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Making waves

Polish pay-TV broadcaster Polcast Television has two new channels to fill, one being a documentary net about water, writes Michael Pickard.

Piotr Borys

Piotr Borys

Polcast Television took advantage of some gaps in the Polish pay-TV market in May and launched two new channels to expand its portfolio beyond flagship Tele5 and Polonia1.

The first is Water Planet, a documentary channel airing content with a marine theme, while Novela TV airs telenovelas around the clock. “We felt we could diversify our portfolio,” says Piotr Borys, programming director for Tele5 and Polonia1 and who has now assumed responsibility for the two new stablemates.

“Both Tele5 and Polonia1 have potential to grow, although not very quickly. We saw two niches in the market and thought ‘Why not?’ We have had a lot of interest. We are still in the initial phase, talking to distributors and cable and satellite platforms, but it’s been very positive.”

For Borys, the group of four channels present very different acquisition conundrums, with each offering distinct content themes. Male-skewing Tele5 airs daytime docs on subjects such as construction and engineering. A daily movie slot at 20.00 is often filled by action, crime, thriller and disaster features, while the same themes run through its series acquisitions.

Shark Attack Survival Guide

Shark Attack Survival Guide

The network recently signed a deal with Sony Pictures Television that will see it air series such as The Big C and movies including Arlington Road, Last Action Hero, The Cable Guy and Hook. In contrast, Polonia1 is a female-orientated network carrying lifestyle programming, docs, series and movies. Titles include Eat Yourself Sexy and I Want My Mummy.

On Water Planet, single docs air alongside thematic blocks based on subjects such as jobs or history that are linked to water. It has recently acquired a slate of shows from Discovery Channel, such as HMS Ark Royal, Shark Attack Survival Guide, Into the Shark Bite and Killer Whales.

Novela TV predominantly carries content from Latin America, and a recent deal with Miami’s Telemundo Internacional has secured rights to La Reina del Sur (The Queen of the South) and La Casa de al Lado (Behind Closed Doors).

Borys explains Polcast’s content strategy in terms of acquisitions, in-house production and local commissions. “We acquire a lot from the international market, from US studios, UK distributors and all independent studios,” he says. “We are looking mainly for movies and series. One year ago we were not looking for docs for Tele5 and now we are, which means we are working with channels like National Geographic.”

However, Polish law dictates that domestic channels must fill at least half of their airtime with European productions. “We are always just around 50%,” says Borys, adding that as start-ups, Water Planet and Novela TV have a period of exemption from this rule. “We have a lot of US content so we must balance it with European content. We have to observe the quota very carefully to make sure we have the right numbers at the end of the year. For Tele5, US content works pretty well. We have a lot of contact with US distributors. With European content, it’s normally more expensive.”

While locally produced scripted series work well, smaller Polish networks are often priced out of the market. “Each of the main channels has its daily soaps and telenovelas but the networks cannot afford them or can produce only one series a year. It’s very expensive. We were thinking about coproduction but decided it would not be profitable.”

As for acquisitions, Borys outlines very different shopping lists for each channel, though they do all have one thing in common: programmes must be in HD.

Tele5 is after series and movies from around the world, while Polonia1 is seeking some light entertainment for its autumn schedule. Novela TV wants to end the dominance of Latin American novelas on its schedule with some European pick-ups, while it is also looking to vary the subjects of its series, from youth-skewing to classic stories.

Borys adds that Water Planet needs traditional docs about water from distributors ranging from big studios to independent shops. “We don’t have anything like reality TV,” he says. “It’s a serious channel with serious documentaries.”

Shiny-floor entertainment shows do not appeal, as these are the products of Poland’s terrestrial channels. “Polish versions of big international shows like Idol, The Voice and Got Talent are very popular,” Borys notes. “They are reserved for big channels because they are expensive. But it’s OK for us because not everybody likes these talent shows and they know at 20.00 they can always watch a good movie on Tele5.”

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