American Series To Cure The Advertising Blues

Television networks in Greece are not immune to a changing economic landscape. Across the board, incomes decreased by 8.4 percent in 2008 –– to about 10 million euro –– due to a significant reduction in advertising revenue and increased competition from other forms of media. With a rate of about 32 percent, television trails the magazine sector (42 percent of all Greek advertising revenue), though it should be noted that magazines have the advantage of offering popular giveaways — DVDs, cars and cash prizes — with their publications. In addition, print media offer better rates than their electronic counterparts, beating the competition for a piece of the ad pie, which, in 2008, was valued at 2.7 billion euro (excluding outdoor, direct mail and telemarketing).
The fact that standings in the television ratings race are differentiated by only a few percentage points means that net execs cannot allow much leeway when it comes to programs that aren’t performing well.

These findings were recently released by the Athens, Greece-based J.T.TV International Co. in its bi-annual review of the 11 million-person television market in Greece.

There are ten major networks comprising the Greek TV market — Mega Channel, Alter Channel, Antenna TV (Ant1), Star Channel, Alpha TV, ERT (with NET, ET1, ET3), SKAI and Maked TV. In addition, the country boasts 20 licensed local stations and over 160 unlicensed ones.

With a 19.7 percent average share, Mega Channel is the first-place network in the Greek TV market, boasting a winning formula of major Greek-language series, game shows, talk shows, and feature films from the Columbia (Sony) catalog. It continues to rank number one in the evening news competition and has invested heavily in major sporting events like the UEFA Cup and Champions League football games. In addition, Mega will air exclusive coverage of all the qualifying games of the Hellenic National Soccer team for the upcoming Mondial 2010.

Antenna TV SA, which at 15.7 percent share ranks second, recently shifted its target to the 15-44 demographic. It acquired the rights to broadcast Formula 1 racing, starting with the Fall 2009 season. Antenna also boasts an output deal with 20th Century Fox, airing a number of the studio’s feature films and series. Based on the success of its previous international programming, Antenna is introducing a different international series every night in its 11 p.m. slot —with titles like Prison Break, Boston Legal, Shark and Grey’s Anatomy as standouts. Furthermore, Antenna seeks to regain its reputation as a forerunner in the reality/game show sphere, with specific focus on the wildly popular X Factor series.

Third in the ranking is Alpha Media Group, with 13.22 percent of the market share. It’s comprised of national TV channel Alpha TV, regional TV channel Cosmos TV, radio stations Alpha 98.9 and Palmos 98.8 and Plus Productions, Alpha TV’s in-house production company. Alpha Media Group was recently acquired by the RTL Group, members of which now sit on the board of directors.

Ever since the sale to RTL was finalized, local productions offered by Alpha Media Group have been under intense scrutiny due to cost considerations. Generally speaking, Greek-language productions are expensive to produce, thus TV networks favor successful scripted formats and programs from the international market to compensate for the continuously plummeting advertising revenues. Another major change at Alpha Media concerns its main evening newscast, whose time slot has edged forward by an hour — from 8 p.m. to 7 p.m. — and whose coverage is now skewed more towards social issues and lifestyle coverage.

Alter Channel SA’s news broadcast focuses more on news and current affairs. When the arrival of one of the most talked-about newscasters boosted ratings in the 2007-2008 season, the network used this development as a lead-in to bolster the rest of its programming schedule. It inked a deal with the L.A-based New Regency for a slew of feature films, and continues to offer the country’s most comprehensive children’s programming. However, in the changing revenue climate, Alter has since reduced its children’s programming slot, opting instead to invest in talk shows, live entertainment and additional news shows. Strangely, no major sporting events are covered. The network now ranks fourth with 11.33 percent.

The state-owned ERT SA oversees the NET network (in addition to ET-1 and ET3), and at the moment, is simply trying to retain a two-digit rating and share per outlet. The network group renewed its output deal with Disney ABC, which will continue to provide blockbuster features and high-ranking series. NET continues to host award-winning documentaries from the BBC, History and Biography channels, but has faced serious competition from the rival station SKAI TV, forcing the network to remove the documentary slot from primetime and reposition it in either the morning or late-evening hours. ERT’s focus seems to be more international in scope anyhow. It boasts an expanded World program, with particular emphasis on athletics and Greek language series and movies for broadcast to the nearly five million Greeks living abroad. Signals from the four DTT (digital terrestrial television) channels that ERT programs are currently received in North America, Australia, the Balkans and Western Europe.

Star Channel is positioned only slightly above NET in the rating standings and features a slate of feature films and series from Warner Brothers studios, as well as occasional programming from CBS Paramount. Series such as Friends, NCIS, Medium, Cold Case, Charmed and ER have proven successful. Like Alter, Star does not broadcast any sporting events, but rather relies substantially on children’s programming.

SKAI TV was initially launched on a pilot basis in April 2006, with a focus on documentaries and “infotainment.” It reformatted and re-launched in October 2006, this time offering costume dramas and series geared towards young adults. SKAI was notably the first station in Greece to launch The Oprah Winfrey Show, and recently added a locally-produced morning talk show and daily cooking show geared towards a female audience. In an attempt to increase its position in the national rankings, SKAI has bolstered its roster with a number of high-profile international series. The CSI franchise, Dexter, Californication, Top Gear, Doctor Who, 24, and America’s Next Top Model are among the offerings that were added to the lineup this past fall. Furthermore, as of next season, SKAI will cover all of the Super League soccer games, in conjunction with Nova. Perhaps SKAI’s greatest claim to broadcasting fame is that it is the only free terrestrial television station that operates tape-less, digitally transmitting all of its programming. Major stations throughout Europe are attempting to adopt (and adapt) SKAI’s technology.

Maked TV, which only draws a 0.42 percent share of the Greek market, was not reviewed in the report. Greece’s Forthnet acquired Nova, a satellite TV platform, last May for 490 million euro.

The developmental behaviors of the various networks are not surprising. When money is tight, it becomes increasingly important to rely on low-cost productions and acquisitions that will garner the greatest audience interest and advertising revenue. Game shows, always a safe bet for such reasons, continue to be popular among programmers, though they consistently require more and more extreme and provocative themes.
Legislation regarding the adoption of VoD and IPTV is currently being debated. Should these services be successfully implemented, the future of broadcasting, ratings and revenue could look a whole lot different.