The crisis created new opportunities: an interview with MGU sales chief Iryna Chernyak
Iryna Chernyak, Head of TV Content Sales at Media Group Ukraine, is looking at the positive side of the COVID-19 crisis. In this interview with Yako Molhov, she talks about how her company handles the pandemic operationally and how the lockdown opened up new opportunities for the distribution team in terms of signing more deals and expanding the client base with demand for procedurals and telenovelas is increasing.
Iryna, what are the latest developments on the Ukrainian TV and content market? Are things slowly getting back to normal? How is Media Group Ukraine dealing with the situation?
Media Group Ukraine and its assets quickly responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and the beginning of quarantine in Ukraine. Immediately a set of measures was taken to protect employees from the coronavirus: most of them were transferred to a remote working regime, business trips were cancelled. Employees who work full-time, and these are newsroom and editorial staff of programs, keep the social distance, stay with masks at the offices, regularly treat their hands with antiseptics, strictly adhere to all the safety measures, as well as the instructions of the Ministry of Health and WHO. Disinfection of workplaces, equipment, cars is constantly carried out in offices, antibacterial recirculators and air purifiers work. At the entrances to offices, the employees go through temperature check. Doctors and medical consultants work based at the channel’s premises.
As for the sales department in particular, overall, the work has not stopped for a minute. Despite the fact that for almost two months we worked remotely, all the processes were active, sales took place, we entered new markets and new territories. Therefore, with a gradual exit from the quarantine, I can’t say that something has changed fundamentally: we continue working and selling our content. TV channel Ukraine has new premieres and big library of high-quality titles to offer them to clients – so the process is ongoing.
Your main channel relies heavily on drama content. Will the crisis affect your planning and schedules for the new season due to the forced break in production?
“That is correct, we continue to focus on melodrama and all of its types which is action, criminal, detective melodrama and investigation series with strong love story. Certainly, there are shifts in production terms due to a lockdown for several months. Unfortunately, it slightly shifted the deadlines. In this sense, it’s good that it’s summer time now which is the best possible time to catch up with shooting terms so that by fall we will have almost the same number of premiere titles that we planned to offer to our clients for the new season.
What’s new for the season?
One of the most promising is our Fillin project. It’s a modern detective consisting of 40 episodes. This story has recently aired on channel Ukraine with excellent results and we are pleased to present it now to our clients all over the world. We are also waiting for the availability of the sequel of the very popular last year melodrama On Your Side 2, produced based on the Turkish format Price of Passion. The first season was successfully sold to a number of countries, and clients are looking forward to the second one.
When do you expect things to return back to ‘normal’?
First of all, what is a “normal”? I think that what is happening now is already a new normal, new reality. Speaking about our industry, from the point of view of sales, now we have more prospects and opportunities to enter those markets that cannot afford to invest money in production during the crisis yet they need high-quality, ready-made content. We have such content, a lot of it: premiere melodramas, telenovelas detective stories, daily series, procedural drama which have aired in different territories for many years. Therefore, it seems to me that in this “new reality”, there will be no such thing as something is normal, and something is not. There are just new circumstances, we live in them and make the best we can.
How has the pandemic affected your work? What changes are there in the sales strategy?
First of all, it initially influenced our work with the fact that we switched completely to a remote working regime and have been working in this format for several months. We noticed with a pleasant surprise that we were just as effective. We reinforced even more in the view that the world is open, the communication with any of the countries is excellent, everyone is in touch. In this sense, we live in a very good time when while staying at home, in fact, anywhere in the world, we can communicate normally with our partners, market colleagues and conduct business processes on a going basis. As for the changes in our sales strategy, as I have mentioned earlier, not all countries, not all television channels can afford to produce their own content, so this served to strengthen our presence in even more areas of Central Europe, and I think that in the nearest future we will enter new territories on other continents.
Broadcasters are increasingly looking for ready-made shows. What type of content are your clients mostly looking for?
Yes, indeed, broadcasters are now very interested in ready-made content, which totally makes sense because of the lockdown and the interruption of production. The demand for telenovelas has increased. Since we have successfully produced and broadcasted them for many years we have quite a lot of them in our catalog. There is demand for long procedural dramas with over 40 episodes and multi-season daytime series with more than 100 episodes. For sure, our regular clients are interested in premieres. Again, in light of the fact that many companies stopped their production in a number of countries. Therefore, premieres are now of particular value, precisely because there are fewer of them anyway.
Are buyers being more careful now? Are you introducing special packages and discounts in order to keep up with your sales targets?
I would not say that buyers are acting differently. There is some uncertainty among those buyers whose rather impressive volumes of own production has decreased, but this has nothing to do with the selection of purchased content. As for the cooperation with our clients, we certainly hear them, and we are loyal to the reality they face now. However, there are different options for handling these issues with a choice of additional exhibition or payment schedule. All of this might be in place. We are all together in this situation and value our clients. Just like those companies which sell content to us. All market players try to meet each other halfway.
What have been some of your latest deals?
We are gaining strength at Amazon. Our latest deal includes a project dedicated to the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, called Azure Dust, and our detective melodrama Who Are You? I believe that is a success, because, in fact, the series produced in Ukraine are not represented in widely on Amazon as we would like it to be, but we work on it. In addition, we have a new deal for the UK territory with Dazzler Media for Black Flower, and also sold Azure Dust to the Spanish distributor Big Rights Distribution for the territory of Spain. I would like to say that these two high-quality titles which cover the events of the Chernobyl tragedy are in demand and continue conquering the world. In addition, we have a new big deal on the territory of Georgia. This is a package of telenovelas for around 400 hours. We work very well with the Georgian market. In addition, we have a new content package that includes such our hits as telenovelas The Clan of The Jewelers, Gipsy Lyala, Secrets and The Snowdrop. Also, we are delighted with our cooperation with Lithuania and good results of our vertical access time series The Story of a Crime and Come Out Without a Call. There is much more in discussions now and thus I am optimistic about our results this year in spite of quarantine and lockdown in the world.