Interview: New ETV+ chief on ratings, audiences, challenges

Ekaterina Taklaja.
Ekaterina Taklaja. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Ekaterina Taklaja, who currently runs ERR's Russian-language web news, will be the new editor-in-chief of ETV+, ERR's Russian-language TV channel. In her interview with ERR News, she talks about the unique position of ETV+ in the Russian-language media landscape, and the challenges facing the channel.

ERR News: Though it is important for Estonia, in the context of the Russian media in general, you are taking over a comparably small TV channel. What is the position of ETV+ in comparison with the other Russian-language channels available in Estonia?

Ekaterina Taklaja: It's a local channel. The aim is first of all to offer information about our local life in Estonia to the Russian-speaking population, and also to speakers of other languages who are interested in following ETV+ and its topics. (Except for live broadcasts, by Estonian law ETV+ needs to provide Estonian-language subtitles for all its programs; ed.)

I don't think we can compete with the bigger Russian channels in terms of entertainment, and I don't think this should be our goal, but what we can offer is verified and diverse information based on facts. We can offer analysis of events and situations in Estonia as well as abroad, and where we are talking about entertainment, I think we're rather talking about infotainment in an Estonian context.

Talking about what Estonia's Russian speakers are interested in, how big is the difference to the topics of the Estonian-speaking channels?

I think there is 70 to 80% overlap where we're talking about social security issues, taxation, wages, laws and everything, it's the same for everyone who lives in Estonia. But of course there are some cultural and regional topics that might not be as interesting to the Estonian-language media, but are very important to the Russians.

Let's say we're talking about theatres. Here of course we cover the Russian Theatre in much more detail than the Estonian-language media would do it, and we wouldn't cover eg the closing-down of the NO99 theatre in as much detail as they are doing it.

If there is eg a new newspaper coming out in Narva, then of course we look at this across several programs, while the Estonian-language media would perhaps just mention that it is about to appear.

You are a journalist with a lot of experience in the news, and you also work for a company that requires you to justify your choice of topics and how you cover them. From this point of view, how do you rate the quality of ETV+ given its short history?

I think there has been very good progress. ETV+ started from scratch, and we have very few Russian-speaking professional journalists in Estonia if you compare it to the number of people in the same profession in Estonian. There were some of them who joined ETV+, but we also got a lot of people who at that point were amateurs, and who since they started have developed to a really good level.

And I think this potential could be developed even more. Because another thing about the very small number of Russian-speaking TV journalists is that they realised they should be able to work across a variety of different programs and projects. They need to be able to do reporting, editing, host shows, you know. We have people who perform in different roles.

ETV+ isn't the only Russian channel of Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR). There is Radio 4, and the Russian-language news portal that you still run until the end of this year. What is the extent of integration of these three?

The cooperation between ETV+ and the Russian web news is quite good, but maybe we can increase it even more. We promote ETV+'s best original programming on the news portal, provide an overview of what is happening in terms of news-related original programming, which eg includes the morning program, an investigative program called Insight (Инсайт), their interview of the week, and a debate show called Who is who (Кто кого?). So we follow it and pick up the best bits and edit them for the online format. This has worked very well.

Where we have our own projects going on, our colleagues at ETV+ have been eager to invite us on their programs and talk shows as well, or to mention us and refer viewers to us.

We also show a lot of their sports-related coverage, which has been a big success, also in connection with the Football World Championship.

What are the main problems and challenges you see in your new job?

Well the main challenge, the biggest I see and the expectation of the public as well is to increase the channel's ratings. If you read comments on ETV+ and its coverage, about every other is about its low ratings, so I think this is what everyone is expecting.

We should still be present online and in social media, but I think that the channel's budget is too big to only think about the Internet as the final medium. We should repackage the programming produced for TV. What we're doing now, chopping up a program and placing five-minute videos online, doesn't work. It should be more dynamic, more colourful, more precise, let's say in a 60-second format, eg much like the BBC's Youtube editors do it.

But of course doing this requires resources, and I can't say now whether or not we'll have the resources to have people like the BBC's Youtube editors, people who wouldn't just chop up TV content, but actually repackage it into something new.

In terms of TV ratings, I don't think we'll get around the issue of attracting an older audience as well. Of course it's very difficult to change their habits, they're used to big entertainment and infotainment offered by the Russian TV channels. But I think we should try, by starting to offer our own programming meant for this segment of the audience. Right now we only have one program, called Mirror (Зеркало), that talks about everyday topics and issues the older generation may encounter in their everyday lives. It's a new program on ETV+ that has so far been very popular. So I have a couple of ideas that I've also presented to the board, but at this point it's too early to talk about them.

ETV+ already has a loyal viewership among people aged 30-35 and above who are interested in social issues and current events. So we're covered on that, but these programs could be made more inclusive as well, maybe sharper, maybe more dynamic, and they could react to what is happening in the news more quickly.

We also have to do cross-promotion with Radio 4 and the web, but we should advertise and brand ourselves outside ERR as well. ERR now has a restructured marketing department and a brand manager for the Russian-language channels working on a strategy, and I'm hoping that with their help we can do something there as well.

Where we are talking about gaining a bigger audience, you are up against dozens of Russian-language channels. What reason do Estonia's Russian-speakers have to watch ETV+?

To inform themselves about life here, about issues that are important and that directly affect them and influence their everyday lives. Anything from tax to waste recycling, anything that affects everyone here. No Russian channel would talk about waste recycling in Estonia, but it's something people have to pay for, so this is a topic that doesn't only have to be in the news, but can be a part of analysis and infotainment programming as well. I think that is a good enough reason for them to watch ETV+.

Especially with Radio 4 I would like to work more closely, doing cross-marketing, but also in the context of the coming elections, for instance. I would very much like to have the final debate of the parties' candidates on air on Radio 4 and live on ETV+ at the same time.

Thank you!

Ekaterina Taklaja is taking over as ETV+'s new editor-in-chief on 1 January 2019. Taklaja was born in St. Petersburg in 1973, graduated with honours from the Faculty of Philology at St. Petersburg State University, and has since continued her education at the International Management Institute of Saint Petersburg as well as Exeter University in the UK. She has worked in Russia as an expert on projects with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the World Bank.

Taklaja has lived in Estonia since 2002, where she has worked as an English teacher at the Rocca al Mare School in Tallinn, editor for business daily Äripäev's Russian-language publications, and ERR, where she has been in charge of the Russian-language web news. She speaks Estonian, Russian and English.


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