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 CEE
Coming to NEM Dubrovnik: Levente Málnay, EVP/MD, AMC Networks International
 06 Jun 2024
Levente Málnay, EVP/MD, AMC Networks International, will be among the top executives attending NEM Dubrovnik 2024 which kicks off next Monday, June 10. There, he will also be speaking about the challenges on the TV and streaming markets as well as finding the right formula to reach viewers with a relevant content. CEETV’s Yako Molhov got a chance to talk to him ahead of the market in Dubrovnik.



Levente, you joined AMC Networks International in 2009. How has the CEE TV market changed in the past 15 years, what have been the biggest challenges for AMCNI?

The biggest change in the worldwide television industry has been the appearance and proliferation of streaming services, but it’s important to note that there are very significant local differences in this trend. A couple of years ago, everyone was talking about streaming and hardly anyone about linear in the CEE region but now it is more about both together. The largest disruption that some have expected, the explosion of large-scale cord cutting or cord shaving seems to have not happened so far in many countries of the region, where streaming seems to remain a supplementary service to linear TV for the more affluent users. This shows that our strategy in Central Europe which put linear TV first seems to have worked out well, evidenced by our increasing market position (viewership share) in all of our core countries and making us the market leader in the region among independent international media companies.


Last year you acquired Polsat's shares in the kids net Polsat JimJam. Have you planned the acquisition or the launch of new channels in CEE?

JimJam is fully owned by AMCNE CNE everywhere it exists, Poland was an exception until recently. We are opportunistic but acquisition is not a “must“ for us. Let’s put it this way, if a good opportunity emerges, we seriously take a look at it. AMCN is a publicly traded company so any acquisition opportunity must undergo the scrutiny of financial viability – we will not be making acquisitions just for the sake of becoming bigger.


How many channels does AMCNI currently operate in CEE? You recently launched Film Mania in Romania, will you expand the distribution of the channel to other territories?

We have 11 channel brands and operating 36 different feeds, that is individual “channels” in the region.

We have just launched FilmMania in Romania in April – which received an overwhelmingly positive reaction from both the operators and the audience so far - this channel brand has been available in Hungary for several years now, so this is an extension to Romania rather than a completely new brand or genre for us. However, content selection is completely tailormade to the taste of our Romanian audience. Whether we will introduce this same brand FilmMania to other countries, remains to be seen – needless to say that we always have new ideas for business development, as we are highly invested in the CEE region.


Your Spektrum Home channel in Czechia is the first ever station from the AMC Networks portfolio to be available on terrestrial free-to-air. Are you planning to distribute other channels from your portfolio terrestrially?

The same brand has in fact been available free-to-air in Hungary for a while, so the FTA business is not totally new for us in the region. As I just said before, we are always looking for new business development opportunities. In the Czech Republic, where a significant part of the population is still watching the terrestrial platform as their main source of linear TV, we opted for a free-to-air launch. Successfully operating 7 channels in the pay TV world in Czechia, linear free to air was our logical step to diversify our revenue model. Furthermore, our potential next step will be launching a streaming product in the Czech market.


Around this time last year you announced your first Hungarian original series Fata Morgana. When will the series premiere and what is your commissioning strategy for CEE content?

Fata Morgana is an original scripted development project of AMC Networks. The thrilling period drama has been developed in the Budapest labs of the network and has generated interest from a number of market players in Europe. AMC has partnered with OBLE, a French distribution company and the aim is to find co-pro partners for the project. After a successful pitch presentation of the series, OBLE are now in talks with key French potential talents about their involvement in Fata Morgana.

Generally, fiction content in original production is a key characteristic of AMC, our parent company, which is not only producer of several successful linear and streaming brands but concurrently a unique production studio with great variety of fiction content. From the recent output of this wonderful “creative lab” of original AMC programming we acquired the new spinoffs of our most successful franchise The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live. Also, we will air from The Walking Dead franchise Tales of the Walking Dead, Dead City and Daryl Dixon.

As for original programming locally produced in the CNE region, our aim is to provide shows and series that resonate well with local viewers’ taste. Our own production in non-sport area has always been characterized by high quality, wide range of genres, winning international awards, which all strengthen the distinctive feature and USPs, improving viewership shares due to the quality contents. Great variety of shows indicate the colorful nature of the CNE countries from local outdoor cooking shows, castle invaders, documentaries with scientists. Fortresses 2 was awarded by Stockholm Film Festival. The Oniros Film Festival in New York as well as the Indian Independent Film Festival honored Forbidden Zones 2, while the cooking show Body Margo Cuisine was awarded in Sicily lately, demonstrating popularity and style of these type of shows even beyond Central Europe. We are flexible and of course constantly seeking the right business formula and content to be produced.


What is your strategy for sports rights, which are becoming increasingly expensive each year, in the region? Recently you extended the UEFA Europa League and the UEFA Conference League for a further three seasons in Czechia and Slovakia, will you invest more in sports in other territories?

Sport has always been super important for us, as we are operating the first independent local sport channel brands in the region with the most prestigious pedigree and the most experienced commentators and talents. The costs for sports rights have indeed been skyrocketing in the recent years, partly because sports is increasingly becoming important as a USP for linear television, but partly because of certain - not very sustainable - tactical bidding wars initiated by some market players. Nevertheless, sports television runs deep in our veins and we keep investing into sports rights to maintain and further enhance the value of our sports channels. We will be doing this with financial diligence, carefully considering the actual value of individual sports rights for both viewers and business partners.


What are your latest plans for the AMC+ streaming service, the launch of which has been postponed a couple of times? Will viewers in CEE have the chance to become subscribers soon and has the recent trend of big international streamers investing into local original content affected your strategy?

We’ve been indeed careful with the introduction of the AMC+ service and with good reason – we are confident that the CEE region is not a mere copy of the US market in terms of OTT services, and time has proven us right, since we don’t observe the same radical cord cutting trends that are prevalent in America. We are instead opting for a locally tailor-made OTT strategy. We are planning to launch our own streaming services in the region, which will be different from the international D2C services of our peers in at least two ways: we aim to do the streaming business in partnership with the operators instead of going against them; and our service will be much more tailormade for the local audiences instead of a unified international product. We do plan streaming launch in Hungary this Fall, which - hopefully – will be followed by next launches next year. So, you may expect some announcements soon about brand, product and timing.


You will be speaking at this year's NEM Dubrovnik. What will be the main topics that you will focus on and why NEM is your market event of choice in the region, what kind of partnerships will you be looking for?

As a US-backed international player, with unique content offerings and regional synergies, we aim to maintain a reliable partnership with the linear TV operators based on mutual respect. I believe this opens significant opportunities for us in the linear TV and B2B streaming businesses.

In a high inflation region, it will be critical to address the adjustment of both affiliate fees as well as advertisement prices. Distributors increased price towards customers, by inflation or even above inflation in some cases. We all can feel the price increase of FMCG products when we do our daily shopping. This needs to be reflected in channel revenues as well. The economic situation of media companies is further impacted by the devaluation of some local currencies vs. the US dollars or euros - content costs and sport broadcast rights are mostly due in USD or euros.

The economic situation creates a hard burden on the families with less and less disposable income. In a situation like this, - in many Central European markets - the cheapest and most reliable form of entertainment, television is becoming increasingly important, reflected in the very high - 4 to 5 hours – daily TV consumption in certain countries of the region.

Our goal is to serve this very sizable audience with the best locally relevant entertainment, by nurturing our strategic partnerships with linear TV operators and offering streaming solutions that are an ideal fit for the local business environment.

I am impressed to see that NEM Dubrovnik in the last 10 years has become the most relevant event of our industry for the CEE region.
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