The Ukraine TV industry is out in force at the MIPTV international television market, calling for the global TV business to support them while their country remains under siege from Russia.
The biggest players in the Ukraine market, including FILM.UA Group, Media Group Ukraine, StarLight Media and 1+1 Media, are jointly presenting at a national pavilion at MIP with a common message.
“We are asking people to support us by buying our programming and by doing co-production deals with us so that we can keep operating,” Kateryna Sheveliuk, head of fiction production at Ukraine’s Starlight Media tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Because we have no means of making money at the moment. But we are still paying all our employees.”
Sheveliuk escaped to the Czech Republic with her two daughters after war broke out on Feb. 24, but her husband remained behind as part of Ukraine’s civil defense force. He is currently near Kyiv, she says. Her parents, in the port city of Odessa, tell her of the daily bombardments from Russian artillery.
“The war has meant many people in the media are scattered all over Ukraine and many have left the country,” Sheveliuk says. “But we have managed to move much of the production infrastructure to the relatively safe areas in the western part of the Ukraine and are working to get things up and going again.”
Commercial television effectively came to an end in Ukraine shortly after the Russian invasion, when Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky ordered all the country’s national TV channels to combine into a singular, United News program that would, according to the president, combat alleged Russian disinformation and “tell the truth about the war.”
1+1 Media, StarLight Media, Media Group Ukraine and Inter Media Group, Rada TV and Ukraine’s public service broadcaster now collectively produce a 24/7 rolling commercial-free news channel which is broadcast on all of Ukraine’s national TV, radio and OTT platforms.
Sheveliuk says the only source of revenue for commercial channels comes from licensing of their shows, a business that has picked up recently as broadcasters in several countries have begun to acquire more Ukrainian shows in a sign of support for the country.
Netflix recently re-licensed Servant of the People, the Ukraine comedy series starring Ukraine President Zelensky, for its U.S. service, and networks including Channel 4 in the U.K. have picked up the show. The sitcom, which launched Zelensky’s political career, is the story of an ordinary man who accidentally becomes president of Ukraine.
But United News estimates it costs $5.5 million a month to keep the channel operating. The independent broadcasters, who do not receive public support and, without commercials, have no source of revenue, have set up a non-profit to finance the news network and called on the international business and media community to donate to keep the show on the air. Supporters can donate via the group’s website.
“We are trying to save the country and we are trying to save the industry working in Ukraine,” said Inna Flipova, head of sales at 1+1 Media, at a panel discussion at MIPTV Monday on the state of the Ukraine industry.
One of Ukraine’s commercial channels, TET, has begun broadcasting children’s cartoons and movie marathons to provide viewers with a break from the 24/7 reporting on the war. In two weeks’ time, Starlight’s STB network will launch its own specialty channel, airing series from its catalog as well as short programs intended as “psychological support” for those under siege. One of the programs will be hosted by a psychologist who will give advice to parents on how to discuss the events of the war with their small children.