bTV Media Group between tradition and renewal

Forbes meets Hristo Hadjitanev in a talk about the ambitious plans of bTV Media Group


Hristo Hadzhitanev has been the programming director of bTV Media Group since the end of December 2020. He is responsible for the overall program strategy of the company. His professional path is closely related to the television business and content creation. Since 2006 he has been managing and consulting various projects, including at bTV, where in the last year he has been a creative producer in the Local Production Department of the media, and in 2016 he has been a consultant in the Program Department. Forbes talked to Hadzhitanev about the ambitious plans of bTV Media Group.

You have been the programming director of bTV Media Group (bMG) since December 2020. How has the television changed over the past year and what is your vision for the development of the program in the coming and future seasons?

If I could define the past year in one word, I would say dynamic. With the change in ownership and the increase in investment in content, bTV entered an active period of rediscovery and renewal, in which we had the opportunity to propose and discuss various programming models in accordance with the spirit of the times and our strategic objectives. Thus, with PPF (note: PPF Group is the owner of the CME Media Group, of which bTV Media Group is a part) we have formed a shared vision, and we are in full sync regarding to this, which we strive for - bTV is an increasingly strong moving power in the production and distribution of content, both in terms of linear television programs and in the field of cinema and digital production and distribution. That is why our strategy is based on striking the right balance between tradition and renewal. Tradition entails the preservation and development of those genres, formats and faces that built the connection between the audience and television and became part of our own identity, and renewal - in the gradual imposition of genres, formats and faces that speak to new generations but also generate added value outside the television program.

An example of such a product, successfully combining tradition and renewal, which we relied on at the end of last year, is "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire". The show makes a connection between generations, between analog and digital users. Every day in front of the screen it gathers one million viewers or over 40% of television viewers, and in just one week since its launch the online game has been played nearly 2 million times, demonstrating the potential of added value beyond the television broadcast we are looking for.

According to our strategy in the spring programming scheme, we rely on foreign and local content, and this time the ratio is strongly in favor of Bulgarian productions, dominating in the prime time. In the spirit of tradition, we bring back to the portfolio perhaps the world's greatest reality format "Survivor" with two parallel stories - one for the small screen and another - for our digital platforms. In the spirit of the renovation, we provoke the audience with the premiere of "The Bachelor", another major global brand that has proven its potential to rediscover itself over time and according to the places where it is realized. For the first time in years, the traditionally successful Turkish series will give way to the new Bulgarian production "I'll Be Fine", which will offer a somewhat different form of family entertainment series. The emblematic show "Bulgaria's Got Talent" has also been updated - with three new faces in the jury - a formula that we have already successfully applied in "The Voice of Bulgaria" last season. The queen of "MasterChef" chef Silvena Rowe will take us on her own exclusive culinary journey, and the sleek resort familiar to viewers will be the scene of unexpected twists in the long-awaited new season of "Sunny Beach". With all this, after the past two long pandemic years, we want to offer viewers a different and unique season.

For several years bTV has been investing mainly in current affairs journalism and studios. Will this trend continue or will you focus on more reality formats and original shows?

I can say yes and yes. The two directions of content are not mutually exclusive, but together build the image of a national media, so the good balance between quality entertainment production and solid current affairs journalism continues to be the foundation on which our program is built. The times naturally lead us to invest in priority and with great attention in the field of news and journalism, as interest in current content has increased significantly not only with the onset of the pandemic, but also as a result of the crisis of confidence in societies - one bigger global trend, the most visible expression of which is misinformation. On the other hand, the pandemic, at least in its initial stage, has made it almost impossible to implement many of the world's entertainment formats - especially those in exotic locations - which further focuses attention in journalism. But just in the midst of it, the bTV production team made an incredible effort to organize and shoot "Survivor" and now this motivates us especially. Congratulations to the colleagues! We know that offering more quality reality formats and original programs is the right direction for development, as it fits into our common vision for the overall enrichment of content, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Television withstood the test of time and gloomy forecasts after the mass penetration of the Internet, and today consumers perceive it as a natural balancer of the media environment, which is both a friend and competitor of other providers and distributors of content. This special role, paradoxically, gives us more opportunities to experiment with different genres and create sustainable products, expand our range of partnerships and offer new content in already established areas of interest.

Will there be more Bulgarian series that will compete with high-rating Turkish series?

There is no doubt that more Bulgarian series will be produced. Not only because they are an increasingly desirable form of content for viewers, but also because investing in them pays off in the long run. While reality and entertainment formats are topical and aim to create high interest among the audience in a limited period of time, series have a longer life as a product, especially today, when global and local streaming platforms are literally hungry for any type of quality series with different origin. In this sense, Bulgarian serial productions should not be seen as a competition to the foreign ones, as both actually complement and diversify the content we offer. There is competition rather in the field of local series, and this is healthy for the market and is entirely for the benefit of viewers, who will enjoy an increasing volume of Bulgarian productions in more diverse genres and with more focused topics.

Digital content and video streaming platforms are gaining a growing share among younger audiences. What are your plans in this direction?

I dare say that our biggest ambitions at the moment are focused on the development of digital content. With the service VOYO we practically already have a solid, well-known and established on the market platform, in the technological renewal of which we invest a significant resource. In parallel, we are working on creating a significant volume of original Bulgarian productions for VOYO, which will regularly supply the platform with new content and provoke the interest of our current and future subscribers. We are about to announce both the new technologically advanced version of the VOYO service and the titles of the first premiere series, and so far we have launched five pilot projects and plan to start at least as many by the end of the year. The goal is clear and logical. Watching habits are changing and we must not only follow them, but also take a step forward to transfer our current experience, reputation and influence as a medium into a reality entirely subordinated to the mass consumption of content in the digital environment. Although in building digital strategies we are obliged to look at streaming platforms as competitors, among which we must stand out with an original local offer, we cannot ignore the fact that the constant demand for new and new content is growing rapidly, growing and competition between producers and distributors and this will ultimately stimulate the exchange of products and the market for the sale and acquisition of content. In other words, the chances increase that Bulgarian original series, produced by Bulgarian televisions, will have a more felt presence on the world platforms, which adds to the meaning of the previous question why more series will be made. The digital environment requires high quality from us, but gives us a unique opportunity to experiment, to provoke with themes and genres, to circumvent the laws of linear television, which dictate the choice of content with the most massive appeal, as opposed to personalized offer streaming services are sought. In short, we have the chance to be bolder and bolder and to make high quality products with a very long life cycle. We are ready to take advantage of that.

Apart from football, other sports are already being found on bMG's channels. Will the trend of expanding sports content continue?

When we talk about football, we should note that bTV offers high-quality sports content without requiring additional payment for it from viewers. As our channels bTV Action and RING are part of the main subscription packages, practically every viewer has access to events such as the most prestigious club tournament Champions League, the championships of Italy and Portugal, the cups of Spain, the Cup of African Nations. As a national media, we are proud of this practice and appreciate the partnerships that make it possible. But as most popular football championships tend to be broadcast on paid access, we need to regularly diversify the sports content on offer to keep fans interested in our programs. Part of this process is a return to tradition. For example, just a few days ago, two legends of sports journalism, Krassimir Minev and Vladimir Pamukov, returned to the bTV team with their original show "Code Sport", in which every Sunday from 12:00 on RING we tell great stories and meet great athletes. Last year we established a good partnership with the Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation on the occasion of several major events and the extremely high interest in this traditionally favorite Bulgarian sport gives us optimism for future cooperation. At the same time, we continue to establish the latest trends, being the first in our country to launch the new show "Gamer" on the national air, entirely dedicated to e-sports and video games. We are talking about a few more events of national importance, so we will continue to explore all the possibilities for broadcasting sports content with the potential to engage our audience.

bTV Studios is a distributor of some of the hit films in Bulgarian cinema in recent years. Will there be new titles to promote in cinemas in the country?

Indeed, the achievements of bTV Studios over the past two pandemic years, which have put the global industry to the extreme stress test, are a source of great pride. The titles and authors who trust us meet in our face a fair partner, and the common successes oblige us to develop our cooperation with Bulgarian cinema, which is also becoming an increasingly important integral part of the exchange of content in digital reality. Some of the films we proposed would have become real record holders if it were not for the effects of anti-epidemic measures. Among them is last year's undisputed hit "The Naked Truth for the Zhiguli Group" directed by Viktor Bozhinov, which literally brought the audience back to the cinema halls, and earlier this year Alexander Kosev's beautiful film "Petya of my Petya" met with the unanimous approval of viewers and critics, increasing its box office in the second week, which is an extremely rare phenomenon in Bulgarian cinema. Literally in a few days the long-awaited premiere of "Return 2" will take place during our successful long-term partnership with the favorite of the viewers Niki Iliev. Together with our world premieres this year we plan to release in the halls several more interesting Bulgarian titles, including the latest film by Viktor Bozhinov. So interesting times await us in the field of home cinema.

bMG is part of an international group. Is there an exchange of ideas and content with other CME televisions in the region?

Our owner CME is a company whose operational model for working with content is based on the exchange of expertise between the territories in which it operates. We are in constant contact with colleagues and discuss various scenarios and models for programming, optimizing resources and improving results. At the end of last year, CME became the first media company in Central and Eastern Europe to join as an international member of BAFTA Albert. This is the body of industry responsible for the sustainable development of the environment in the filming of film and television production. In this regard, bTV already has experience in introducing the principles of albert in its television productions - the last few seasons of MasterChef Bulgaria, for example, follow the concept of zero waste in food work during the filming of the show. And this is a trend that we have yet to establish and develop.

In addition, as different territories have different social and economic levels, we have the opportunity to follow some processes in more developed markets, which are still in their infancy, and both to adopt successful strategies and to learn from possible errors. As for the exchange of content, we also expect to strengthen the cooperation, as we are already clearing the details of a joint project for a series between all territories and testing attitudes for greater integration in the field of content acquisition. In addition, some televisions in the group have already started implementing bilateral joint projects at the regional level, so it is possible that we will soon be part of this process. From March 1, CME will also send a permanent correspondent to Brussels to offer on-site coverage of all the most important topics of national and European interests for the five news teams in the group, including that of bTV News.

What new titles will bTV Studios promote in the cinemas in the country? And as part of an international group, is there an exchange of ideas and content between bTV Media Group and other CME televisions in the region? You can find the answers in the whole interview with Hristo Hadjitanev on the Forbes website.