Exclusive Interview: Dori Media Group’s Nadav Palti


PREMIUM: Nadav Palti, the CEO of the Dori Media Group, talks to World Screen about what continues to make Israel such a creative and innovative television market.

WS: Creation and production of TV shows can be a risky business. How have you taken as much risk as possible out of creating programming but still come up with so many hits?
PALTI: The idea is to balance opportunities against the situation of the market, and the market is rapidly changing. If you can look a bit into the future and try to understand the new trends, you can manage risk.

But we don’t always win. The biggest fault we had was the economic crisis in 2008. We didn’t expect it, but we weren’t the only ones. You should try not to be taken by surprise by the market, that’s the first rule.

Second, you should do co-productions that allow you to split the risk. But if you split the risk, you also split the opportunities. In Hebrew, the Bible says always divide your investment into three; never put everything in the same basket and we have tried to follow that. Sometimes we are only distributors and there we have none of the risks of production, but we do have the risks of the distribution business, which is very expensive. We need to be experienced, understand the market and have good long-term relationships with all the players, the old and new. Sometimes we co-produce so we split the risk. Sometimes we produce 100 percent by ourselves, as we do in Israel and Argentina. We are producing for TV, for YouTube and we are now trying a new trend and combining YouTube, social networks and TV.

In TV, we are always in development on more than 100 new ideas. Out of these, 50 need some more work and of them, 25 or 30 will get a development budget. Out of them, 15 get to the next level, ten go on air and two are a big success. If I had to compare it’s similar to high tech or startups. Out of 100, you will have one or two that will be successful.

WS: Several of your new shows have connections to social media. Are these in response to buyer demand or did you envision a different type of programming?
PALTI: Both. We saw the frustration of channels as young audiences leave them. Young people are on YouTube and Instagram. They are not watching TV and if they watch TV shows, it’s through YouTube. We saw this and we understood that the future is a combination of internet, YouTube, Instagram and TV. If TV doesn’t reinvent itself, it will lose its audience. Good content is good content and you will watch it, the question is, where are you going to watch it?

We developed a few new formats that integrate internet, social media and TV. One is called Vloggers—The Calizo Project. Calizo was a number one YouTuber in Israel. We worked with him for a couple of years; then we invested in his company. We rented a house for him and his team where they make their vlogs and we put them on the air, one or two a week, each for ten minutes. Then we decided to make a TV show out of it. We sold one season of 12 episodes to the Entertainment Channel in Israel and it worked very well and now we’re talking about a second and third season. That helps move the audience from YouTube back to the TV.

The other show is The Box, a talent show for kids and teens that looks for the next star. We started with YouTube and announced we were holding auditions. We got 50,000 videos in Israel and out of them we took 5,000 that we gave to people to watch and judge and they chose 500. In the U.S., you can do millions; it depends on the size of the country. We invited the 500 kids to come to a real audition in a mall—where we built a special box for the auditions. This was also good for malls since they are losing traffic because people are buying on Amazon and online. We took a host who was famous on YouTube and we did 50 auditions a day for ten days and the best of each day we aired on TV. We started to combine TV at this stage. The noise on YouTube, social media and the internet became huge because everybody was talking about the auditions. Out of the 50 every day for ten days, people voted on YouTube for who went on to the next level, which was the semi-finals, while the finals were on TV in a studio—a professional production with judges and audience.

WS: What else are you doing in the online space?
PALTI: We have a very strong presence on YouTube. Four years ago, we established a company called MeMeMe Studios LTD, a multi-channel network that creates brands for kids. We produce live action. We started with 3- to 5-minute live episodes. We’ve produced more than 1,000 episodes at low cost, but still at a good quality. Now YouTube is asking for 10-minute episodes.

WS: Your production hubs in Israel and Argentina are making scripted and unscripted shows?
PALTI: Mainly scripted, we have produced more than 7,500 hours of television in the last 15 years, of which 30 unscripted titles. The best one is Power Couple of which we sold four seasons to Record in Brazil where it will air this spring. We also sold it to RTL in Germany, it was a great success, and RTL Hungary bought ten seasons in advance. We are now on air in 13 countries and we are negotiating in another ten. This may be one of the biggest new reality shows.

WS: Have OTTs disrupted the business the most? Within that disruption have you found opportunities?
PALTI: Yes, and yes, and nobody knows if in ten years there will be ten big platforms that control the world, or, if there isn’t room for ten, they will merge, no one knows.

I will tell you one sentence: Netflix became Dori Media’s biggest client in 2018. This tells you the whole story. If you had asked me two years ago if that were possible, I would have said you were crazy. But it’s happened.

WS: When you sell to Netflix, can you keep some rights for second windows, do they take all rights, or does it depend on the show?
PALTI: It depends on the show. We’ve done both types of deals with Netflix. We did one show, I cannot talk about it because they haven’t announced it yet. It’s one of our biggest formats from the past from Argentina and they want to produce it again and make a Netflix original. In this case, they get the rights with restrictions. There are rights to the new show, but we also have rights to the original finished show, what we call la lata, which we can continue to sell in different territories and we have a few versions in other countries, as well.

There are maybe more rights restrictions when you produce an original show with Netflix, but if we sell them a finished show like Shtisel, or The Road to Calvary, a Russian show from NTV, or El Marginal from Argentina, produced by Underground Producciones with TV Publica, for which we distribute season one and two, we try to limit the rights we give to Netflix. This is actually an art. Of course, money is always an issue, but when you are dealing with Netflix, it’s very important to be creative. You need to see the windows; maybe you can sell a shorter free-to-air window after the remake. The deal is always very complicated, but only the first deal with Netflix is very complicated. You can work six months on the master deal. But then all the other deals can be a two- or three-page appendix. The issue is to sign the first deal, which is always a secret, and I didn’t tell you any secrets! Up to now, we haven’t produced originals for Netflix, so we have retained rights.

WS: In which of Dori Media’s businesses do you see the biggest opportunities for growth?
PALTI: MeMeMe Studios, which we established four years ago and didn’t know what the future would be, but today is a proven success. Of course, we will continue to produce good drama. In Israel, we are producing about ten a year and in Argentina, two or three a year. We always work with partners. It can be with broadcasters in Israel. It can be with other companies and we distribute and get some IP rights.

WS: What continues to make Israel such a creative and innovative television market?
PALTI: In Israel, we have a lot of successful high-tech startups, we call Israel the startup nation. In Hebrew, the words software and content have the same root. Software is tochna and content is tochen. Tochna is the feminine of tochen. The same creativity that fuels the high-tech industry, the start-up nation, now develops content. Maybe you need the same skills to develop, to think out of the box, to see a different angle. If you tell an Israeli we have a problem, he doesn’t see a problem, he thinks about the solution. In the eyes of Israeli people, a problem is not a real problem—it’s a task to solve. For other people, a problem stops them; they don’t know what to do, leave it or go in another direction. For us, we have to solve the problem. We’re a small country surrounded by people and not all of them like us and we have to survive. We have to invent ourselves every day from scratch. So maybe this is the basis of why we see things and other people see differently. It’s not good or bad; it’s different.