RTL Hungary’s Peter Kolosi Talks Programming Strategy


BUDAPEST: Peter Kolosi, the deputy CEO and director of programming at RTL Hungary, discussed the dynamics of the local Hungarian market and shared insight into the group’s production strategy in a session this morning at NATPE Budapest.

Kolosi has been at RTL Klub, which was one of Hungary’s first commercial channels (launching just days after the main rival TV2), since its inception. He has had a front-row seat to witnessing the changes in Hungary’s commercial sector.

“More than 18 years ago in Hungary there were 17 channels with less than 30 percent cable penetration,” he said. “Today, it is a digital market. It is about 90 percent multichannel, with more than 110 channels. The market has changed a lot in Hungary.”

As the landscape changed, said Kolosi, so did the role of U.S. and international programming. “Back 17 or 18 years ago, there was no need to make big productions, because feature films were delivering over 50 percent market share. Today, the big [blockbusters] get about 20 to 22 percent—you would be happy to get 30 percent.”

Adapting to the changes, RTL Hungary launched its first daily drama about one year after the channel premiered. It added to its schedule shiny-floor entertainment shows and a second drama (which is actually a constructed-reality series). U.S. programs became an important part of the offering. Kolosi highlighted Lost as the first big American hit in Hungary and also mentioned CSI, The Mentalist and Bones as particular successes.

The last couple of years have seen a growing importance of local productions for RTL Klub. “Today U.S. series are mainly for second-generation channels,” Kolosi explained.

In regard to international series, there have been several Turkish dramas playing in Hungary, though to varying degrees of success. Kolosi pointed to Magnificent Century as one of the real breakouts in the way of Turkish dramas in Hungary. “It’s one of our strongest dramas,” he said. “It’s as strong as Bones.” (Both occupy the same prime-time slot but on different nights.)

Local scripted production has become more of a focus as of late for RTL Hungary, according to Kolosi. “We have all the big international formats on the nonfiction side, but with the fading out of the big U.S. fiction, you want to have a good replacement for it. Drama was always the big question.” The question he’s referring to is how to make local drama that is both innovative and makes sense from a business standpoint within a sensible budget. “Knowing the Hungarian film industry, we knew there was a potential to do it! You just have to find the right content.”

Also making it possible to be more experimental is the fact that expected audience shares are not as high as they used to be because of fragmentation. “Today, fragmentation makes it possible to do things we could not do before,” Kolosi said.

RTL Klub took a leap with producing its first weekly local drama, Divorce, a scripted format from Talpa. Going with a format as its foray into this area was strategic, Kolosi explained. “It was very important to us [that the first one be successful] because we wanted to demonstrate to RTL Group that in this market it pays to do local drama,” he said. “Also, since there hadn’t been practically any weekly drama production in Hungary, you don’t even really have writers.”

Kolosi said the fact that it is a dramedy was also appealing. “I know that people say dramedy is just a comedy without humor; I don’t agree with this obviously. A good dramedy does work,” and as a genre it is also “one of the most affordable ones. Of course it was also important that it had a very good track record in the Netherlands,” he noted.

Divorce has proven to be a hit for the channel, achieving market shares of around 22 percent. A second season of ten episodes is now in production.

Following on this success, more local drama production for weekly prime-time slots is on the planner for RTL Hungary. “I can’t reveal the details today, but we are working on other concepts,” Kolosi shared. He added that developing original concepts is part of the strategy looking ahead.

Examining the local advertising sector, Kolosi admitted that the Hungarian market is not quite back to where it once was pre-credit crunch or where its Western European counterparts are today. “It’s not healthy,” he said, “but we know how we have to spend and what we have to do. We have always been cost-conscious, but we are even more cost-conscious now. A big change that we made after the [economic] crisis was to forget about everything that is outside of prime time and concentrate our budgets on prime time—it’s there you can win. Of course it’s nice to have good morning shows, but business-wise it doesn’t make any sense.” The same is true for afternoon slots, Kolosi said. “If you are working with limited resources, you cannot limit your expenditure in certain slots. You have to select what is the most important part of the day to win.” For RTL Hungary that means prime time, and it’s a strategy that’s paying off.