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Poland's ATM banks on Muszyński's ambitious plans

Under Andrzej Muszyński’s stewardship, publicly listed ATM Grupa is already a leading Polish prodco of scripted content, but the CEO has his sights set higher still.

When ATM Grupa launched on the Warsaw Stock Exchange in 2004, the production company was largely focused on services and adapting foreign formats for the Polish market.

Andrzej Muszyński

Two decades later, and it’s a very different story; ATM Grupa, now the largest independent production company in Poland, is not only producing hundreds of hours of new programming a year for Polish channels, but is being commissioned to produce premium shows for the likes of Netflix.

The person leading this shift is Andrzej Muszyński, who was appointed CEO of ATM Grupa 15 years ago.

“When I joined, ATM was already established as a solid company,” says the corporate exec who was once director of advertising at Polish commercial broadcaster Polsat and had held two previous CEO positions before taking over at ATM.

“My main goal at the beginning, was to start creating original programmes,” explains Muszyński, who says the prodco now produces “about 700 hours” of new programming annually.

“I would say two thirds of that is for free-to-air TV, and probably a third of this is premium – and, by premium, I mean we have been working over the past years with Fox, History Channel, Canal+ Discovery, HBO, Netflix, Sony, CBS and Viaplay. I believe we are the trusted partner for all SVoD platforms.”

When he took over, Muszyńsk identified scripted content as the big focus for growth for the company, he says. Now about 85% of ATM’s output is scripted, ranging from the daily soap First Love, which has been airing on Polsat for almost 20 years, to the more recent Netflix six-part series The Woods, adapted from the novel by best-selling thriller writer Harlan Coben.

ATM’s first premium TV drama hit was The Pack (photo credit ATM Grupa)

But ATM’s first premium TV drama hit was in fact The Border, aka The Pack (Wataha), which launched a decade ago on HBO Europe and was the service’s most watched show of 2014. The thriller about border guards working on the Ukranian and Polish frontier was only supposed to run for one season, but was extended to another two, and also sold well internationally, according to Muszyński.

“It‘s a wonderful series. It’s travelled well too. It came to the UK and was on Channel 4 on Walter Presents, and is now available in the US and many European countries on Amazon Prime,” he says.

But what Muszyński is really thrilled by right now is Absolute Beginners, an original story developed by ATM that launched as a six-part series on Netflix in October 2023.

“We are very, very happy, with the reception to Absolute Beginners. The show has already been nominated for three important awards in Poland [including the Polskie Orly, Poland’s version of the BAFTAs]. It’s amazing,” comments Muszyński.

A coming-of-age drama set by the Polish seaside, Absolute Beginners is co-created by Kamila Tarabura and Nina Lewandowska and is directed by Tarabura and Katarzyna Warzecha.

Describing Tarabura as “very talented,” Muszyński says the young writer and director is attached to another ATM project, this time a feature film starring Dagmara Dominiczyk (The Count of Monte Cristo, Succession) entitled The Travel Essentials. Based on a true story about two women who each must confront their past when they return to their birthplace, the €1.3m film is coproduced with Germany’s Riva Filmproduktion and has completed post-production.

ATM’s first international coproduction, The Travel Essentials (photo credit ATM Grupa)

The Travel Essentials marks ATM’s first international coproduction as a majority partner and Muszyński says, aside from the business driver (the film has benefited from local film incentives), there’s a strategic imperative to making it.

“Premium content is our goal. We want to be better established in this area. But you cannot do it without the talent. And, let’s say, in the world of talent, it is very important that they do not only make money [out of the projects], but that they also satisfy their needs, their ambitions. They need the red carpets. They need statuettes. And, if we want to be a player in this area, we must address these needs,” he says, adding, “we are looking to enter The Travel Essentials into one of the prestigious film festivals this year.”

When it comes to talent, ATM is not only focused on bolstering it within the scripted genre. The company has been developing its non-scripted division in recent years. This follows what Muszyński describes as “a major breakthrough” a few years ago when it negotiated a programming output deal with the then Canal+ Discovery in Poland. The deal spawned a range of ATM series such as For Yourself & the World, Success Without Borders and Comics: The Superhero of Communist Poland.

Noting that documentaries in the form of series is a relatively new trend in Poland, Muszyński says the deal also enabled ATM to get “very good at them.” A current example of its expertise in the genre is The Hunt for Baltic Gold, commissioned for its fifth season last year for History Channel.

Daily soap First Love has been airing on Polsat for 10 years (photo credit ATM Grupa)

ATM’s move into factual was cemented in 2021, when the company appointed its first director of formats and non-fiction programmes, Katarzyna Burzawa, after she successfully re-introduced the gameshow format Wheel of Fortune to Poland. The division was further bolstered, last October, when ATM announced it had hired two new non-scripted producers – Anna Aniolkowska-Bisaga and Joanna Rybicka – to the team and Muszyński says “fingers crossed, we are about to sign a deal for an original format that is a mixture of reality and stand-up comedy.”

The company, meanwhile, is developing three new documentary series, the most advanced of which is about Polish wrestlers. Further down the line, ATM hopes to make a biopic of the controversial filmmaker Roman Polanski, and a three-parter about the popular Polish singer-songwriter Olga Aleksandra Sipowicz, also known as Kora, who died of ovarian cancer in 2018.

“Diversify is probably one of my favourite words,” says Muszyński. “I wanted to make sure that we explored every possibility to grow the business.”

Muszyński’s focus on diversifying ATM’s output is, in part, to absorb the shocks any production company faces, such as was played out last year when embattled Scandinavian streamer Viaplay exited the Polish market.

“Over the past 12 months we have had to adapt to the new situation with Viaplay,” explains the CEO. “We had a couple of projects in discussion with them.” One of these was Black Dog, which has now returned to ATM, after “Viaplay’s option expired” on the project, according to Muszyński.

Closer to home, though, ATM has also been impacted by the changes that came about at Polish public broadcaster TVP, when the nationalist and populist Law & Justice party came to power in the country in 2015. According to Muszyński this led to several shows that it was contracted to produce for TVP to be taken in-house.

Following the formation of a new coalition government led by prime minister Donald Tusk, TVP has gone into “liquidation,” but Muszyński is hopeful of more clarity and calmer waters ahead once the broadcaster completes its restructure.

“We have had initial talks [with TVP],” he confirms, adding “the government is working on different solutions.”

Looking ahead, Muszyński has got his sights set firmly on the international market: “Our goal for the next 12 months is to add at least one or maybe two SVoD platforms as new clients,” he says.

“Then we want to make it into a major festival, with our new international coproduction art house movie The Travel Essentials. Then, we have a second project along the same lines in development that will be an international coproduction, probably with more than one country and with a star attached to this project. That star will be a British star. That’s the ambition.”