Russia’s NTV talks maintaining quality amid Covid-19

TBI has been talking to broadcasters all over the world about how they have been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. Today, we hear from Timur Weinstein, general producer at Russia’s NTV. 

[Please note that this article has been substantially altered since original publication]

What was the immediate impact of the Coronavirus to your working routine?

We had to reinvent some of the processes due to the new measures and limitations, of course, but the schedule stayed virtually the same, and we are looking for ways to keep producing the same amount of original content. Almost half of NTV’s broadcasting schedule consists of premiere shows and films, so we’re doing our best to maintain that proportion. We understand that now more than ever, our audience needs entertainment content and quality TV shows.

At the same time, we care about our viewers’ health, that’s why we make targeted content and keep the audience informed about the current situation, encouraging them to stay home. We have changed our official logo, redesigned our websites, social media profiles and mobile apps. All our new designs are based on a stylized image of a home that reminds our audience that they have to stay home and minimize contacts with the outside world.

We are running the #сидимдома (#stayhome) campaign, featuring celebrities supporting the audience and urging them to take safety measures seriously.

The situation is being discussed on air: The Wonders of Technology show tested personal safety apparel and equipment, Amazing Stories featured a leading Russian virologist, celebrities invited to Stars Collided told how they cope with self-isolation.

Recently, we also took part in a unique campaign, organised by 17 Russian TV broadcasters united to make a video calling for their viewers to stay home and watch TV shows made by all their competitors. Healthy competition is important, but our audience’s well-being is the top priority.

How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected the kind of shows that you are looking to buy?

Since our own projects take up the majority of our schedule, the current situation had almost no effect on our content policy. Nevertheless, NTV successfully ran some adapted international formats. The Masked Singer, the Russian version of the global sensation of the same name became the most popular entertainment show on Russian TV in the last three years, with viewership share of 21.1% and rating 8.1% among the 18+ audiences.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading, we used to shoot The Masked Singer every week, but mid-way through the project when containment measures were implemented and the number of people permitted to be at the production set was limited to 50, we had to cancel the live audience. Nonetheless we managed to preserve the show’s dynamics, adding applause tracks and other effects during editing. We had to step up the production of the final episodes and shoot them as a pool so as not to put the judges, the contestants and staff at risk.

What has been the impact on any shows that you may have currently had in production or development?

None of our projects that are in production have been suspended at the moment, but we have restructured some of our operating processes to better conform to the infection containment requirements. We review the situation daily and are ready to react to new inputs if need arises. Almost all our shows are currently being shot without live audiences or with very few people not exceeding current standards. All our production processes are being run in accordance with the strictest possible sanitary and disease prevention requirements.

What kind of difficulties are you facing as a buyer being unable to meet distributors in person?

Currently all the buyers are becoming more active. Only recently, when a buyer had to be present on at least six markets each year, their representatives were often very hard to reach. Today many of them have time to spare, and we use that very successfully to broaden our potential customer base.

Have you found any unexpected benefits to this new way of working?

International sales involve constant online communications, so our negotiations have only got faster. Nowadays many important awards, festivals, screenings and competitions are switching to online platforms, making it very convenient to work with them. Inspired by our colleagues, we are already planning on holding digital screenings and using other opportunities provided by new formats.

We are working on developing new ways of interaction with both suppliers and the viewers, emphasizing that staying home is the best solution for all of us.

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