The responsibility of being free. Season 1
In the leading part: Florian Skala, CEO of bTV Media Group
Austrian Florian Scala is chief executive officer of bTV Media Group since the end of 2016. Under his
leadership bTV significantly improved its overall business results and affirmed itself as a preferred channel, a desired employer and the strongest Bulgarian brand.
Before coming to Bulgaria, Skala was in leading positions in the Markiza Group in Slovakia (also part of CME) and RTL Austria. His professional and life path goes through many lessons, meetings and events; through a lot of decisions, a lot of work done and a lot of first things.
And for Manager’s team some things also happened for the first time in the preparation of the material - the first photo shoot conducted remotely via a video conference because of the pandemic and home office rules, and the first attempt to present the person on the cover through his personal story about the important moments in his life. Starting from the notion that everyone has their own history and their "film", we chose to give the floor to Florian Skala in several episodes of his "series" in the TV sector. The next "seasons" are already cooking. Enjoy watching, i.e. reading.
Florian Skala in 10 episodes
Episode 1: The pilot
Television was the window to the world in my teenage years. There were the fascinating big Saturday evening family entertainment shows, the emblematic commercials of big brands running for years and everybody talking about them, and probably the best part – the big football tournaments, bringing together millions of people worldwide in front of the TV. Amazing!
I spent my childhood mainly with sports on the public channels - winter and summer, popular and niche, all kinds of them.
Back then I found the job of the sports commentators absolutely desirable – so close to the thrill of the game, knowing so much about it, guiding the viewers through, and often travelling all over the world. That was my dream job back then. Now, I find most TV roles very interesting because I like to get involved in all aspects of work at the company. But I don’t see myself in production or on screen. In fact, I’ve never had any doubts about my career choices.
Seen from the outside, working for television is usually associated with adrenaline, dynamics, daily surprises, fast reactions and always some magic involved. This is often true, but this business is much more about researching, strategizing, calculating, planning, all with absolute predominance of reason over emotion and very, very hard work of talented people. You learn this immediately after you get in touch with television professionally.
Episode 2: High jump, deep jump
My first day in the media industry was in 2003, as Research Assistant with IP Austria which is the Ad Sales House of RTL Group channels on the Austrian market. I immediately immersed into the media world and realized quickly how fast-paced, dynamic and fascinating this industry is.
I’m proud of many achievements in the early days of my career, such as attracting 3rd party TV channels for sales representation besides RTL’s channels, for example Sky Sports Austria, which enabled us to offer additional reach in the desired male target groups with first-class live sports content. I also built and developed digital sales when I was with IP Austria which gave us the opportunity to offer premium digital content to our clients back then.
I knew the company in and out, which helped me grow - I became Member of the Management Board and later Sales Director for TV and Online and Deputy CEO. During this episode of my professional path I realized if you do your job well, it’s a total win-win for everyone. I am generally driven by results but in RTL’s Sales House in Austria I was quick to learn that the most meaningful partnerships with advertisers are sustainable. They often require much more efforts, perseverance and patience but then the reward is even bigger. That’s why I feel privileged to work with the amazing team at bTV Media Group, which is not tempted by one-time or short-term wins, and is forward looking, dedicated to the long-lasting goals.
Episode 3: Team player
I gained invaluable experience and confidence about TV management during my Sales Director job at CME’s Markiza Group in Slovakia. The most important management lessons from these first years are valid still: Trust your people with responsibilities but always stay involved. If you want everyone to perform according to your expectations, show them how by giving your own example. Communicate and listen, so that you have the best judgment in every situation. People follow you as long as they get proper communication and argumentation so that they understand you and your decisions. It’s important to me to give honest, individual feedback, with arguments and examples, and a personal recognition – irrespective of position, hierarchy or type of accomplishment. People should know exactly how their work is helping the company grow, and that the congratulations they get are not just a protocol statement.
Episode 4: A new hope
Several months before I headed bTV I worked with the sales team already and supported it in various projects. I immediately felt in my waters because the markets, though unique in many aspects, are pretty much the same in terms of general principles and business logic.
For sure, local culture defines the content and programming schedule but not the principles how a TV company is run. Later, I was offered the CEO position at bTV. When you get such an opportunity with the leading media group in a country after years of sales management experience in the same industry, you don’t hesitate to accept it. Even if I hadn’t gotten familiar with the advertising market and its potential already, I would have still taken the job. I have chosen to work in a fast-changing, multi-layer industry, where to succeed and grow professionally one has to be able, among other things, to adapt quickly, embrace change and accept challenges as business as usual. In my first days as a CEO I needed to catch up to understand all aspects of the overall environment in the country that concern our business. I am grateful to the bTV team for guiding me through this.
Episode 5: Welcome to Bulgaria
I never had the time for a “culture shock”. In my first months as CEO I was working day and night to get into the deep as soon as possible, get to know the team well, see about the processes in the company, make the right changes, and deliver results as fast as possible. I finish working when it’s done, not when it’s a particular hour. The real art is to make the right decisions regardless whether you already worked for 20 hours without interruption or it’s 4 am in the morning. For me, decisions and acts are either right or wrong. If they are right, then they cannot be difficult.
The plan was to build on the current achievements of the company and work on improving its overall business results. As a first step, we tuned bTV’s content strategy to the new viewer habits - we strengthened the multiplatform positioning of our premium productions. This paid off in a significant increase of results in digital. In 2019 we were able to invest even more in technology and implemented bTV’s largest-scale project ever since its launch – our high-tech integrated studio. These steps we combined with many improvements in sales, including new solutions we implemented to the benefit of our advertising partners.
Now, when we celebrate bTV’s 20th anniversary, I can say that we strengthened our advertising sales and other revenue streams, we made serious incremental investments in top quality journalism and entertainment content while always maintaining cost discipline, and thus we improved our overall financial results significantly. It’s stimulating to see how hard work is paying off.
Episode 6: The responsibility of being free
Freedom of speech is a blessing of democracy but also a huge responsibility. While I see real freedom of speech reflected in bTV’s editorial policy, I also see propaganda and personal agenda-pushing masked as “freedom of speech” in other outlets. I can only hope that with our hard work we are helping the viewers differentiate the one from the other.
Every day we are reporting the facts according to the highest journalistic standards and with the most powerful presentation tools. This is our way of sustaining a healthy media environment for the sake of the Bulgarian people.
In many surveys bTV is recognized as the symbol of high-quality and independent journalism. When we use our strength to contribute further to a better life in the country, this is highly appreciated by all viewers and stakeholders of the media. So, it’s a win-win, with no conflict here. On the Eastern European markets private broadcasters are carrying the social mission because they are most popular with the audience. It is different in Western Europe, where usually public broadcasters are the ones successfully completing their inherent role – but of course with exceptions among commercial channels. bTV is the most favorite and trusted TV channel because its content is extremely relevant to the local values and priorities. We are producing The Farm for a sixth consecutive season this fall because it is praising the local culture and is promoting traditional Bulgarian values, respect for nature, patriotism. MasterChef is the TV masterpiece in the culinary genre which is also very popular and close to the Bulgarian public. These are just a few examples of how our viewers are guiding us in our content decisions.
Episode 7: Your screen in your palm
It’s time for Total Video, with premium video content available anytime on all platforms and devices.
Viewers are increasingly referring to “TV” when they watch their favorite show on a digital platform, for example, and on their mobile device, while on the go. To keep growing in the future, we must ensure that linear and digital TV advertising are as interchangeable for brands as viewing is for consumers. For more than a decade the classical advertising spot coexists with a variety of premium ad solution on the Bulgarian market. bTV Media Group has aired the very first alternative ad forms on the market and since than we are constantly enhancing our portfolio with a focus on content and synergies across TV, radio and digital. Even today we see how technologies already make the impossible happen, with impactful AR brand integrations live on our HDTV channels or in 360 livestreams, with the audience completely immersed in the on-screen experience, and the advertising message authentically incorporated in the organic content.
Periods of crises are most important for the brands to stay active and invest in advertising. Now more than ever, upper-funnel branding and conversion-based tactics are way more effective when they coexist. I expect the industry to move to offer broad range of inventory opportunities and custom content solutions to suit both ends, and accelerate both more creativity and automation in the whole process.
Episode 8: The heart of bTV
It was physically impossible to personally meet everyone at bTV Media Group when I joined the company. I’ve been catching up on this and I also dedicate time to meet all newcomers. This gives me very important and interesting insights about the heart of the company - the people, their motivation to choose bTV, their perceptions of the company and what would keep them committed to the job. It’s amazing to hear from so many new colleagues that it has always been their dream to work for bTV. This makes me extremely proud and confirms our attractive proposition for the best talents in the country.
Expertise, integrity, complete dedication, zeal, ambition – these are absolutely indispensable qualities for success in the TV industry. I also appreciate people who stay focused on the bigger picture, and are capable of thinking two, three steps ahead, while striving for the best possible results.
Media develop fast and I expect my colleagues to never stop learning. And something I can’t go without is their loyalty.
Episode 9: Television in the future tense
The rise of the streaming platforms and digital consumption in recent years changed the game for broadcasters and content producers everywhere, including in our region. We now create local content in a way that it rivals the quality of the offerings from the world, with which viewers are overwhelmed. But local is key and this gives us the decisive advantage.
The digital transformation means a huge potential for television. Digital extensions related to our flagship shows, and 360-degree streams are growing in number, as a standard. Catch-up viewing is on the rise, as seen from the growing results for our AVOD platform bTV Plus. We have taken steps to secure synergies between all the channels within the group so that our high-quality content can be equally successful in a TV, radio and digital environment.
I believe Total TV consumption will grow across all platforms and devices, and people will have more content to choose from and interact with.
Episode 10: Out of office
A relaxed day with my family is a gift for me every time. Being constantly on my laptop and my phone throughout the day, I still prefer paper books to e-book readers. When I turn on the TV, I watch mainly news and current affairs programs. I’m looking forward to UEFA resuming the season soon! Meanwhile, I try to play once a week. I am usually in a position where I cause the least damage for my team :-) Seriously, usually everybody wants to be the striker who scores countless goals and is the idol of millions of young talents. Think of Lionel Messi for example – probably he is the best football player in the world but has he ever won the World Championship with the Argentinean team? Ok, in 2014 he was at least very close to it… I believe the strong individual players are more successful when they unite their efforts as a team.