Content is not king – it’s kingdom

January 2018

Direct Media’s New Business Director Marija Zečar gave an interview to Nedeljnik.

We believe that the quality of local production is on a par with both the regional and global competition, says Marija Zečar, New Business Director at Direct Media—one of the companies that produced the sequels of Senke nad Balkanom (Shadows over the Balkans) and Ubice mog oca (The Killers of My Father).

More than 20 years ago, Bill Gates stated that content is king, and it now turns out that already then he knew what will be crucial in the fierce battle for audiences in the media arena. But not even he could imagine that content would surpass the king status and soar on to become kingdom. We talked about the importance of content with Direct Media’s New Business Director Marija Zečar, who is in charge of program acquisition. “Google’s 2017 list of the most popular search terms in Serbia includes TV shows Ubice mog oca and Senke nad Balkanom, which we are involved in as the sequels’ producers, which in turn speaks to the fact that genuine content truly can intrigue the audience. Serbia and the region have enough universal and original ideas in diverse production genres, and our role as a producer is to facilitate the best ideas seeing the light of the day.”

When it comes to TV shows and movies, it seems that lately there’s been more going on than ever before in Serbia. The shows are talked about, their broadcast is also a discussion topic, along with who will appear in the sequels and what will the ratings be. Where is this much public interest coming from?

Lately, the production business has been running at full steam—it’s nearly impossible to think of any bigger production company that doesn’t have at least two big projects in the works at this point, which is an excellent indicator of our market’s growth and development. In line with the supply and demand principle, it’s entirely natural that we—as a nation at the very top in Europe by the time spent in front of TV screens—are also contributing both to the quality and quantity of content that is being watched. I believe that the quality of local production is on a par with both the regional and global competition. Our content production investment strategy aims to facilitate great ideas seeing the light of day and draw emphasis to the quality of content that can be produced in our country. I’m happy to see that the show has actually become a star in and of itself, that it’s talked about and discussed, and that people are interested in what’s next, who will appear, and where it will be aired. This means that a product has been successfully turned into a brand. In other words, the show has its own identity, value, and distinctiveness, which is essential for further success. Audience interest is the key to success of any product, including TV shows.

Direct Media produced the second season of Ubice mog oca. How did the collaboration come about, and how come the show is airing on a cable network instead of RTS?

After not reaching an agreement for the second season with RTS, the creators were free to offer the show elsewhere, and so it came to us. Our decision to finance the second season’s production and become a producer was based on the assessment that this genre is ideal not only for the local but also for the regional market thanks to its universal theme, excellent script, and high-quality production. As for broadcasting the show on cable, this is nothing uncommon globally—especially when the content is premium, which Ubice mog oca is. I believe that this is just a continuation of the global trend where all the most appealing productions run on specialty networks and that the future lies in specialty offerings. In any event, our collaboration with the TOP network (i.e., United Media) allowed Ubice mog oca to be broadcast in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Macedonia, and we are currently talking with a Slovenian broadcaster, which at the regional level represents a great success for local production.

What projects are you involved in and how do you choose them? What can we expect next year?

If you don’t manage to connect with the audience at the emotional level—you lose your viewers. The content needs to spark an emotional response in viewers to be successful because this is the only way for the audience to relate to the program. I remember how—after reading the script for the Ubice mog oca second season—I called Gaga Antonijević to congratulate him and Nataša Drakulić on the brilliantly written piece that I could not take my eyes off from the moment I started reading it. The script kept me continuously and completely on the edge about what’s going to happen next. I knew instantly that the second season was going to be more powerful than the first.

In 2018, we are starting the production of the Senke nad Balkanom second season, which will be the pinnacle of our production efforts because of the project’s exceptional complexity. We are also planning to produce another show with Dragan Bjelogrlić with a completely different but extremely interesting subject for our region. When it comes to regional investments, we started a new project with the Sarajevo production company FIST and the same team that worked on the Lud, zbunjen, normalan (Crazed, Confused, Rational) show—the longest running series ever made in this region. We were looking for a sitcom that would be interesting to the entire region, we got an excellent script, and now it’s for the viewers to make the final judgment next fall. In partnership with United Media, we will continue with significant investments in major projects with the aim to encourage the entire industry to come up with new and original concepts that can compete in the regional and the global markets.

Our content production investment strategy aims to use original ideas to draw emphasis to the quality that can be produced in our country.

If you say that content is king, then TV shows are only one part of the story. How else do you contribute to the diversity of content offerings, apart from TV series?

It’s very simple. The winner—that is, the king—is the content that people watch most and that yields the best results. The most important thing is keeping the audience in mind—which means knowing what the audience wants. Serbia is a country of sports fans and the ratings of sports events speak loud and clear to how important sports are to us. Few people know that Direct Media has been a partner to FIBA for the past 15 years and that we actually hold the broadcast rights for the entire territory of former Yugoslavia. In addition to basketball, our portfolio also includes broadcast rights for football, where we work with the UEFA. After sports, we’re introducing an entirely different reality TV format to the Serbian market—an original Direct Media product that has won several awards internationally and in Slovenia, where the second season is already in development. The project is not just traditional content production but a concept that also contributes in terms of social responsibility, the effects of which will be seen when the airing starts. We are kicking off the new year ambitiously, buckling down in several lanes. I am convinced that all of these projects will speak volumes about the true power of local production.