Mongolian TV Challenges Are of “Genghis” Proportions

But Not Too Daunting For Mongol TV’s Top Executives

By Dom Serafini

Mongolian TV executives have two sets of challenges — one international, and the other domestic. Internationally, the challenge is that the only thing most people know about their country is that it’s where Ghinggis (or Genghis) Khan came from, and mostly by watching the many movies on the topic.

Domestically, the challenges are as vast as its land, which is the 19th largest in the world (the size of Alaska), populated by just 2.9 million people who speak at least one of several Mongolic languages, as well as either Russian or Mandarin Chinese as inter-ethnic languages.

To navigate those domestic challenges, VideoAge spoke with Nomin Chinbat, CEO of Mongol TV, a familiar face at many international TV markets and one of the most powerful women in her country.

Even though Mongol TV began FTA broadcast in 2009 from its base in Ulan Bator (also written Ulaanbaatar) — the nation’s capital — it is now considered the leading independent HD-TV station in Mongolia and the nation’s most technologically advanced.

But, before asking questions of the British-educated Chinbat, let’s review Mongolia’s television landscape: In the country, there are 118,000 TVHH serving 1.5 million viewers, of which 45 percent reside in the nation’s capital. The market is covered by 12 FTA channels, since the government forced Eagle TV to switch from airwaves broadcast to a cable channel, due to improprieties. The country is also served by 90 cable TV channels through 15 cable operators and two satellite companies.

Television was introduced in Mongolia in 1967 by the state-owned Mongolian National Broadcaster (MNB). Since the collapse of the Soviet-style government system in 1990, Mongolian media has undergone significant reforms. The first commercial TV station, Eagle TV, appeared in 1994, followed by C1 in 2005 and NTV in 2006, eventually numbering a total of 11 commercial FTA stations, considering that TV5 is supported by a combination of advertising and state subsidies.

The 30-year-old Chinbat — who looks more like a TV personality than the results-oriented executive she actually is — studied economics at Cambridge in the U.K. Her husband, Batka Gankhuyag, is an entrepreneur in the new media business, but, Chinbat pointed out, “He’s not an employee at the station [even though] he’s very involved as a consultant and board member.” She didn’t come from a media background, having previously been involved in the luxury hotel business that she started at the age of 24. Mongol TV was actually created by her father, a geologist who dabbled in mining, farming and the real estate business before starting the network together with his financier wife. After the network encountered some financial and technical problems, their daughter Nomin was called to the rescue, a mission she accomplished successfully. Last February she completed the re-launch of the channel with in-house program production and a new live studio.

Chinbat also explained how Mongol TV came about: “When I returned to Mongolia after spending eight years studying in the U.K., I realized the broadcasting system in my country was underdeveloped [and] still influenced by government politics and needed someone to bring it up to Western standards. I found my new mission and surrounded myself with a team of foreign experts, led by [Canadian TV consultant] Michel Rodrigue and [his] The Format People, who helped me reach my goal.”

Today, Mongol TV broadcasts 19 hours per day, more or less similar to other FTA channels, and covers the whole Mongolian footprint. Most FTA channels are carried by cable and satellite operations, but, explained Chinbat, “We do not get retrans fees. We actually pay for carriage.”
The business model of Mongol TV is based on advertising, which presents problems of its own, since 30 percent of the population is nomadic or semi-nomadic, plus, according to Chinbat, “The rating system is relatively new and is not very reliable because it only covers the city of Ulaanbaatar and the sampling is very weak: [there are] only about 100 people [with] meter boxes.”

Explaining the station’s strategy for competing in a highly competitive market, Chinbat said, “Firstly, we brought in the first morning show in the country, which has become our main creative content. We used the morning show as an incubator for talent and ideas as well as a spin-off for other local daytime programming. In primetime we [were first to buy] American series, which we broadcast almost simultaneously with the original American broadcast to avoid piracy.”

Some of the international shows that have done well are Downton Abbey and The Good Wife. Other successful programs include in-house produced game show formats such as Who Am I.

Chinbat acknowledged that the country’s rampant piracy is affecting the station’s business, but, she added, “It’s also our strength because we are one of the very few broadcasters that acquire quality primetime programming. As a result, we have access to English-language scripts and M&E tracks, which allows us to do good quality dubbing.”

As far as the percentage of imported programming is concerned, Chinbat explained that, “The government in Mongolia requires that we broadcast a minimum of 50 percent of local content; therefore, we play a maximum of 50 percent of foreign content, the majority being American, Korean, British and Australian.”

While domestic challenges are being addressed with resourceful actions, Chinbat is looking for international recognition for her country and its TV industry. Last June, Mongol TV won the bronze prize from the Los Angeles-based promotion and marketing organization PROMAX/BDA. The Global Excellence Award was for art direction and design of its channel image.