Star Media’s President, Vlad Riashyn, spoke to ttvnews about the company and its subsidiaries’ array of new co-productions and projects in the global market, along with its expanding distribution business, its fight against piracy and future plans.
Ukrainian media executive, Vlad Riashyn, has been in the television industry for over 30 years. He has undertaken several television projects and run networks, before launching his own media company, Star Media, in 2006.
Since then, Star Media has grown to be one of the world’s most respected media groups, creating thousands of hours of content, including films, TV series, event coverage and more. It has done this through local productions, international co-productions and associations with major clients worldwide.
Furthermore, the company expanded its business strategies by creating a MCN on YouTube as well as its own pay TV network, in addition to content development and distribution.
Riashyn spoke to ttvnews during Star Media’s 15-year anniversary to discuss the company’s new co-productions and projects in development, its distribution business, its fight against piracy and future plans.
How did you become involved in TV production?
It has been over 30 years since I started working in television. Stroboscope and Melorama, shows that became hits in Ukraine, were shows I created, produced, and hosted. My first executive position was as the Chairman of the Board of the Ukrainian TV channel Inter in the early 2000s. During that era, television was experiencing rapid growth, and audiences were craving new content. By providing said content, my team and I were able to make Inter one of the most watched TV channels in Ukraine.
A fascinating time for the media in the post-Soviet era occurred during the second half of the 2000s. There had been a surge in series production that started just a few years ago. The industry’s new rules were established by the pioneers of the early media in the region. Among the first TV industry innovators, Star Media was founded by my coworkers and I in 2006.
Why did Star Media decide to venture into distribution?
The focus of the company has always been on producing high-quality TV content and distributing it. A significant amount of the company’s current content library is derived from this strategy, which exceeds 7500 hours. With that in mind, Star Media has a strong competitive edge: today, its video content can be viewed in more than 60 countries worldwide and it is involved in creating new forms of revenue, through a YouTube channel and pay TV.
The year 2021 will mark the 15th anniversary of Star Media. From a small production company to an international media group over the years, the company has truly transformed in the last few years. Taking a risk every day is what the media business entails and Star Media proved to be a risk taker. To win, you must be prepared to take necessary risks.
Tell us about new business strategies being implemented by the company. What motivated Star Media to launch its own pay TV channels?
It’s not surprising that Star Media would want to monetize its content in any way possible.
Through a combination of global and local distribution, our multi-channel network (MCN) on YouTube, and several of our own channels, such as Star Cinema, Star Family, and Bolt, we maximize our revenues. Each channel primarily consists of our own content, and each channel has a distinct target audience. Plans are underway to expand our channel offerings in the near future. We have plans for an OTT service, but it’s too early to share more details about this now.
How do you plan to leverage your YouTube multichannel network?
Three of our YouTube channels were launched in 2013. We began aggregating content in 2017 from other rights holders. Our vision to become the largest aggregator of film and TV content on YouTube in the CIS region by 2020 was successfully realized. In total, MCN Star Media consists of 60 channels with more than 12000 titles.
The subtitles for our projects have been translated into ten languages. Our channels are available in Russian, English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Ukrainian, and Portuguese. In light of the success of our Russian content subtitled in other languages, we intend to associate with foreign rights holders over the next few years and produce our own content for YouTube.
Our YouTube channels collectively have over 25 million subscribers, and 1 million subscribers added each month. We have already received 10 Gold (1 million subscribers) and 30 Silver (100,000 subscribers) YouTube Awards.
Are you currently working on any international projects?
The importance of international co-production is increasing today. These types of collaborations have a proven record of success. The Pleasure Principle, a 10-episode thriller, was our first coproduction. It was created in collaboration with Apple Film Productions (Poland), CANAL+ (Poland) and the Czech public television broadcaster, Česká televize. The series premiered in all noted territories in 2019 and proved to be a big hit.
We are now producing the 6-episode drama thriller Silence with our partners: Croatian production company Drugi plan (Success, The Paper), German distributor Beta Film, and Ukrainian VoD platform OLL.TV. A best-selling investigative journalist and writer, Drago Hedl, wrote the first novel from the Slavonian Trilogy, Election Silence, which inspired the first season of the show. This trilogy is about human trafficking and the issue of weapons trade in eastern Europe, which is based on true events and set in present-day Croatia and Ukraine. Marjan Alcevski (Success, HBO Europe) penned the screenplay. In addition to English and Ukrainian, we are also producing it in Croatian. An upcoming premiere date for the series has been scheduled for 2021.
We are currently working on the feature film and six-episode drama series based on Alexei Ivanov’s best-selling novel Heart of parma, which is definitely among our top projects. ‘Land of Legends’ depicts a saga centered on a historical rivalry between the Grand Duchy of Moscow and the Principality of Great Perm, which was a Pagan land in the past. A renowned international company will distribute it. It is slated for a 2022 release.
The Bolshoi Theatre is the subject of another international project- a feature documentary- we’re working on with Kinescope Film, Arte, and Salzgeber. A fascinating true story of one of the world’s most famous theatres is filmed over an entire season (1 year), which narrates several untold behind-the-scenes stories. An airing date has been set for 2022.
Our French and Belgian partners are working with us on filming a feature drama called SHTTL. Featuring a compelling tale of true love and unlikely friendship set in a shtetl, a small Jewish town in Western Ukraine, Adi Walter’s latest film is a real treat.
Our company, Apple Tree Vision, was established a few years ago as a joint venture with the British media company OLLEV, since as a company, we are passionate about international production. In addition to The Last Mercenary (Netflix), Infinity (created for CANAL+) and The Shiny Shrimps 2 (sequel to the classic French comedy, The Shiny Shrimps), the company has a number of other projects in development.
Are there any films currently available in Star Media’s catalogue that were produced locally?
Star Media is one of the top producers of local content, as well as a strong competitor on the international media market. At present, over 65 TV series and films are being produced by the company.
The local adaptation of Kvodo (Your Honor), an Israeli spy thriller that has received numerous awards both in Israel and internationally, is one of the many projects currently in production. This series follows the life of an influential and successful judge whose son is involved in a hit-and-run accident that kills a motorcyclist. This court judge and his son are at the center of a dangerous game when it transpires that the motorcyclist is the son of a local mafia kingpin. In this drama, Oleg Menshikov stars as a judge faced with a difficult choice between loyalty to family and his love for law.
What other companies are currently affiliated with Star Media Group, which produce specific types of content?
It is our policy to create diverse content as a media group. For example, with Kristi Films, we specialize in creating one-of-a-kind productions for local audiences. Particular emphasis is placed on producing modern and festival-friendly Ukrainian films. During the Venice International Film Critics’ Week, which runs concurrently with the Venice Film Festival, our film Bad Roads received the Verona Film Club Award in 2020.
Among our other companies is Babich Film, which produces docudramas. One of their most popular productions is The Romanovs, Soviet Storm: World War II in the East (as dubbed and distributed in English by The History Channel, in addition to being distributed across 14 countries), The History of the Russian State etc.
Is Star Media also involved in producing other types of content besides films and TV shows?
Star Media also provides services for international sports events in addition to producing film and television content. We are the world’s premier system integrators in digital television technologies with two outside broadcasting (OB) vans (Star Bird and Happy Bird). The company’s OB trucks are used during major sporting events and concerts throughout Europe, such as the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Europa League, and the World Championships.
How did the VR/AR move go for you?
We are committed to the development of e-commerce for B2C. With YouTube and pay TV channels, we have made good progress; now, we are ready to go even further. As a company with a large collection of world-class documentaries, we believe focusing on AR and VR technologies will help us differentiate our content more effectively and gain access to new markets.
Content featuring entertainment and education has an enormous following. We decided to differentiate our AR content to stand out from other content options. Our current project involves creating interactive content for tourists. In the coming months, we will release a pilot project. Our research also uncovered a handful of other areas of potential interest for the future.
What are the circumstances surrounding the company’s decision to develop its own anti-piracy service?
It has always been a priority for Star Media and its many rights holders in the region to protect their content from piracy. Our catalogue contains thousands of titles, so using an outside service would add substantial costs. Our solution was to develop an anti-piracy service of our own.
A memorandum signed by key Russian media companies in 2018 has significantly improved protection of content. Because of that development, we began protecting content from our YouTube partners and have expanded to other media companies as well.
What is the level of success so far?
As a result of our expertise in production, distribution, and content protection, we developed Content Scan, a unique anti-piracy service. From locating pirated content to fully removing it, the service is fully automated and is based on machine learning. It was launched in December 2020. This system makes title protection efficient and cost-effective and allows us to protect a number of titles simultaneously. Various types of content, such as text, live television streaming, and sporting events, are protected under this service.
Over 98% of Content Scan’s protection is effective to date. The number of blocked links surpasses 120 000 every day. By using Content Scan, Yandex, the leading Russian search engine, has blocked more than 14 million links to sites hosting pirated content, and Google has blocked more than 13 million.
Two industrial awards have already been won by Content Scan: the Bolshaya Tsifra national award for digital TV and a special award from Russian Association of Film and Television Producers. Among other things, the company joined FRAPA, a global organization that seeks to protect television formats legally.
How does Star Media plan to move forward?
We acknowledge that the global media industry has been developing rapidly for quite a while, and that 2021 will mark an accelerated pace of growth. Our development plans take into account key trends in global media. Innovation and challenge are welcome at our company, and as always, we welcome risks. Our success depends on this. Star Media has come a long way in the 15 years since it began, and we aren’t going to stop now. We attract a growing audience with our content every year. As part of our continuing commitment to reaching out to the global media community, we form exciting new partnerships every year. These trends are certain to continue.