We have done anything to spice up the launch of CNN Prima NEWS with adrenaline, says Marek Singer, the Prima group’s CEO, in an interview, remembering the launch of the news channel that celebrates its first birthday on 3 May. “We established the brand as a multiplatform. Thanks to TV and online channels our reach is up to 7.7 million people now,” he says.

In an interview for the CNN Prima NEWS Year 1 magazine, Marek Singer talks about his feeling that the social importance of TV has increased, about his assessment of the previous year and about his future plans for the project. “We are building the platform on the mainstream, on an average Czech viewer, but we have the ambition to address more demanding viewers. And we seek to do an important thing: let the opposing opinions be heard,” he says.

What was the first year of CNN Prima NEWS (CPN)?

By all means interesting. Full of lessons learnt. Even if you think that you have experience in establishing several TV channels and know exactly how it will turn out… The results will be exactly the opposite! Something is slightly below your expectations, other things highly exceed them. That is exactly what happened.

Prima, historically mainly a family TV station, welcomed a continuous news channel. Was it a meeting of two very different worlds? 

On one hand, Prima is a family TV station, that is true. But on the other, we have always sought to build a broad portfolio of channels. Of course, we had no hands-on experience with a news station but for example thanks to Prima ZOOM we knew what audience groups we were targeting. However, a news service is naturally a completely different discipline. We need a huge background, in principle you have live broadcasts all the time, it is a very complex and demanding matter. Not to get bored when introducing a new news multiplatform, we moved from Palmovka to Strašnice and started broadcasting from a new studio equipped with the latest technology. We did anything we could to spice up the launch with adrenaline.

Plus you started the website that has quickly become one of the most read in the Czech Republic. In combination with Prima’s traditionally strong social networks, a giant online multiplatform emerged, relying on viewers and readers from everywhere – TV, web, social networks. Was the bet on a multichannel information attack worth doing?

It was the key principle from the very beginning. The news as such is increasingly consumed online. Formerly, news TV was a dominant platform, which applies to CNN too. But even their proportion is 50:50 at the moment. Our CNN Prima NEWS has more online readers than TV viewers. We have been building the brand to work well for both media types since the beginning. In the long run, we should not care whether it is more TV or digital. The aggregate reach is what counts. And from this point of view, it is a very successful project.

And what is the reach?

The website is visited by up to a million real users per day now, which is an excellent result, we are among the top 3 news websites in the Czech Republic. And TV, on which the web content is based, is watched by hundreds of thousands of viewers. If we count viewership of shows in combination with Prima’s main channel, the main news programmes are watched by nearly a million of viewers. I cannot wait when the ratings are presented for those two entities together – we will achieve figures comparable with the largest news platforms in the Czech Republic. I even think that we could be number one.

The sum of TV and online multiplatform measurement has been unofficial so far, media houses are doing it on their own. What is thus the resulting CPN’s reach on all TV and online platforms?

At present we reach up to 7.7 million people. If it is confirmed by official measurement, it may be more than Seznam Zprávy.

How does this multiplatform work in terms of business? We know well the costs of TV and digital advertising. The difference is enormous.

You definitely have to have the background of a big company that is willing to make long-term investments. These costs are not recovered within a year. And of course, it is a big advantage if you have a successful media house with eight TV stations. We managed to get the online news running thanks to the amazing work of Tomáš Večeřa’s team and our online platform highly exceeds our expectations. The TV station has the appropriate growing trend and I believe that the target will be achieved. We are still extremely successful compared to other news TV projects. After eleven months, we have a triple audience share compared to their results for the same period when the competition was lower, or there were much fewer TV stations.

Let’s talk about content. All Czech Republic quoted CNN Prima NEWS for example at the moment when it brought the information that Jan Blatný would end up in his office in the Ministry of Health well ahead of other news services and the information confirmed to be true. And there was a large number of other news taken from CPN. Do you feel that the social importance of Prima has increased?

I definitely perceive that the social importance of the Prima group has increased. Significantly. We build the news platform on the latest news and updates that are interesting for most Czech viewers, we bring opinions from multiple sources. Minority of news media is doing the same these days.

Journalism has become a more active profession for many people, it is influenced by emotions, some journalists become fans…

That is exactly what is happening all around the globe. By the way, we became the most-quoted news medium in the Czech Republic last year. I think that the CNN image is helpful. All the time we have been successful in inviting political or economic leaders and elite and engaging them in the broadcast. Their participation may seem to be a matter of course but it is not. And I am all the more pleased that they want to appear in our programme.

What is the cause of your website success in your opinion? Why has it become so popular so quickly?

I have a déjà vu moment. Six weeks before the launch we were working on the nearly final web design. As I was watching it I said to myself, Is this a strategy that will in fact not copy the most successful visual style on the market? Have we really bet on the fact that the trend of videos and pictures is highly developed, that the mainstream viewers will accept it, that we will not have 24 text links making an impression that you will learn everything in a single place? We have really relied on visual attractiveness. We are combining very interesting headlines and attractive pictures. And that was the winning strategy. Most competitors seek to copy the well-established style of Seznam Zprávy. We have taken the opposite direction with CNN Prima NEWS, which works excellently.

And what about TV? Ratings are growing, there are new shows, for example the news from the regions (Zprávy z regionů) has immediately become one of the most watched programmes of CNN Prima NEWS…

New programmes are not the only things that matter. Our team of editors has become accustomed to a certain scheme and learnt to fill it with content. I think that it is not possible to succeed with what everybody else is doing. It is necessary to take a topic that affects society and develop it in all possible forms. That is what our editors have already learnt. And now they start to reap the harvest. Specifically Zprávy z regionů is a very popular form of content for Czech viewers. It is a logical step, it was a piece of the puzzle that was missing. This format will continue to grow.

What people like about CNN Prima NEWS is also the crime news (Krimi zprávy) that you moved back to the main news block on the main channel. Are you satisfied with that programme?

Yes, I am. Krimi zprávy is a classic format. It is a type of journalism occurring all around the world. For example, crime news is what made Sky News famous. The return of Krimi zprávy to the prime time is highly promising. How did the covid pandemic affect the TV business? In the crisis, firms cut off advertising at first – but it is advertising what makes TV going. The pandemic has impacted our business as well. It was the worst at moments when something got closed all of a sudden. The second quarter of the last year was the worst, we experienced it the most. In the rest of the year, we managed to rebalance the situation and achieve the desired levels. The first quarter of this year was not too bad, there is no increase but the decline is not too sharp. I think that the development will depend on whether the easing will be permanent or whether we will be up and down again. Clients show fatigue rather than panic. This insecurity and a certain resignation is fortunately not reflected in ad spends. But if another lockdown occurs for example in the autumn, there will apparently be some reflection.

And what do you think, how will it turn out?

It is a million-dollar question! (He is laughing.) If I have a look at it from the historic point of view, after the frequently discussed Spanish flu, which spread between 1918 and 1920, the global economy recovered very quickly. After that, people were surprisingly very motivated to start something new although it was said that in combination with World War I, the world was snookered. But the opposite happened… It was an unbelievable start for the 1920s. This is an optimistic scenario for me.

And what about the pessimistic one?

It is simple. Governments have printed an unbelievable amount of money to cover the costs incurred as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. And when the money is spent, there will be a great crisis. But as usual, the truth is likely to be somewhere in between.

What is the future of CNN Prima NEWS?

In the long run, it does not make a difference how I imagine the future. What is important is what viewers expect from the news. There are two rather vigorous trends across all society. The younger the generation, the more vigorous the trends are. The first trend is rather a superficial way of processing information, the other one is the visuality. They go hand in hand. I personally think that it is not the right path. But it is my personal problem. As the classic says: I can disagree, I can protest but it is all I can do about it. And as we are a commercial medium we will logically seek to have the highest attractiveness for the future and current viewers and readers. Infotainment is just part of the mainstream news.

And what about journalistic formats?

I find it very important that journalists seek to apply a modern form of journalism. When journalism does not work, there will be no information tool making people think about an issue, sit down and realize what the issue means to them. But if we think that young people will sit down in front of their TV or a computer and switch on a static debate of three old men on a certain topic, we are naive. Young people accept what they read on social networks…

Yes, that is happening. The question is whether the substance of traditional media disappears with the retreat of traditional political parties. What do you think?

People will be interested in current affairs all the time. This interest has been in people’s DNA since prehistoric times and we will keep it forever. That will not change. But information sources are what may change. Traditional media and their news must develop, otherwise they will end up as the traditional parties.

When CNN Prima NEWS was launched you said that you were targeting mainly those who keept switching the programmes. There are 28% of them according to your estimates. Is there any typical CPN viewer or did you just capture those who were switching over the first year?

Viewers and readers are being profiled. We are really at the beginning. We have learnt to walk but we still cannot run. For the time being, our viewers are younger, a bit more educated and there are more women among them compared to our competitors. But that is what we want as a commercial medium. We are going in the right direction. What I definitely want to emphasize is the fact that 20% of our followers are socio economic classes A or B, for our website it is even 27% and a quarter of our readers are people up to 34 years. If we continue doing our job well, our form will be more accessible than the form of more traditional news media. We do not want to close our viewers in their social bubbles, we want to provoke them a bit. To let them hear an opinion that does not resonate with their views. I think that it is extremely important for people to be exposed to opinions of the other party as part of a factual debate.

The Czech society (and it is not the only one) is simply polarized in a strict, emotional and conflicting manner. Will this change? No, unfortunately I do not think so. I think that a huge number of conflicts arise from the fact that we no longer want to listen to each other. The business model of social networks is to blame. They are providing us with content that we want to hear so that we spend as much time as possible with them… It would be a path to hell if the fight for an objective discussion was given up by the news media because it is more comfortable to select a target group and keep telling it what it wants to hear.

What would you tell to those who doubt CNN Prima NEWS?

(Smiling) I would like to let them know: 7.7 million viewers.