Name: Vanda Rapti
Title: VP of acquisitions, pay TV, VOD and new media, and acting VP, free TV, Nordics, MTG
Vanda Rapti buys programming for a variety of Modern Times Group channels across Europe. Here she takes TBI through the needs of the free, pay and VOD platforms operating under MTG’s Viasat broadcasting brand.
TBI: What platforms/channels do you buy for, and how do their needs differ?
VR: My prime responsibility is to buy content for 10 free TV channels, 21 factual channels for 40 countries, 14 movie channels, the online streaming service Viaplay in six countries and eight DTH satellite platforms. This means we cover pretty much all genres and types of channels and platforms in multiple territories, with very different needs.
As there’s so much great content available, especially for some genres, our focus is creating the most valuable partnerships that can best serve the content needs of our viewers and subscribers while generating best long term returns for our business. I don’t think there is another single content acquisition team in the market that buys for so many and such diverse channels, platforms and services.
TBI: How does it break down?
VR: For Sweden, Norway and Denmark, we buy for ten free-TV channels, our pay-TV factual channels, premium pay-TV Viasat Film channels, Viasat Crime, the streaming service Viaplay and our and AVOD services; our pay TV channels and Viaplay are available in Finland too.
All movies on Viasat Film, own-productions and the vast majority of the acquired content on our free-TV and pay-TV channels are also available on Viaplay. In addition, for Viaplay, we buy thousands of hours of quality of content, including exclusive premier series, box-sets, additional movies, exclusive kids’ content, as well as the very latest studio premiers for TVOD.
TBI: What about MTG’s other big business area, Eastern Europe?
VR: For Russia, Ukraine, the Baltics and the CIS, we buy content for our premium and basic movie channels as well as our factual channels. The same content is also available on our local Viaplay service in Russia and Ukraine.
TBI: How do the free and pay TV offers differ?
Our free TV channels have different target audiences. The main channels’ primetime slots are filled with commissions or live sport during high season; we mainly buy for daytime and prime access as well as marquee series for primetime. For our factual pay TV brands across the Nordics, central and eastern Europe and several African countries we’re looking for thematic content, real-history programmes for Viasat History and family nature programmes for Viasat Nature, while Viasat Explore explores the new and unusual from the latest scientific breakthroughs to the everyday lives of the engaging characters. We also have Viasat Crime, which features acquired crime series in the Nordics and real crime shows in Africa. All in all MTG has over 110 channels available in over 140 countries.
TBI: Should producers and distributors be seeking out acquisitions people at a local level or is buying handled centrally? Who are the key buyers within your team?
VR: All of our acquisitions are done centrally from London. The key buyers in my team are George Gioudas, head of VOD acquisitions; and Vicky Watts and Samantha Middleton who buy for SVOD, TVOD and AVOD. Seniha Tunaboylu heads factual acquisitions, and her and her team also do acquisitions for our Viasat Nature, Viasat History, Viasat Explore, Viasat Crime and TV1000 Balkans.
Ilona Berzina and her assistant buys for our Russian and CIS movie channels that are available in Ukraine and the Baltics. Gayle Higginbotham, Philippe D’Imperio, Cherie Cameron and Juliane Miersch for free TV in Scandinavia and Alex Elliot are the buyers for Viasat Film.
TBI: What’s the commissioning cycle – are there times of year you are focused on ordering original series?
VR: There is no set pattern for us – we commission when we have something strong that we love.
TBI: Do you commission on a pan-regional basis or is original programming country-specific?
Original programming is commissioned locally. There are also formats that we produce for more than one country, in which case we try to share production costs and resources. Examples of this are Paradise Hotel or Release The Hounds. The latter was produced in Lithuania by the MTG production companies Strix and Paprika Latino for TV3 in Denmark, TV3 in Sweden and TV3 in Lithuania.
TBI: How about acquisitions, are they local or pan-territory?
VR: The vast majority of our content acquisitions are one way or another pan-territorial, whether for two, three or 30-plus countries. However, we also buy programmes for one country; especially for our free TV channels or Viaplay. But even deals where we acquire a show for one territory are likely to include one or more shows for other territories too, so if we buy one show for free TV Sweden or Viasat Explore, we may in the same deal buy a programme for free TV in Denmark, Viaplay or Czech free TV.
TBI: Which studios do you have output/multiyear deals with – what have been the notable successes from these deals in recent times? What did you pick up from 2014 year’s LA Screenings and are there any other US shows interesting you?
VR: We have volume deals with Sony Pictures Television, NBCUniversal International, Walt Disney, Warner Bros. and Twentieth Century Fox. With most distributors we have multiple volume deals – usually negotiated at the same time – that cover free TV, pay TV, SVOD and TVOD in the Nordics as well as Russia/CIS and/or a number of our CEE territories.
With SPT we have had an amazing partnership for content in the Nordics that includes premiers such as The Blacklist, Battle Creek, Mozart in the Jungle, Marry Me, Outlander and Transparent – the latter five came from the 2014 LA Screenings. All series premiered on Viaplay, where they have much more impact than on our free TV channels. The deal is great because of the flexibility where to show the content.
Disney is also one of our great partners in the Nordics. Beside the movie output deal on Viaplay, we also have the very successful Disney Movies on-Demand service and other kids content, as well as series from the ABC Studios subscription on-demand service.
TBI: What are you really looking for at the moment, is there a genre or specific type of programme you have on your ‘shopping list’ or are there particular programming slots you are very focused on?
VR: We look for best content and best possible deals. As there is so much good content we focus on the greatest possible partnerships that provide us with the best and most suitable content long-term, with financial models that allow for growth and further investments, as well as the required new media rights and flexibilities to place the content across various platforms, free or pay TV channels or online services as we see fit.
We would not just buy ‘good content’ from a distributor who insists on deal terms that do not make sense for our business. MTG’s large portfolio of channels and services across multiple territories make us a uniquely attractive partner for content distributors. Not only because we can acquire multiple rights for a great range and volume of programmes but also because we can show the programme on the service that will guarantee the greatest exposure.
TBI: Which of the programming markets do you find the most productive?
TBI: What is the single most successful acquired show across your channels?
VR: The Blacklist, though our most watched acquisitions on free TV tend to be movies.
TBI: What acquired shows will you launch in the next few weeks/months?
VR: Viaplay will premiere Powers, the adaptation of the Powers comic book series in cooperation with Playstation on March 20. Viasat Explore is premiering the second series of Timber King, while Viasat Nature has Paul O’Grady’s For the Love of Dogs and Viasat History will premiere Coliseum and The Whole Story.
For free TV there are too many to mention, but selected highlights would include the following. Free TV Denmark will premiere Restaurant Start-up, State of Affairs, NCIS season 12, Storage Wars: New York, Battle Creek and Backstrom. Free TV Norway will premiere Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, Odyssey, Backstrom and The Red Tent. Free TV Sweden will premiere Marry Me, Battle Creek, Mozart in the Jungle, Death in Paradise, Bones season 10 and NCIS season 12.
TBI: What should distributors know about your channels before pitching content?
VR: They should understand the needs of a channel and what works for its audiences. We have a buyer’s brief for each channel that they can look at.
TBI: What types of on-demand rights do you require?
All of them – catch up, AVOD, SVOD and TVOD – depending on the content.
TBI: What sorts of windows are you buying for?
VR: We buy for every window. And we mix and match.
TBI: What are the key challenge facing buyers in today’s market?
VR: More players mean more competition, which is positive and helps growth. Some competitors who in a rush to secure more content inflate the market with unsustainable prices, however, cause a challenge.
The good news is, in our main markets we are the only market entrant who can provide exposure on free TV, pay TV, AVOD, SVOD, and TVOD as well as linear channel carriage on our satellite platforms in the Nordics, the Baltics and Ukraine.
For most buyers the challenge is adapting to the new TV world, making sure they buy all ‘new media’ rights necessary not only for their current, but also future, needs. This is not a problem for MTG as we been future proofing the new media and VOD rights we have negotiated for over a decade.