Hristo Hadzhitanev: Television is a mirror of its time

We offer increasingly more digital content and quality local productions, says the program director of bTV Media Group


Hristo Hadjitanev is one of the names who do not need to be presented on the production and television market. For almost 20 years he has been an author and part of the teams of some of the most popular and successful shows in Bulgaria, having worked in more than 60 productions and media projects in various genres. His experience as a screenwriter, editor, creative producer and external consultant for program content is impressive and he is among the people whose professional path is entirely related to television and video production. Since the end of 2020 he has been a Programming director of bTV Media Group and is responsible for the overall program strategy of the company.

bTV celebrated 22 years on air recently. How did the role of television change in the everyday life of Bulgarians during this time?

For the last quarter of a century, we have been an active part of an epoch-making change that opens wide the doors to the future - as we imagine it, with all its possibilities, horizons, innovations and achievements, but also with its conflicts, fears, insecurities and existential issues. Anyone who still has a childhood memory, even a very faded one, from the years before 1990, can follow in their own daily lives the stages of this transformation of television in particular, but also of the media in general. Television has the status of the only, authoritative and infallible mass electronic media in the times of the state monopoly, when we waited for the program to start against the background of the screaming sound of the test signal to watch the two children's series that seemed the best, simply because there was no with what to compare them. The same was true of information. This status of television changed in the 90's, when in the turbulent, semi-anarchic times the first private channels based on low-budget studio shows and series, dubbed with a single voice, appeared. But when all the other buttons on the remote began to fill with sound and picture, the Bulgarian's appetite for demand flared up and television began to look like a market, albeit not well regulated, where new iconic channels, faces and shows appeared. The appearance of bTV in 2000 coincides and is largely the reason for the formation of the free regulated television market, the norms that drive it to this day, professional culture and business relations. From the moment a leading television company, owned by a global media corporation, enters our country, our market becomes part of the global business network, applying its principles and models. We are passing into the age of formats, in professional jargon "we become glocal", a combination of global and local, that is, we all watch the same shows around the world, we adapt each global show and have our own version of it. This universal nature of the formats, based on universally valid and schematic models for attracting and retaining attention, explains their established and sustainable presence in the program today.

More or less at this point, the Internet is entering everyday life, and the phone, from the ever smaller and neater call and messaging device that dynamized the world in the late 90's, is becoming a smart device with a larger and multifunctional screen, which spontaneously absorbs all traditional and new media. To the extent that today they are hybridized, and we are constantly connected to them and use them simultaneously on two, and sometimes three, screens without even distinguishing them so clearly from each other. The good thing about television is that it stands out clearly because it skillfully uses its special status as an authoritative source of information and creator of audiovisual content, preserving its identity through its linear program and rich history. However, in today's multi-screen consumption, one device is the smartphone, but the other is the TV. It may not matter to us as consumers whether we watch a stream on a smartphone or use an application on TV, but the fact that the two devices coexist hand in hand speaks volumes about the privileged position that TV continues to have among other media absorbed almost entirely by the Internet.

What impact did the pandemic and political crises have on audience demand?

The pandemic has greatly exacerbated the use of social media. Demand and exchange of information increased, which increased the spread of misinformation. Instead of becoming a test of humanity's progress, the pandemic exposed divisions, fears and mistrust in institutions, authorities and established sources of information. Journalists were forced to quickly and unmistakably sift out the facts in the sea of false news, while searching for all points of view. To this test of their professionalism was added the increased duration of current affairs programs, news and the many extraordinary programs caused by the political upheavals and the unprecedented number of parliamentary elections in our country. If you think about it, today we receive the news all day on our smartphone. When we sit down to watch the news on television, we already know what information to be demanding, careful and critical.

It is good to note that during this turbulent period, bTV newsroom was recognized as the one with the highest trust, the central news at 19:00 attracted nearly 36% of viewers, and our journalists received high recognition for their work.

An example from the last days is the great achievement of our reporter Dimitar Tasev, who was awarded for investigative journalism by the World Association for Sports Journalism (AIPS).

How do you balance the content between news and journalism on the one hand and reality formats and original shows on the other?

The balance is set in the structure of the program, as the information broadcasts are its backbone. In a more absurd but clearer analogy, if we imagine the TV program as the human body, the skeleton is news and publicist shows, the entertainment shows are the organs, and the outside is taken care of by marketing, promotion and the brand. Of course, television reflects the spirit of the times, so even in times of crisis, news and journalism prevail over entertainment content, but the balance, as in life, is always restored. Television has the unique role of being the preferred source of information, while offering entertainment and an escape from the reality that this information creates. Constructed on the border between reality and fiction, with real characters in an extremist environment, reality formats continue to enjoy high interest because they are a showcase of society and a snapshot of its condition, but also because they often contain an element of provocation that focuses specific topics from our reality. That's why "The Bachelor" has become a phenomenon of the past season with average viewers almost 750 thousands. The knowledge games also satisfy the kind of hunger for information that times awaken, and the triumphant return of the first Bulgarian world format – "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" is proof of this. At the same time, Bulgarian series occupy an increasingly important place in the program, and our viewers are becoming more demanding of productions, as they compare them with the proposals of global digital platforms. That's why we launched three new successful titles (I’ll be fine, Sunny Beach 2, Dear Daddies), while working on several more projects.

Digital content and streaming platforms are a serious competitor to traditional television among younger audiences. What are your plans in that regard?

Content consumption happens on many screens. The connection between television and younger audiences is made through the smartphone, where television can not rely so much on the special status it has among the older generations, and competes on a par with all other media, applications and platforms. Our key advantage is that we create local audio-visual content in large volumes and in different genres and we can easily format, promote and offer it to user groups of different ages, locations and interests. We can be present en masse in the digital environment and we do it every day. Local content is what sets us apart from the world's streaming platforms, so we inevitably invest effort and resources into it. Not only in terms of series, which are the strongest weapon in this battle, but also in terms of exclusive digital content that excites, entertains and provokes younger users. Last year we expanded our projects in this direction - in addition to the show for the world of video games "Gamer", we launched a podcast series with the brightest names in Bulgarian sports, a digital documentary series with the Pulevi brothers and a multiplatform project dedicated to „Women of Bulgaria”. Our own arsenal of TV channels, radio stations and digital ecosystem also puts us in a better position than streaming platforms. In contrast, we develop, tell and promote each form of content much more comprehensively, diversely and as a priority among the local audience, without having to invest further in it. So expect many original productions in various genres, as well as more and more events and projects that will take place in a fully digital environment.

What is your vision for the development of the bTV program in the coming seasons?

It is clear that we are at the beginning of the process in which we rethink our understanding of the linear television program. Family viewing increasingly looks like a model in crisis. Unimpeded access to information and content of all kinds defocuses goals and multiplies needs, and technological opportunities to return, record, pause and scroll shake the very idea of ​​a time-slot-planned television program. Add to that watching a second screen, and the challenges are many. At the same time, the linear program with its predictability and orderliness creates the feeling of security in an increasingly confused world and many users return to it. Think about it - in many science fiction we see that even in the distant future there are still screens with channels broadcasting a permanent program. Due to all these challenges, the renewal of the program is happening gradually, given the need to offer new content, strengthening our leadership position on the most watched national polythematic channel among the wide audiende. We will continue to develop our successful reality and entertainment formats, as well as the proposals in the field of Bulgarian series. Along with the original production and the exclusive digital content, we plan to create our own shows for some of our thematic channels in order to strengthen their profile and their connection with the audience.  In the summer season we keep the regular current programs uninterrupted in the program and we will strive to diversify the offers in prime time. All this will give us the opportunity to create and develop new formats and faces to enrich the portfolio and strengthen the influence of the bTV brand. Part of this vision is the enhanced cooperation with Bulgarian film producers, which in a relatively short time established bTV Studios as a loyal and preferred partner of the industry and the highest quality and most successful Bulgarian films began to become an essential part of the television program.

You can read the entire interview in the new edition of "Biograph".