Prima will bet on the prediction of election results this year, too, the invitation for Andrej Babiš still stands. CNN Prima News also wants to use the projection of the election results before the final count in this year’s presidential elections. Its editor-in-chief Pavel Štrunc considers it a factor that makes the broadcast more attractive and distinguishes it from the competition.

Just like in the 2021 parliamentary elections, CNN Prima News wants to use predictions of the election results in this year's presidential elections to provide viewers with determinative information before the competition. In an interview, CNN Prima News editor-in-chief Pavel Štrunc explains why this move is important for the Prima Group.

So far, CNN Prima News has broadcast the first of the main presidential debates, inviting six presidential candidates who are in fourth to ninth place in terms of preference. The debate was also broadcast on the main TV Prima channel. It will repeat the same model for the second of the debates, which is scheduled for Wednesday 11 January. It is reserved for the three leading candidates, but apparently only two of them will make it. Andrej Babiš has so far only confirmed his participation in the debate on TV Nova. „Our invitation to Andrej Babiš still stands. But if he does not come, I believe that the debate between the two candidates will be very interesting,“ Pavel Štrunc estimates. He considers mastering a TV debate to be a key media skill that can indicate a lot to voters. „Standing in front of a live audience in the light of ramps is not easy. Today, voters have a number of options where they can bump into candidates, but the televised debate is still the most important test,“ he adds.

CNN's Prima News and Prima aired the first of the presidential candidates' debates on Wednesday, January 4. It pitted the candidates who are now polling in fourth to ninth place. Right at the beginning, one of the candidates, Pavel Fischer, complained that the division of the candidates into two groups creates two categories of candidates. How did you select the candidates for the debates?

We are strictly based on data and we stick to public opinion polls. They clearly show a lead for the top three candidates and then the next group of candidates comes out of that. That's why we decided to give space in our first debate to all candidates outside the leading three. As a commercial broadcaster, we could have easily invited only three candidates to the first debate, which we did not do. We gave space to all of them, both in prime time on CNN Prima News and on the main Prima channel. All the candidates knew the concept of our broadcast long in advance and no one opposed it.

Were you prepared to bring other candidates into the debate if there were more than nine candidates in total?

We were really responsible, we were waiting for the Supreme Administrative Court to decide and we were ready to have these candidates in the studio. If it turned out that the differences in the candidates' preferences were smaller than what the current data shows, we would address that in cooperation with STEM analysts. We were prepared to take the court's decision into account on the day of the debate. Similarly, we are currently prepared for the possibility that Andrej Babiš may appear on Wednesday's Superdebate.

So your concept of the election broadcast is based on research from the STEM and Stem/Mark agencies?

We have election models primarily from these two agencies. The sample of respondents exceeds two thousand, which is an above-average number. Even one of the surveys had over two and a half thousand respondents. It was not cheap to get these surveys, but we wanted to invest in them so that we could rely on the data. In addition, we take into account results from other agencies.

What did the first debate show you? Is there anything you would like to change in the second debate, which will be broadcast on Wednesday 11 January and to which the leading three are invited according to their current preferences?

We're happy with the results of the first debate, it's the first presidential election for CNN Prima News. In the 2018 presidential election, the Prima debate was only broadcast before the second round, and on the main channel, because at that time CNN Prima News was not yet broadcasting. We haven't had a presidential election to that extent yet. On the other hand, we have already had experience from the parliamentary and local elections, which we did differently, and I dare say that we passed this test as well. When we broadcast our first debate on Wednesday 4 January, we had a lot of competition from other TV stations in the form of the film Bábovky, and especially in the semi-final match between the Czech junior hockey team and Sweden. The total viewership on both channels of over half a million viewers is decent from our point of view and perhaps more importantly, the viewership grew during the debate.

We were prepared to take the court's decision into account on the day of the debate. Similarly, we are currently prepared for the possibility that Andrej Babiš may appear on Wednesday's Superdebate.

Will you change the dramaturgy for the second debate?

We will not change anything, the dramaturgy and production will remain the same. However, there will definitely be more space for the presidential candidates to react to each other so that it is really a debate and not just a series of monologues. Again, we are trying to be data-driven, and that's why the connection with STEM is important to us, not only for the electoral models, but also for describing the social trends that we open the debate with. That’s why a part of the programme is based on the presentation of data and facts and we want to stick to that.

Based on Andrej Babiš's statement last week, it looks like he will not be joining your debate. Do you think you will welcome a pair or a trio of candidates in the studio this week?

Our invitation to Andrej Babiš still stands. I consider the debate between the three candidates to be sufficiently dignified, data-driven and interesting. If Andrej Babiš does not arrive, I also see the debate between the two candidates as very worthwhile. It is a contest for the highest constitutional post. After all, President Zeman has also spoken about the importance of the presidential television debates. I also hear from colleagues who have come to us from the print or online media that the reaction in live television broadcasts is the most demanding test of the candidates. It would be a shame, in my view, if viewers were deprived of that experience.

If there are only two candidates in the studio, it could be a test before the second round, where a pair of candidates also clash.

I don't want to completely reveal the second round, because we're going to have something extra for the second round that will give the audience a hint of how the candidates are able to respond. I'm not going to give it away just yet, but I can say that it's definitely not going to be a test of school encyclopedic knowledge.

Why do you see televised debates as the most important of media outlets?

It is a live broadcast with a large audience in front of the screens and also in front of a live audience in the studio. It's different from the various interviews on the internet, social media, although I'm a big fan of them too and rate some of these formats as great. However, in terms of the demands that are placed on the candidates during the interviews, the televised debate is the highest because the candidates have to withstand a lot of pressure within a couple of seconds.

In terms of the demands that are made on the candidates in the interviews, the televised debate is the best because the candidates have to withstand a lot of pressure within a couple of seconds.

How do you select the studio audience? For some candidates, their supporters were more vocal in the first debate. Doesn't that affect the overall dramaturgy and tone of the debate?

The number of seats in the studio is strictly divided between the candidates and their supporters. Each candidate can bring a certain number of supporters, so it is all about the candidates' cooperation with them. We are prepared to ask the audience to quieten down if necessary, but there was no reason to do so in the first debate.

This year Prima is also giving the audience the opportunity to express their sympathy by sending in their votes for the candidates. How many voters took part in the first debate?

It was about 25,000 voters, and it is important to add that each voter must first register and then can vote. They only have the option of one vote, just like in the case of texting. It is strictly controlled. If we left the voting open without registration, the interest would be many times greater, but we do not want to remove the registration requirement.

What do you expect the viewership to be? Could it be more than double compared to the first debate? The main candidates will compete this time…

The important thing has been said, the main candidates, who have not met each other much in debates so far, will compete. That is why I believe that the ratings will be very good. I don't want to make any more predictions.

Will Wednesday's result be affected by the Czech Television debate, which was broadcast on Sunday 8 January?

I believe that it will only increase interest in our next pre-election debate, especially in the two main candidates. There is still a lot of time before Saturday, when the polls close, and the candidates are becoming more and more defined against each other. I'm glad we have the opportunity to be as up-to-date as possible in the debate.

The big debates on CNN Prima News and TV Prima are accompanied by a studio audience. Have you considered changing that approach for the presidential election?

It is a characteristic feature for us to have viewers as close to our broadcast as possible, so we want to invite them to our studio. We haven't considered changing that.

But this time the audience did not ask questions in the studio. Will that remain the case for future presidential debates?

Normally we give our audience that opportunity, but for the presidential election we decided that only our host Terezie Tománková would ask questions.

You are the only TV station that works with predicting the election results in your broadcasts. You said you want to use them in this year's presidential election as well...

Our cooperation with STEM and Stem/Mark is working well and the predictions we published in the parliamentary election came out perfectly. When about 60% of the votes were counted and ANO was still in the lead, STEM and Stem/Mark analysts were already pointing to an upward trend for ANO and saying that it would win the election. We would like to repeat something like this in the presidential election. Predictions are based on data and we take it responsibly. It opens up more possibilities for our election coverage. The moment we know which candidate will advance or become president, we can adjust our broadcasts accordingly.

I wouldn't compare this year's presidential broadcast to 2018. On Prima today, the debates are prepared by a completely different team and the concept of the broadcast is also different.

Isn't the use of predictions risky?

We take a lot of inspiration from the American CNN, where they work with the phenomenon of !swing states” (states with balanced support for both candidates, ed.). The state in which a candidate wins can be used to infer whether he or she will become president. In cooperation with STEM, we have also selected cities and regions that, if a candidate dominates, are very likely to become president. You might argue that we don't have a 200-year tradition of presidential elections, but we have gone through a lot of data with a research agency, not only from presidential elections but also from parliamentary elections, to determine this. We will be broadcasting from the studio all day on Saturday, January 14 and Saturday, January 28, and our goal is to convey information to viewers as clearly and comprehensibly as possible, so we are not planning any outside broadcasts. Of course, we are trying to reach audiences across the entire television spectrum, including viewers of Czech Television. We are interested in every viewer and we believe we have something to offer them because we will show something different again. And that's not a platitude.

Alongside the election result predictions, this year you will also use an interactive technological aid, known as the "Prima Pencil", which the presenter uses to present the data and show it on a map.

We are trying to incorporate it more into our regular broadcasts as well, as it helps us to better illustrate the course of events and their context. The presenter Petr Suchoň will use this technology to convey information to the audience and his role will be the same as in the local elections. He will focus on interesting details and look into the history of elections in individual towns or villages. We will bring interviews and analysis from all the election staffs, supplemented by information from social networks.

During the last presidential election, CNN Prima News was not yet on the air, but the debate between Miloš Zeman and Jiří Drahoš before the second round of the election was watched by 2.3 million viewers on TV Prima's main channel, making it the most watched programme in TV Prima's history. Some commentators have described it as a “debate with a lot of shouting”, will it be different this year?

I wouldn't compare this year's presidential broadcast to 2018. On Prima today, the debates are prepared by a completely different team and the concept of the broadcast is also different.


PAVEL ŠTRUNC, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, CNN PRIMA NEWS: He has been the editor-in-chief of CNN Prima News since September 2020 and has worked for Prima TV news since 2012. He has also gained experience at ČT24 and Z1 news TV. He hosted his own show Štrunc! on the website.