C21 Media article on Mongol TV 5 December 2012

 

Mongol TV is poised to shake up the country’s programming and TV viewing habits in 2013. Gün Akyuz reports.

 

In the largest business venture for The Format People (TFP) to date, Michel Rodrigue, veteran TV industry exec and CEO of TFP, with a team of colleagues and partners, has set about revolutionising Mongol TV’s programming and infrastructure.

The three-year, multimillion-dollar project also looks set to trigger wider radical changes in Mongolia’s already cluttered television landscape. The country is home to 16 national broadcast licences, pan-Asian satellite TV and five cable networks in the capital Ulaanbataar alone, all serving a population of three million.

“My mandate from the owners is to revolutionise Mongolian television – nothing less,” says Rodrigue, whose team includes TFP partner and CCO Justin Scroggie, with expertise from Paul Jackson and technical and branding experts from Montreal, among others.

First launched in September 2009 by a group of former state television engineers, Mongol TV was sold on to its current private owners, now headed by the channel’s CEO, Nomin Chinbat.

Her aim to turn the channel into the country’s number one network led to Rodrigue and TFP coming onboard, with the current project in place by September 2011. Its first fruits will be unveiled in a new programming grid in early 2013, featuring local productions, localised formats and a raft of new acquisitions.

As it stands, Mongol TV’s programming is not very different to that of its rivals. Late-night South Korean dramas are currently the hottest thing, Rodrigue notes, and talkshows are also prevalent. “They’re simple and easy to produce, and they form the majority of programming on Mongolian TV,” he says.

What currently distinguishes Mongol TV from its rivals, he says, is its higher quality signal, which gives viewers a clear image when they switch over. The channel is also Mongolia’s first HD network.

“Just in scheduling terms it will be a revolution, for sure,” says Rodrigue. “I intend to change that and make it a more Western programming grid. But we’ve had to build new infrastructures to get there.

“Mongol TV are spending a lot of money to modernise their installations and train people. One of the most important aspects, which will lead to success, will be training people. There’s no tradition of producing TV.”

Alongside building a skillset for new local programming and a rebrand, the TV station’s new infrastructure includes two new live production studios and a state-of-the-art outside broadcast truck for live programming. “Our first goal is to have all the equipment capable of live programming,” says Rodrigue. “This is very important, and will be key to retaining viewership.”

Another central mission of its owners is to establish an independent, unbiased news presence. “We built a new studio and set for that. They want to be THE station for unbiased news,” says Rodrigue, referencing the country’s prevailing post-Soviet legacy of propaganda-driven news reporting.

As well as spreading news across the day, Rodrigue hopes to stir things up a little in primetime, in particular by moving the main evening news to a new, as yet undisclosed, slot. He says he’d like it to attract the same kind of furore that surrounded the UK’s BBC1 when it moved its flagship 21.00 news to 22.00 in the 1990s.

Although Mongolian television is largely ad-funded, the country has no audience measurement panel – another greenfield site Mongol TV intends to build on. “We’re working on that right now, and we want to be the network to lead the way to bringing some kind of measurement system. We’re currently talking to big international companies to launch such a service,” says Rodrigue.

Despite the absence of audience ratings and, hence, spot rates, ad revenue flows in because Ulanbataar is booming economically. According to the World Bank, Mongolia was one of the world’s fastest growing economies in 2011, with 17.3% growth in GDP. Mongolians’ lifestyles are also evolving, as shown by the rate of housing construction in Ulanbataar, says Rodrigue, and people will eventually start moving from the nomadic gers (or yurts, still inhabited by around half of the population, including a ger district in the capital) to their own apartments, although such habits won’t change overnight.

“Because of this, people who are setting up business need to be seen and known, so they come to the TV stations to buy TV ads,” says Rodrigue, pointing to another area requiring change. “As soon as the new programming goes on air, we’ll have to start packaging and selling ads around shows differently.

“For now, all we know is that primetime is more valuable than daytime, that people are more available from around 18.30, they’re interested in the news, that if they watch the news, they may watch the show after that. We have to think of sales and revenue when the grid and schedule is up. That’s the next big challenge.”

Other areas Mongol TV intends to shake up are illegal format copying and programme pirating. “There are attempts from other channels to do formats,” says Rodrigue, “but they don’t buy the format, just copy it.” The same happens to finished third-party shows. “No-one buys programming: they copy and air blockbuster movies as soon as the DVD is out, and they don’t pay for the licences.

“Mongol TV’s CEO Nomin Chinbat is really determined to change the mould, revolutionise the business and challenge the other broadcasters to walk straight and buy rather than copy and pirate programming. She’s now in the process of trying to establish a broadcasters’ trade association of sorts to share the costs of a measurement system and establish some ground rules for the TV business in Mongolia.”

The experience gained from TFP’s venture with Mongol TV has already generated approaches from parties interested in launching TV channels in other emerging markets, such as Angola and Vietnam, says Rodrigue.

“For the last 18 years I’ve been saying that my business is all about the transference of expertise. Everything we do in this market, we learn and hope to be able to format somewhere else,” he says.

Original production, factual

Alongside its new newscasts, Mongol TV will be launching the country’s first daily morning show, Unuu Ugluu (This Morning), as part of the new programming grid arriving in early 2013. Created for the channel, and spearheading its local production strategy, the live three-hour show will air six days a week. “We’ve been hiring people and training them to produce it,” says Rodrigue.

A useful precursor and training ground for the production team was channel’s new daily live afternoon talkshow Naashaa Tsaashaa (Here and There), which hit the airwaves in October. Shot from inside a ger, the one-hour show, airing at 15.00 Monday to Friday, ran for two months up to the end of November.

Programme budgets reflect Mongolian living standards. “We use the programming grids of the West and apply the salaries of Mongolia (roughly one 10th of Western levels),” says Rodrigue.

Acquisitions, drama

Mongol TV has now acquired over 1,000 hours of foreign fare (all dubbed), which is also being given prominence. “We’re revamping primetime totally,” says Rodrigue. “I’m going to use a lot of counter-programming. We’ve bought a lot of US blockbuster series, like The Good Wife, Hawaii Five-O and Homeland, for primetime.” The new line-up also includes the newly acquired UK period drama Downton Abbey.

Mongolians generally don’t have TV recording devices and programming choices tend to reflect that. Shows are usually stripped daily across the week, says Rodrigue, such as slower-moving Asian telenovelas, largely from China and Korea. “But in my opinion, it’s a false appointment for the viewers, which forces people to be there every night.”

According to Rodrigue, the US primetime fare now lined up for Mongol TV’s new primetime will stand out. “US drama is very different. If you miss an episode, you miss something. With US shows, we want to create specific rendez-vous on specific days,” he explains.

“But the biggest challenge as a scheduler is the lack of audience ratings,” he continues. “I don’t know who’s out there, so I have to create habits from what I know, such as stripped shows. So we strip shows for a while, before moving to a weekly slot.” This autumn, for instance, the channel stripped Hawaii Five-O daily at 20.30 to get viewers used to the slot as a drama rendez-vous.

Kids

Mongolia’s youthful population is also shaping Mongol TV’s content strategy. 65% of its three million citizens are under the age of 30 and 35% under 14, and around 1.5 million live in and around Ulanbataar. They are also increasingly urban, aspirational, and ultra mobile-connected population.

Thanks to a lack of fixed telephony lines in Mongolia, their first phones were cellphones, says Rodrigue. “They love their technology, their games, iPhones and tablets. Even though they don’t have that much money, they can get cheap smartphones from China, so they’re actually very high tech.”

Backed by research, Rodrigue says Mongol TV believes it needs to provide a lot of kids’ shows. “The new schedule will be kids-heavy. Except for our morning show, we’ll use a lot of kids’ shows in daytime, because we think that’s how we’ll attract the rest of the family,” he says. This includes cartoons for younger kids acquired from a range of sources, including ABC in Australia and Canada’s Cookie Jar.

Formats, entertainment

The channel is equally keen to produce local shows to attract younger viewers. Its first locally adapted format is the Belgian youth action gameshow Go 4 from Sultan Sushi, picked up from Red Arrow International. Locally titled 4vs4, the show will be part of the channel’s new programming line-up in early 2013.

Although Mongol TV’s new daily morning and afternoon shows were devised specifically for the channel, Rodrigue says it will be prospecting for more international formats. “We’re producing a format [4vs4] right now, and will be producing new shows created and made in Mongolia next year.”

With factual entertainment much cheaper and easier to produce, Rodrigue says it’s an area that could be interesting to the channel. “However, I’m guessing that our youthful population would much rather have entertainment programming. And it needs to be accessible to families and youth. That’s really the centre of our world,” he says.

Rodrigue says the channel has what it needs in the grid up to next summer, and will be waiting to gauge viewer reaction is before making further big programming decisions. However, 2013!s MipTV and the LA Screenings will be the next big pitstops for new formats and dramas. “By MipTV we’ll have a much more interesting view of the market in general,” he says.

More immediately, Rodrigue says he has identified a few as-yet undisclosed formats it wants produce. “We hope to close a couple of format deals at Asia Television Forum,” he says. “Given our budget, we’ll pick one or two. I have two in mind right now, but if something else interesting comes up we may look at a couple more.

“We’ll limit it to that for the time being. We want to be prudent and make sure that what we produce works, that it’s well produced, and our newly trained personnel are up to it.”

In view of the country’s tech-savvy youth, Rodrigue says he’s also likely to be looking for more high-tech, interactive shows. “I would be really tempted to start with the classic formats and gameshows like Wheel of Fortune or Family Feud. However, Mongolia has a very young population, and they want new stuff.”

http://www.c21media.net/channels/mongol-tv/alerts/mongol-tv-–-mongolia

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