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News  » Pole Position

Pole Position

C21 Media, 18 November 2016

Rapid growth in DTT and pay TV has made Poland a red-hot territory for distributors and international channel operators. Clive Whittingham reports.

Ten years ago Poland was just another CEE territory for factual content sales houses. Fast forward to the present day and distributors are reporting fourth-window deals for unscripted content as the market is booming. How has this happened?

Technology, as ever, has been the enabler. A switch from analogue to digital in 2013 has seen DTT services spring up carrying more than 20 new channels hungry for content. Meanwhile, pay TV operators such as Orange and Canal+ have thrown the best part of 200 networks into the mix.

International broadcasters such as AMC Networks and Discovery Networks have been drawn to launch channels and offices in Warsaw. Scripps Networks Interactive bought Polish broadcaster TVN, which dominates the market, alongside Polsat and national broadcaster TVP.

US channels operator A+E Networks opened a Polish office in 2013. It operates local feeds of History, Crime + Investigation and Lifetime as well as H2, airing a mix of A+E’s best-known US shows plus local commissions including paranormal series There is a Ghost in My House. “Opening an office there makes a lot of sense,” says Nicolas Eglau, chief operating officer and general manager for Nordics, the Benelux and CEEMEA at A+E Networks UK.

“First of all, it’s one of the biggest markets in CEE. We look for scale and a market of 30 million homes is obviously the biggest one there. It has one of the highest pay TV penetrations in CEE – 9.2 million homes. It’s one of the few markets where you see TV consumption growing. This is a market where people are watching more linear television every year and the ad sales market is growing year-on-year.”

AMC Networks International is also enjoying success with its CBS Reality channel.

Director of programming Sam Rowden told C21: “European markets do not get much more important than Poland. It’s always been important and is more competitive than ever. It’s a country where it’s possible to drive advertising revenue, which makes it very attractive.

“Our UK channels have been producing original true crime series this year with great success. As part of this we have been focusing on some Polish crime so the programmes can air there, and that’s an area we would like to expand in 2017.”

A huge proliferation of free-to-air, DTT and pay TV channels sounds like big business for distributors, particularly those with large libraries of long-running factual and reality content that can stock the schedules of fledgling broadcasters. And so it has proved.

Anna Budashevskaya, who handles the market as part of her remit as sales manager at TCB Media, says: “We’ve more than doubled our Polish revenues in the past year. Not only are we selling more shows and dealing with more clients, we are also windowing the same programme up to four times in the same small television space.

“Against a background of political turmoil, which has affected the publicly owned channels and held back local production, there has been a real explosion in demand for free DTT rights. There are often several broadcasters occupying similar spaces – for instance, TTV, TVN Style, Polsat Café, TLC and Metro TV could all compete for the same show.

“It’s also a key market for pan-regional broadcasters such as the BBC, Discovery, Viacom, Viasat, AMC, Modern Times Group, A+E and Scripps. If a channel wants a show for Poland, it’s become quite common for offers to escalate into multi-territory deals in order to beat the competition.”

Those pan-European deals with Poland as a ‘must-have’ is a running theme among distributors. “Yes, we’ve had those types of conversations,” says Solange Attwood, senior VP of international at Canadian blue-chip wildlife specialist Blue Ant International. “Often channels competing with each other will want exclusivity and are willing to pay for it, but we will continue to window content strategically and will be able to place content across two, three or four platforms.

“To some extent it’s a territory that may give distributors, producers, broadcasters and the content business en masse a view to what the future of the distribution business will be.”

Lindsey Ayotte, sales executive for CEE at TVF International, has sold everything from long-running mainstream series such as Innovation Nation to Sky Arts one-offs such as factual drama The Erotic Adventures of Anaïs Nin into the market. “Typically, Poland is the territory pan-European broadcasters absolutely must have included in the deal and everything else hinges on that,” she says.

This has all had a predictable affect on prices. Viacom got into Poland early, in 2000, and its channels there include Comedy Central and MTV, as well as the leading children’s network, Nickelodeon. Daniel Reszka, the company’s VP of youth and emerging brands in CEE, has seen the heat increasing in acquisitions and formats.

“The best acquisition content is not the low-hanging fruit anymore,” he says. “In order to get it you have competition from other broadcasters and this is driving the prices up. Comedy Central is significantly based around third-party acquisitions and years ago had its pick because comedy at the time wasn’t so popular. Back then the licence fees were significantly lower than we pay at the moment.

“Obviously, in formats there is a very similar situation. The success rate is much higher when investing in something that is globally successful and the majority of the biggest international formats now have Polish versions. The competition drives up not only the licence fees but also the production costs. You have to deliver the best quality because there are so many local adaptations.”

It’s not all success stories though, and there are pitfalls to avoid. “Local content is important but just having it doesn’t guarantee success,” Reszka continues. “There are examples of channels and shows that should theoretically have worked but failed. The key is to find shows that suit the audience and execute them in the right way.”

Fears that MTV’s Warsaw Shore, the local version of US reality hit Jersey Shore, wouldn’t appeal to what is a conservative society were unfounded and it is now in a sixth season.

Bo Stehmeier, senior VP of global sales at Germany’s Red Arrow International, also cautions against rushing into the multi-windowing of shows. “It’s important to position shows with the correct channel so they can build a returnable audience,” he says. “As a distributor it gives you a longer lead time – they might buy future seasons, or pick up the format, or add your other docs and series around the key property.

“If you just license the same property to three or four channels it might be more money now, but that business will dry up sooner. Making strategic plays in an emerging market is important.”

Iza Wiley, who was hired by A+E to run its Polish office, adds: “The channels that offer the best content will thrive but those surviving by simply repackaging the same shows on various channels will get a thumbs down from the market.”

Can all this last, or will bust inevitably follow boom once more? “It will calm down,” Viacom’s Reszka says. “As far as I understand it, there will be four or five more channels launched into the DTT space then no more licences will be granted for the next five to 10 years.

“You have to look at your return on investment. The problem these DTT channels will find is they have high fixed costs to pay because of technology and the licence fee, while on the other hand they only have ad sales as income. Long term, you have to level cost with expenditure, so I don’t think there will be further growth of programme licence prices, which are already high.”

Stehmeier at Red Arrow goes further. “A lot of DTT licences have been given out, which means a lot of channels jumping into the market with start-up capital and grabbing rights to position themselves,” he says. “These budgets won’t be there in three years because it’s little more than an initial rights grab.”

Ayotte at TVF says there is further growth still to come, but not in FTA, pay TV or DTT. The big streamers, led by Netflix, are moving Poland’s way and Ayotte says: “Business will move much more towards OTT. We’ve seen TVP taking their content off other online platforms and creating their own.”

Indeed, the number of VoD platforms has grown from five in 2010 to 15 in 2015, with monthly usage growing from 47% of the population to 58% between 2014 and 2016.

Jim Samples, president of international at Scripps Networks Interactive, says his business sees further growth coming in OTT following its acquisition of TVN last year. “TVN is a leader in digital innovation and our OTT Solution Player is the fastest growing OTT service in Poland,” he says.

“We launched player.pl, an ad-supported VoD service giving subscribers access to both video content produced by TVN and other movies or series previously shown on TVN’s TV channels. With player.pl, TVN is able to provide another answer to the evolving consumption of content and stay ahead of Poland’s growth cycle in non-linear content exploitation.”

A+E sees it that way too, with Eglau confirming the company is in discussions to bring the SVoD service it operates in the US around Lifetime and History to Poland soon.

So while the current booming linear market may stall at some point, there’s still plenty of opportunity in Poland offered by a burgeoning OTT market which isn’t far behind.

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