Armenia Public TV's Director General Hovhannes Movsisyan talks to our Head of Member Relations for Central and Eastern Europe Radka Betcheva
I was 28 when I was elected DG two years ago. I think my age brings advantages and disadvantages: while I aspire for innovation, my responsibility is to lead Armenian public TV, which is a 67-year institution with 800 employees of an average age between 30 and 40. It has its traditions and it’s vital to balance change with these traditions. This can be challenging. It’s very important for me that experience and impetus for change work hand in hand.
It’s challenging to finance innovation through an annual budget that doesn’t change and needs to prioritize content. But we are trying and have launched a number of initiatives. Not all innovation necessarily needs funding, and I count on my staff who are very motivated and creative. But of course, we try to increase funding and the last two years have shown that we can achieve this.
There are many things. Our priority is to be more competitive and grow our audience and we have launched a few strong projects to do this.
One of the key initiatives is to segment content. As part of this strategy, we launched a 24-hour news channel 18 months ago that is already delivering high ratings. This new channel complements our main channel, 1st Channel, and a satellite channel serving Armenia’s significant diaspora.
We’re also working on developing and getting funding for archive, youth, and sports channels. As a priority, we’re shaping the team that will produce the Youth channel that is really needed to reach young audiences. Our plan is to start this spring and brand the offer New Wave, targeting the 14-30 year age group. We want to produce topics and formats that reflect how young people behave on social media. This new approach and narrative might be challenging for older demographics who are used to a more conservative approach from public service media (PSM), but we are confident we can face this.
Our main first channel is now second in the ratings and sometimes ranks first, compared to fifth when I joined Public TV. Our main competition is Armenian domestic drama which is very popular in Armenia, with a strong offer from commercial players. We produce one or two series each season. However, commercial TV has nearly ten, making it hard to compete.
The news channel is ranked between six and seven, which is satisfactory for a new channel in a competitive environment with about 25 TV channels, the majority of which are Armenian.
Human resources is a challenge and we’ve taken some bold initiatives to address this. We launched a Media Academy at Armenian TV two years ago as our main funnel for recruiting young staff. We already have more than 200 alumni, of whom 40 work at AMPTV. It’s good to see this younger cohort work in different places across public TV. They are highly motivated, want to work for public TV, and understand that the way in is through the Media Academy.
I want to provide these young people with an environment where they can create the TV of the future. We ask them what they want to watch and how they see the TV of the future. We also keep them separate from the main TV staff because we want them to be different, and in an environment where they can freely create their own ideas and processes.
It’s a problem here like everywhere, with online being the biggest challenge.
Every company is trying different tactics, that can be aggressive or positive. We have chosen the positive way. Two years ago we started a TV programme on media literacy. In Armenia it’s not enough for a programme to talk about disinformation. People need to believe in a personality. So we selected a host, who is well-known and reputable in Armenia. The programme is only five minutes long and we schedule it when there is a window, which can be two or three times a day, and not only on our main TV channel. We also broadcast it on our news channel and on our satellite channel for our diaspora because they also read and watch Armenian news.
When we started the programme there was a high level of disinformation in Armenia, and this programme became one of the most watched in just a month. We were surprised because it's not easy for people to understand what media literacy is. We show how manipulation is done, how resources have been used or we just answer questions and explain how to trust a newsletter, news website and so on. And, it’s working well.
It's very hard to rely on surveys. We look at international ones such as the International Republican Institute that does socio-political research. They carry out polls in the streets and use phone calls. According to their research, Armenian public TV is recognized as the most trustworthy and reliable in Armenia, not only compared to other television stations, but also other media outlets. We are very proud of this and we have been working to maintain this trust already for two years.
We have many international correspondents abroad and we need them to ensure quality output. Sometimes we change reporters to have more qualified content from the regions.
According to the law on PSM, our budget cannot be less than the previous year which is a guarantee of stability. When we have strong projects that need additional funding we start knocking on doors and making the case. Of ten projects we have pitched, we managed to get funding for nine such as Junior Eurovision which required a big budget!
Now, we have been in the process of digitizing our first studio. We invested nearly EUR 3 million of which about EUR 700,000 was covered by the government.
I remember the day we won Junior Eurovision in Paris in 2021. One of my colleagues broke a glass out of joy! It was a great day for us and for all Armenia because this is a popular show in our country and people were experiencing hard times. From that day on, we started the preparations, confirming that we were ready to host the 2022 edition and would do our best to make it great. This was something new for us, also coming at a time when management was still new, just one year in office.
We started to study and learn, not only from Junior Eurovision, but also from the Eurovision Song Contest. We sent people to understand how both events work and how others have organized them. While we wanted to know everything about previous events, we also knew we wanted to make an Armenian version of Eurovision, not imitate something from somewhere else.
From the first day, we actively collaborated with the core Eurovision team and recruited local professionals and international specialists. This was an opportunity to show our professionalism and what we can do in Armenia.
What we achieved set a new standard for live production by public TV in Armenia. People are still talking about the whole event and this is really important for us. The public was proud when they saw the scale of this international event in their country. There were no negative comments, not even on the budget. There were street polls asking people what they thought. Did Armenia need to spend so much money for Junior Eurovision? And people answered yes. It was about a big event in Yerevan, and an opportunity to have many guests from Europe. That's why we needed to push the boat out. The public gathered for the opening ceremony to see the guests and lights on the traditional Christmas tree in Yerevan. It was a great day for us and I'm really proud of what we achieved.
I have actually changed our structure four or five times!
The main problem, like everywhere else, is that we need people who take decisions and take responsibility for these decisions. It is very hard for some managers or for some employees to judge what is right and what is wrong. It is harder to take a decision and to take responsibility than asking a superior to do it. We are facing this challenge, but we are changing.
I always say that I am just one, and we are around 800 people in this organization and everyone should work and everyone should be able to take decisions and take responsibility. I know this is hard, but we must do it. And that's why I rely on our top management while they rely on their managers, the managers rely on their employees and so on. In every circle there are roles and responsibilities for everyone and everything should be in a flow. One can't do anything good alone. I believe that this is the right way to manage such a big company.
I have 12, down from 15. And maybe more changes will be needed. You can write the best structure for your company in principle, but it may not always work in practice. That's why I change. Maybe it’s me: I like change. I see how something works in practice and assess its effectiveness. I work out the problems and if they come from the structure, I change it.
I was elected for five years and my strategic plan is for five years. The programmes mentioned above, the innovations, the segmented TV channels, the Academy are all part of this strategy. Two years and three months have elapsed since the strategy was mapped out. We continue to revisit it because it shouldn't be a paper set in stone. We adapt it every time we need to keep things moving forward.
I mentioned the segmented TV channels and the channel for younger audiences, but we have also another priority, to boost Armenia’s film industry. This is a priority not only for public TV, but for the whole country.
We, as public TV, need to do some work here, because we have the biggest media budget in Armenia.
Of course, we face many challenges. This year we are celebrating 100 years of Armenian film. Most of that is from Soviet times. When Armenia became independent we lacked budgets for this industry, like everywhere else in post-Soviet countries, Now, we are trying to develop it and promote Armenian production internationally
I think they are worth it and we are positive about the opportunity. For instance, we are discussing a co-production with the Georgian Public Broadcaster that will be a musical show. More generally, I believe we should look more into co-productions because everyone needs content, and we can learn from each other and help each other.
We have to plan and prepare now what we will be in ten or even fifty years. Where we are in the future will also depend on how well we adapt to disruptive technological change such as AI, that will transform us into something new. We already see anchors who are holograms in some markets. Maybe one day we will have AI for a director. And maybe you and I won't have anything to do!
We have this great organization where we can meet one other and talk about critical topics in a trusted, non-commercial environment. There is no other organization where we, as PSM, can meet peers and talk about things of common interest. So, I value seeing what others are doing and want to continue to share and exchange.