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Silvia Majeská: Viewers want good stories and Nova has plenty to offer

Central European Media Enterprises (CME)

26/3/2024 | 15 minutes to read

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In early February, TV Nova celebrated 30 years of broadcasting. To mark this milestone, we spoke to Nova’s programming director, Silvia Majeská, who also manages programming at Slovakia’s Markíza. During our interview, we delved into the potential for integrating these two TV entities, explored what appeals to Czech and Slovak audiences, and discussed her vision for Nova’s future.

Nova just celebrated 30 years of broadcasting, how would you rate its history so far?
That’s a question that comes up a lot here. It’s something I’ve had to think about – how someone like myself, who’s only been here for relatively few of those 30 years, and came here from another country at that, could even begin to form a judgment on this.

But maybe that actually makes it easier to judge, because you’ve been on the outside looking in.
Maybe. But then again, I might also be biased, because it really is an honour for me to work for Nova. I think it’s fantastic that Nova launched a TV station that people watched back then and are still watching now, 30 years later. For me, that’s a truly amazing achievement, and it’s mainly thanks to our viewers, who’ve stayed loyal to us and continue to tune in. They give us the energy and the desire to keep bringing them more and more of the content they enjoy. There’s also a huge sense of humility that comes with all this, because as a television station we’ve got quite a history behind us.

Were you excited about Nova’s 30th birthday celebrations?
It’s been strange in a way, because we basically started gearing up for them a year back. The celebrations are organised into different stages, with programming, marketing and communications all involved together, and we’ll also be going out to meet our audience directly. It’s all very complicated to orchestrate, but of course it’s also a great experience. Hitting the 30-year mark is pretty special, a bit like stepping into adulthood. Actually, when I think about that, it fills me with hope – if we’ve navigated these past 30 years successfully, surely we’ll make it through the next 30 years too. Nova still has plenty to offer.

How do you see things thirty years from now?
The world is evolving rapidly, especially in areas like digital transformation and technology, which are currently reshaping the whole landscape and forging new opportunities. So, of course, the way viewers engage with content is also changing, and we’re seeing this particularly with younger demographics. I think video content consumption is going to keep on growing, and it’s only going to fragment in terms of how viewers watch their favourite programmes. Everything’s going to get more tailored to individual experiences and personalisation. But I think compelling, high-quality storytelling is always going to resonate here.

When Nova started broadcasting back in the day, it ushered in a kind of market revolution, redefining the type of line-up on offer and the way the news was presented. Over those 30 years, it’s shown it can consistently keep up with the latest trends, and that’s probably what we’ve been focusing on most of all lately. Getting ready for the challenges of the future, and finding ways to keep bringing our audiences stories they enjoy watching and know we will deliver.

What are those challenges of the future? Where do you get your inspiration from? Because in the last two or three years Nova has expanded into even more new channels, and you’ve started making your own shows… Where does it all go from here? Have you plateaued yet
We’re definitely not at the limit of our capabilities, and of course our enthusiasm knows no bounds (laughs). I’d say we’re passionate about what we do. At Nova you work with a team of people who really want to deliver content that viewers enjoy, so we’re united by a common desire to keep pushing the envelope somehow.

Of course, much of our inspiration comes from abroad, which hints at what we can expect to see here too. Video content consumption is growing worldwide, along with demand for high-quality video. At Nova, we’ve assembled one of the biggest creative teams for scripted live-action programming, our production team is really strong, and we’ve greatly expanded the number of projects we produce. We reckon we’re ready for the future.

The Czech and Slovak markets are small, and surveys indicate that viewers spend longer looking for something to watch on TV than they actually spend watching. Aren’t you worried about overwhelming your audience?
No, because that’s exactly where we think our edge is – our ability to create the types of shows and projects that people are looking for and watch en masse, whether that means linear TV or on Voyo. People want to watch things they enjoy, and that’s not going to change. So content overload on platforms actually works in favour of linear television, because this is where you’ll find curated content tailored to specific viewers of your station at particular times of the day, fitting into the daily cycle of their lives.

How have you adapted to delayed viewing? Or do viewers still sit down at around eight o’clock to watch TV?
Thankfully, that’s still the case. Of course, the share of delayed viewing is on the rise, but linear viewing still holds sway when you look at the 24-hour window. There’s no comparison between the proportions of viewers – the vast majority tune into a programme within the first 24 hours, with only a few more per cent added to that in delayed viewing, but there’s no sign of it tipping over any time soon. There’s a kind of natural time for watching content: I wait for a new episode because I want to know what’s going to happen next.

Or I can wait and watch maybe two or three episodes at a time.
Right, and again that’s the advantage of the modern mode of content distribution. There’s the option of binging on a whole series packaged together, so viewers can watch it even if they don’t have the patience to wait from week to week.

Which of your stations has the biggest audience? Is it still the main Nova station?
Absolutely. Nova is the most watched station in the Czech Republic among the working-age population, so we’re talking the 15- to 54-year-old demographic, and naturally that also comes with a lot of responsibility. Today, when everyone is focused on their individual requirements and personalised consumption, it’s not easy to create a line-up that resonates with a mass audience.

Tell me, what does a programming director actually do?
That’s a question I get a lot (laughs). I still haven’t been able to come up with a simple answer to that. Plan the programming? (laughs)

Do they just approve the scripts or do they come up with programming ideas themselves?
A programming director actually develops the programming strategy. What that means is that they’re responsible for designing the programming for each day of the week and for key time slots, i.e. deciding what content and which types of programmes will be broadcast on what day at what time. Then there’s some more detailed work to do. Each time slot has its own specific parameters and particular focus. In these areas, I work closely with the development and production departments to make sure the programmes we need are available. A programming director is also in charge of shaping the channel portfolio, i.e. which stations are in the portfolio, who they’re aimed at, what programming they offer, and what their programming concept is…

 As far as scripts go, of course a programming director is also involved in vetting projects, especially those that have long been in the pipeline, because it’s very important to get the tone right there. All projects are prepared and scheduled for production with some idea about where they will be used. We know what kind of viewer we want to reach, and that’s a crucial factor.

If you really like a particular programme, do you push it through even if others are against it?
I really welcome teamwork. Basically, no one in the world can give you a cast‑iron guarantee that a programme’s going to be a success, because there are just so many factors at play. That’s why it’s vital to truly function as a team, and work with people who bring experience and genuine insights to the table. It’s essential to have a kind of process where you share your perspective with them and get their input on it. Then we know that as a team we’ve reached the best possible solution we can bring to viewers.

Sure, there are some things I’m confident about, but it’s not as simple as me waking up in the morning and saying to myself “I want to put this on the air”, and the next thing it’s playing on TV.

You broadcast a few series in both Czech and Slovak versions (for example Zlatá labuť (Golden Swan, in Czech), which is called Dunaj (Danube, in Slovak). But Markíza over in Slovakia is currently airing the Czech version of Specialisté (The Specialists). Have you ever considered putting on a Slovak series in Slovak on Nova?
That’s a very good question. It’s only fairly recently that Markíza started broadcasting Czech crime series in Slovakia. This hadn’t been done before, but a while ago we took a leap of faith and decided to try out Policie Modrava (Modrava Police Department) in particular, because it’s one of the most successful shows on Nova. The response from Slovak viewers was overwhelmingly positive, prompting us to expand the range of Nova’s crime series that are available on Markíza. Now that Markíza has launched the Krimi channel in Slovakia, this has paved the way for further collaboration in this genre.

As for content swapping in the opposite direction, Nova has already aired the Slovak series Utajený šéf(Undercover Boss) for example, and if we look at the smaller channels, Nova Fun is showing Súsedia(Neighbours), while Nova Lady has Oteckovia (The Dads). So we are trying to incorporate Slovak content into our programming. Virtually no detective series are produced in Slovakia, because this genre has long been out in the cold there. We had some success with a Slovak adaptation of the Czech series Případy mimořádné Marty (The Cases of Extraordinary Marta), which we repackaged as Výnimočná Nikol(Extraordinary Nikol) for Slovakia. That was actually the first time in a long while that we had success of any note with a crime series.

Are Czech and Slovak audiences the same? Or are they different in some ways?
Of course they’re different. That’s like you asking me if Czechs and Slovaks are the same. They’re not. Every nationality has its own particular characteristics, demands and preferences, and programming has to reflect that. If they were the same, then we’d probably be broadcasting the same programmes. As markets, though, they’re not so very different. We do share some similarities, mainly because of our common history, I suppose.

You mentioned that crime shows are more popular in the Czech Republic, and didn’t really catch on in Slovakia.
Yes, I’ve often said that stories with strong emotions tend to work better in Slovakia, and that became our go-to explanation for why crime genres failed to deliver for a long time in Slovakia. Slovak viewers didn’t care much for shows where they had to solve a mystery and figure out the answer. What they needed was to cry, to fall in love. They were simply looking for something else, and I think that’s still true to some extent. We see this on Voyo, too, which offers a lot of Czech and Slovak content, some of which is shared between them. It’s actually brilliant that we can offer people the chance to watch the offerings of both Markíza and Nova if they’re interested.

Are there any differences in viewership during the week and at the weekend?
Yes, the audience size varies. I’d say it fairly naturally mirrors the cycle of the week and traditional habits. Our largest Czech TV audience is on Sunday ­- the evening especially, but Sunday is a strong day overall. In terms of prime‑time viewing, the second biggest day is Monday.

And viewership remains highest between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.?
Yes, the biggest audiences have always been around 8.50 p.m., in what we call the first prime time slot, which starts at 8.20. That’s when you’ll have most viewers in front of the screen. Then as soon as that ends, you’ve got your second prime time coming in at about 9.30.

So you get to work in the morning and pore over the viewing figures?
That’s right. Every morning the previous day’s viewing figures come in, and of course these are then updated with the delayed viewing numbers, so we see how viewing figures have evolved for that day and for each programme. We look at the whole day, all the programmes, and all the stations. We can see what viewers were watching, and, if they happened to stop watching that, where they went to next. That’s a crucial thing for us to keep track of – whether they like or don’t like something, whether they’re happy with our content, and whether the way we’ve scheduled it fits in with their day. That serves as a basis if we decide to make changes.

Have you always worked in television? Did you ever give radio a go, for example?
No, I actually went straight into TV pretty soon after university. It’s always been my dream job, so I’ve never even thought about looking elsewhere. And I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve always been given some kind of opportunity to move up in the company and learn something new, which is something I love doing.

You once said that during your MTV internship you worked in two departments at once
That’s true. The departments in question were on the look-out for students, so I said I’d take both positions and we’d see how it worked out in practice. It gave me more of a chance to find my feet and learn things, and that was actually my first encounter with the TV business. I was fortunate to have an amazing boss, who showed me how acquisitions are done, how the programming structure works, and because they were just launching a new channel I got the chance to see everything that was involved. These are things you can’t normally learn about very easily. It’s incredibly lucky for an outsider to get any kind of internship in one of those departments and discover how it all works. That was really a springboard for me.

Is there anything you’re looking forward to right now, a new series maybe?
I always get excited about new launches, it’s my twice yearly adrenaline rush. Whenever a new season starts, I’m always tingling with anticipation about how it’s going to turn out. After that comes a period where we reflect on what we’ve learned, and then we’re back to preparing for the next season.

But you also have some perennial fixtures in your line-up, like the series Ulice (The Street), which has been on the air for 20 years now and still has decent ratings.
We’re actually aiming for a generational shift in our Ulice audience, so the show can keep on attracting younger viewers. Ulice is a beautiful example of how multi-generational viewing can work by having multi-generational characters and a really diverse set of stories. We’ve got a very experienced team working to make sure the characters and stories resonate with real people and the things they encounter in their lives. The series is planned well in advance, with preparations made for specific days, weeks and months, so that it accurately mirrors the needs and moods that people are experiencing. We’re incredibly proud of Ulice as one of Nova’s flagships.

Another series like that is Ordinace v růžové zahradě (Rose Garden Clinic), which incited a viewer “revolt” when you wanted to cancel it in 2021.
We didn’t want to cancel it entirely. We pulled it off the main channel and moved it to Voyo. We’re really happy that Ordinace is continuing, because it’s very popular on Voyo and it’s still drawing in new viewers, which is fantastic. It’s produced by a very capable and experienced team.

You’re in the TV business all day. Do you still watch television when you get home? Are you able to watch it purely as a viewer?
I don’t watch TV when I get home because I have young children, so they’re my first priority. But I love watching TV programmes of all kinds, wherever I am. I’ve loved it since I was little, so landing a job in television has been a dream come true. And as to watching TV at home and whether I can just be a viewer? Sure, at the end of the day, some personal feelings and sympathies will always be involved in what you watch, but there’s definitely an aspect where you become conditioned by your job too. I do also enjoy just watching to wind down, though.

Do you prefer detective stories or something else entirely?
It depends. When I’m watching with my husband, then yes, we tend to lean towards adventure series, or, as you say, detective series. When I watch on my own, though, I prefer content that’s typically female-focused and more relaxing.

Seeing as you have young children, are you planning to add a kids channel?
We don’t have a kids channel in the Nova Group, but we do have a wonderful children’s section on Voyo, which is full of all your favourite fairy tales to enjoy in your local language. That makes Voyo a nice and convenient environment both for kids and mums alike, because they can watch wherever and whenever they want, and the content is available ad-free.

You’re continuously on the go, what do you do to relax?
My favourite way to unwind is to spend time with my family, doing things kids their age can enjoy. I don’t mind being constantly on the go. I always try to keep in mind how lucky I am in my life to have healthy children and do a job I enjoy and find rewarding. I try to focus on being grateful for all of that.

Author: Jitka Venturová

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