lots of synergies between the siol.net and Planet TV. They used to be part of the same company. But in TSMedia there are many other assets, which are far from our focus. So, I don’t see much attraction in this asset, especially since we launched our own AVOD service, Planeteka, which is growing steadily, following the successful model of tv2play.hu.

Moving further east, recently your board chair, Mr. Vaszily, revealed that you were interested in acquiring RTL Croatia. Could you provide some more details on this? Did you feel in a disadvantage due to the fact that you are RTL’s competitors in Hungary?

We are looking at every investment opportunity in our region. We are among the last firm believers in linear TV’s future in Europe. I also have a special sentiment towards RTL Croatia being its founding CEO. Back in 2003, I initiated the creation of a consortium between RTL Group and some of the strongest Croatian businesses, such as Atlantic Group or Agrokor. The consortium won the first private national terrestrial frequency in a heavy competition with 6 other candidates, with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, SBS and CME, to mention just a few. RTL Group is a professional company and the process was run perfectly, the fact that we compete in Hungary didn’t play any role. Just at the end we were not convinced that this was for us the right place and time to invest.

Is Croatia still a market you would like to invest in?

We prefer to focus on markets and opportunities with high growth potential. Start-ups could offer better perspectives as opposed to turning around matured businesses that never made solid profits and carry their history behind. Our turn-around story is for now Planet TV and we prefer to focus on it, especially since the first results are already here.

Serbia is also a market that is on your radar. What is more, you are currently competing for a national license with 14 other candidates. In your opinion, what are your chances given the tough competition?

Our chances depend on the opinion of the Serbian media regulator which we respect. Yes, Serbia is on our short list of markets we like to enter.

Why do you consider Serbia an attractive market?

Having been the regional CEO of Antenna Group in 2013-2014 I know Serbia and have many Serbian friends. I strongly believe that the country is on the right path for economic growth and prosperity, I admire its independence spirit. From that aspect, I see a much higher potential in Serbia than in many other countries in the region.

We hear there is actually excitement on the market due to the fact that a foreign company wants to enter Serbia. What is the reason for this, in your opinion?

This is normal. Since Antenna Group left Serbia in 2018 there is no European broadcaster on the market. Therefore, I believe we can contribute to improving the current offer and help the industry to increase its production quality, following the highest international standards. After talking to many Serbian market actors and observers, we came to the conclusion that such alternative is needed and we are ready to contribute also financially for that ambitious project. But, as I said, at the end it will depend on the Serbian regulator to decide.

Are you also looking to expand into other markets? Is TV2 aiming to become a major regional player through M&A deals?

This year TV2 is marking its 25th birthday. 25 years is a mature age, we did our learnings and can proudly say that we are among the most professional and focused television houses in Europe. And yes, we believe in this region and would like to share our knowledge and success. We also believe to understand better people with whom we have common history, as opposed to investors who come from far away.

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