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Coming to NATPE Budapest: Ralf Bartoleit, CEO bTV Media Group, Pt.1
 15 May 2024
Today, CEETV kicks off its series of interviews with CME executives and also the Coming to NATPE Budapest strand with an extended Q&A session with Ralf Bartoleit, CEO bTV Media Group, and also member of NATPE Budapest’s Advisory Board. Yako Molhov’s questions ranged from the political situation in Bulgaria, to the performance of bTV Media Group and the plans for the new season and the growth of Voyo, as well as Bartoleit’s participation in the CEO Insights from CEE panel at NATPE Budapest 2024.

Ralf, Bulgaria has once again found itself into a political crisis. There have been a total of 7 elections since 2021, 5 of which for parliament and new elections coming up in summer. How is this affecting the TV market in the country, combined with the overall financial crisis?

The situation in Bulgarian political life is indeed dynamic, and the equation for a successful formula seems increasingly complex. I take the liberty of recalling a quote by the German politician Helmut Kohl, who, may be criticized by some, but is at the same time one among the brightest names in international politics. His words referred to the unification of Germany: "Yesterday's visionaries are today's realists! (Die Visionäre von Gestern sind die Realisten von Heute). Unlike the idea of reunification, what we see in Bulgaria is a difficult configuration with many possible solutions. What is the correct vision for Bulgarian politics I cannot say, but I am confident that journalists are making considerable efforts to inform the public about all important issues and events. The bTV newsroom continues to produce exceptional work. Our reporters cover all political processes vital to the future of the country and all of life’s social aspects. Work in the media sector is very intense during election periods, and I can say one good thing about having so many elections is the fact that the team is just well prepared - breaking news, special studios, debates and much more. Journalists in the newsroom must do their job with the same objectivity and a bit more intensity because the situation requires it. The news and current affairs editorial teams are ready with the special program for the upcoming 2-in-1 elections and viewers will be able to make their own informed and sensible choices.

What are bTV Media Group's results for 2023 and what are your expectations for 2024? What will be your main challenges, alongside the aforementioned crises?

We had a great 2023, where we clearly saw that advertisers want to be closer to their consumers, be more proactive in what they offer, but also bring more emotion to them. This led to an increase in advertising budgets and investment throughout the year. Simply put, nothing works like advertising. bTV ended the year with a positive financial result and 2023 was also the most successful year for bTV in terms of digital sales. This means that we and our teams are moving in the right direction and meeting the needs of the market – customers and partners are happy, platforms are growing and so are the business results. Our expectations for 2024 are continuous evolution in technology, enrich our programing grid, and make new investments in content that resonates with consumer tastes. Although some other markets, such as Germany, have seen a serious decline in advertising revenues, our outlook for Bulgaria remains positive. We are looking for more opportunities to offer integrated solutions to our business partners and increase our market share.

Will the Bulgarian ad market see growth this year and how is bTV positioned in the TV and digital segments?

The main trends in the media and advertising market in Bulgaria in 2024 are related to consumer expectations, technology and artificial intelligence. The media market in Bulgaria is not so big compared to other markets in the European Union, but in terms of professionalism, creativity, ideas, implementation, it maintains a high level. Brands are getting bolder. We try to offer tailor-made solutions that help our clients meet their business needs. We expect an increase in investment in advertising, which will lead to an even better quality of offered TV and digital content.

Unfortunately, the unexpected change in the legislation and the complete ban on gambling advertising in TV, Digital and Radio, will have a significant impact on most of the media budget forecasts. Our main concern is that despite this change, gambling advertising will not stop. Rather, investment will be redirected to other channels. What we see from other markets is that a total ban leads to a significant increase in the black market and this puts consumers at greater risk, especially the younger generation who are very active on social media. We therefore fully support the idea of increased regulation of the sector and the call by the Association of Bulgarian Broadcasters (ABBRO) for a wider debate on the possibilities and best practices in regulating the gambling advertising and media market.

This spring you relied on proven formats: Who Wants to be a Millionaire, The Bachelor, Dancing Stars (Bulgaria's version of Dancing with the Stars), I Love My Country, Sunny Beach. You also launched a new series - Alpha. What are your spring TV season ratings results, did you register growth compared to 2023?

We have made a really fresh and energetic start to the year. In fact, we replaced the Turkish primetime series with new entertainment content, and this is probably one of the most visible and serious steps in the renewal of bTV's programming. Our main goal is to consolidate our aspiration to present high quality productions that bring audiences of different ages and genre preferences in front of the screens. We brought new top celebrities faces in our shows, fantastic new formats like Who Knew?, I Love My Country and Dancing Stars, another successful season of The Bachelor, but also Bulgarian series such as Sunny Beach and new episodes of our social project Home Makeover. The efforts of all our teams are evident and I am proud of the results. Our investments are focused on bringing new content to the main channel bTV, but also on expanding the offering with premiere titles on the niche channels. From January to the end of April 2024, we see strong 8% growth in all day (AD) viewership at bMG group level and 15% growth in primetime (PT) compared to the same period last year. For niche channels, the growth is even more impressive, with 28% in AD and 44% in PT compared to the same period last year (01-04.2024 vs 01-04.2023, source: GARB, TG 18-49, AD/PT). These results are not just numbers, but a real motivation for all of us to work even harder to prove our position as the leading media group in the market.

Announced novelties for fall 2024 include hit show The Island of the 100 Bracelets (adaptation of Million Dollar Island) and the reboot of 2009 adventure reality Run to Victory. Tell us more about those two adventure formats, is adventure reality the most-watched genre in Bulgaria? Any other new shows/series prepped for fall? Will The Voice, The Farm, MasterChef be making a return?

I have to admit that launching a completely new format is not an easy task. We want to offer the Bulgarian audience a modern reality show that has already won over audiences on several continents. bTV is a pioneer in launching successful formats and I believe we are taking another confident step in this direction. The Island of 100 Bracelets (Million Dollar Island by Talpa Studios) will be an adventure of a lifetime for many Bulgarians, beside the impressive prize we give. Together with the entertaining and loved the Run to Victory show, bTV's renewed programming schedule in 2024 will strengthen bTV's position as a proven brand for creating some of the world's best and most original reality shows. The Voice of Bulgaria was the most watched show in its time slot on Sunday nights last autumn and we are planning another great season. Our ambition is to offer viewers more variety, a palette for every taste and preference - more entertainment content, strong news and journalism, documentaries, more sports events, premieres, etc. We will soon be revealing more details and sharing some exciting news. Stay tuned.

Тhis year the Bulgarian Commission for the Protection of Competition (CPC) approved the acquisition of leading provider Bulsatcom by your main competitor United Group which operates Nova Broadcasting Group. How is this deal affecting the Bulgarian TV market which is known for its very high cable and satellite TV penetration?

We have appealed against the decision of the CPC before the Bulgarian courts which indicates that we do have concerns as to how the deal might affect the related markets and the end consumers. It is however a rule of bTV not to comment pending court procedures.

You rebranded bTV Lady into bTV Story in December 2023. The niche channel scored impressive results and a month later was the fourth most-watched net in PT. Will you make other adjustments to your portfolio of niche channels? Have you planned the launch of new niche nets for 2024?

The rebranding of bTV Story in mid-December yielded immediate results. With this strategic move the new bTV Story is in Primetime now very often the No.4 channel in the country with a remarkable triple-digit increase in both PT and AD share compared to 2023. This is a fantastic success for the whole team. We have a wide range of genres and offer our viewers hours of world premieres and top titles from Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, the UK and France. What I can say is that we are looking at all the possibilities that could be an enrichment and development of our brand portfolio and thematic content.

Continues here

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