Doctor on Call
, the first daily drama entirely produced in the Ukrainian language, concludes its first season on Ukraina this week. CEETV’s Yako Molhov talks to Film.UA’s Iryna Kostyuk and Ukraina producer Olga Zakharova about the challenges behind the project which became a pioneer on the Ukrainian market, enjoying a strong interest from the local audience.
Iryna Kostyuk, Film.UA Group Producer
CEETV: Iryna, this is Ukraina's first original series shot entirely in Ukrainian
language. What was the main reason for your decision to produce the series in Ukrainian, rather than in Russian and what was the channel's first reaction when you approached them as this is an experiment for the network?
IK: It was actually a mutual decision, a hard one, after many discussions, evaluations of the risks and forecasts of various outcomes. Originally, it was planned to be shot in Russian, then we were discussing an option of a mix of languages, but all along the way our showrunner was lobbying a purely Ukrainian language series. And the channel (just a day prior to the first day of shooting) decided in favor of this option – an unprecedented risky step, but a step forward in terms of the whole industry and its development, prioritizing a Ukrainian language content over the future potential sales possibilities into Russia.
It was quite tough to make that decision and to take all the risk – since the channel’s viewership is mostly concentrated in the Eastern and Southern parts of the country which are almost entirely Russian speaking… Therefore I am personally very thankful to the broadcaster for being brave enough to take those risks and to be a trendsetter, it’s always tough to be the first. But if the risks are then justified – it’s always great to take all the fame for being first).
And I have to say that the whole team (especially the actors) were really happy and inspired to be able to be part of a Ukrainian language content, which is new to them as well.
CEETV: How did you come up with the idea and how have Ukraina's viewers
accepted the new project?
IK: The idea came from us – at the time I realized that the niche of medical scripted reality series is totally free and being such a popular genre all over the world it has to come to Ukraine as well. In the course of development it turned out that we are able to apply the scripted reality technology and know-how to a drama series and make it look as an actual drama series but within a budget of a scripted reality. Therefore, we are keeping a low cost budget of a scripted reality but have a drama series quality. I would say that is our know-how. Also was a necessary condition to keep the budget low, since not only it’s a daytime product but also is meant only for Ukrainian market which now is very shrunk in terms of TV ad revenues.
So as soon as we had developed a script of a pilot we offered it to a number of channels, and not waiting for the commission we launched the production of the pilot. And just at that time channel Ukraina decided to order the pilot and as soon as they saw the finished pilot the order for 40 episodes followed.
As I said the audience of Ukraina is mainly Russian speaking. So over the first couple of days we saw the eastern and southern audiences switching the channel because it was quite unusual for them, but three days later the loss of the eastern and southern viewers got totally compensated by the inflow of the western and central viewers. And now the shares are well above the average and the shares demonstrate a steady positive dynamics. So I would say that it was a quite smart strategic move - now the slot has a very balanced mix of the audience and has attracted the new viewers that did not watch the channel before (which is really valuable and usually is very hard to achieve . They get used to the language and I have to say that it is mainly due to the fact that the plots and stories are quite strong.
CEETV: Have you planned to sell the series outside of Ukraine and if yes, will
the fact that it is shot in Ukrainian make this more difficult?
IK: Of course a Russian language drama would have been sold into Russia easier but we have no problem dubbing it – and we have actually sold the series to Kazakhstan already. And we also hope Poland will like it since it surely does not look any worse that all these Polish daily scripted reality series.
And we surely plan to market it worldwide as a format – because the scripts are great and would work anywhere (each episode has two medical cases taken care by two doctors on duty). We have already included in into our catalog of Ukrainian formats (UA Formats) and will take it to all the main markets.
CEETV: Many Russian series and movies have now been banned in Ukraine, has
demand for local content increased and do you see more opportunities?
IK: The demand is high of course (even the smallest production companies are filled with orders) but the budgets are extremely low. So the increased volume of the produced content does not actually mean that the revenues of the production companies are sky-rocketing…
CEETV: What are your newest projects in development? Can Ukrainian viewers
expect new Ukrainian-language series from Film.UA and your team?
IK: Our line-up is huge (since we are the biggest independent production house in Ukraine and one of the biggest in Central and Eastern Europe): from virtual reality content to animated feature films. I personally have in development drama series, feature films (including animated feature films), sketchcom, comedies and some reality shows. My animated feature film MAVKA based on the poem by a Ukrainian classic writer will be shot in Ukrainian (and then dubbed to other languages), as for the rest – is we get a Ukrainian language content commissioned – we surely know how to do it.
Olga Zakharova, Deputy Director Strategic Marketing, Media Group Ukraine
CEETV: Olga, were there concerns about how will the Russian-speaking audience of Ukraina will accept the series?
OZ: When a new project is launched, there are always risks. The task of the marketing is to minimize these risks. The Ukrainians happen to be bilingual. This means, for example, that in a conversation a question asked in Ukrainian may be answered in Russian. It’s natural. We consistently study our audience and have noticed a rising trend brought about by the rising patriotic moods and the process of national identification in Ukraine — the desire to completely switch over to the Ukrainian language for everyday communication.
The core of channel Ukraina’s audience is people from the south, east, north and center of Ukraine aged 35–45. Percentage of those among them who name Ukrainian as their primary language has significantly increased. This gave us confidence to venture such an experiment.
CEETV: Other channels have had great success with Ukrainian language series in primetime. Is Ukraina also planning to launch a primetime series in Ukrainian?
OZ: Yes, Media Group Ukraine does have such plans but just wanting in not enough. Dubbing a series in Ukrainian is one thing, but producing one is something completely different. This requires writers, actors and others with good Ukrainian. This may seem strange but Ukraine as a state did not pay sufficient attention to this matter for a long time. Producing shows in Russian language had more benefits — they could be both broadcast at home and sold to a number of territories without additional investments into translation and dubbing. Ukraine is yet to revive its national cinema, create its national film and series industry.
CEETV: Recently, the Ukrainian parliament made changes in the law which mean that now Ukrainian channels will be airing even less Russian productions. Will this mean more original content on Ukraina?
OZ: Currently, a half of our programming is produced in-house — news, talkshows, football broadcasts, series, films, scripted reality and other shows. Our channel is quite diverse in terms of genres. We also run Russian and American films and series, broadcast European football tournaments. If increasing our in-house production is more beneficial in terms of business, then we will produce more.
CEETV: Inter have openly attacked this new law. What is Ukraina’s position on the matter?
OZ: We think that these laws were adopted without consulting the expert opinion of the television industry. Basically, the industry is subdued by the government control over the TV channels’ programming taking no regard of the viewers’ interests and subtleties of the television business. A number of laws which virtually rendered impossible the sufficient use of content libraries put the channels in a tight spot. And all this happened against the dramatic drop of the Ukrainian advertising market and disastrous shrinkage of income of the television channels. The channels were forced to reconsider their production plans and revise their content libraries because, for example, broadcasts of the series which were produced in Ukraine on commission of a Ukrainian channel but with involvement of the Russian production companies are reduced to 30% of airtime.