MOSCOW — In an attempt to make local tragedy resound with the world’s recent terrible events, Ukraine’s top channel 1+1 broke its Saturday primetime sked Sept. 29 for a six-hour telecast marking the 60th anniversary of Babi Yar, the infamous wartime extermination that took place outside the country’s capital, Kiev.
With live links to top politicians in New York, Moscow, Berlin and Israel, channel topper Alexander Rodnyansky quickly adjusted his original program plan into something that paid as much attention to intolerance in the world today as it did to one of WWII’s darkest moments.
Hardly a bright way to mark the success of a station just entering its seventh year of broadcasting? Rodnyansky doesn’t agree. Trained as a documentary director, he’s not afraid to give his successful commercial station, majority-owned by CME, more than a hint of pubcaster gravity, just as he wasn’t afraid back in the mid-1990s to broadcast in Ukrainian rather than Russian, more familiar to many from decades of Soviet hegemony.
It paid off in developing a sense of identity for a nascent nation that plenty of outsiders would still be hard-pressed to locate on the map, despite its 50 million-plus population and European location.
His tactics have proved healthy on the bottom line, as well. Last year 1+1 took over the top ratings slot from rival Russian-lingo Inter, whose skeds are partly rebroadcast from Russia’s ORT.
That’s not to say territory isn’t still divided: Where 1+1 may score 80% in Ukraine’s western regions, where local language dominates, in its Russo-industrial East its ratings drop to less than 20%.
Flimsy borders of a strictly legal kind are another headache, with the majority of Russian retransmissions effectively pirate.
When a major European station has to rush blockbuster product to beat competition from a sideline player, it sometimes sources product via top Russian channels.
But Russia doesn’t feel like Big Brother anymore. Going into the black last year, 1+1 should clear $6 million-$9 million in profit in 2001 –results most Moscow channels would envy. With an expected tripling over three years in Ukraine’s annual TV ad spend, the future looks rosy to 1+1, which has almost a 50% share of the market.
Some traditional Moscow-Ukraine rivalries apart, Rodnyansky says it’s more important that his channel is an equal creative partner with Russian players — whether in developing the region’s “Survivor” format with Russia’s ORT or selling almost as many serials and shows to Russia as it buys back.
Ratings on the sequel to 1+1’s top series, “Birthday of a Bourgeois,” hit around 25% on its home summer screenings. But back in Moscow, the show’s press releases from the local co-producer don’t mention that the piece was shot in Kiev — and by a Ukrainian director.