Lending expertise to entertainment
One's professional path does not always go in a straight line, but may have unpredictable twists and turns - something to which Haluk Kurcer can certainly attest.
After more than thirty years in banking, a handshake with Dogan Group officials took Kurcer from the rigid financial sector to the glamorous world of entertainment. This might seem like a dramatic change, but not for Kurcer, who embraced the challenge and was rewarded with the satisfaction of taking Kanal D to third place on the fiercely competitive TV market.
Kurcer's previous experience in Romania was in 1997 when he joined Demirbank Romania (currently Unicredit Tiriac) as Vice President. Following the establishment of Demirbank Romania, he was appointed CEO of Demirbank Bulgaria but returned to Romania in 2004 to join Unicredit Tiriac.
In February 2008, his lifelong banking experience, appetite for a clear vision and understanding of the intricate language of figures persuaded the owners of Dogan Group to offer him the job of Executive Board Member of Dogan Media International as well as President of Dogan Group in Romania.
"They gave me the job of taking care of all areas of the investments that Dogan Group was planning for Romania. Before the crisis hit, we acquired a 55,000-sqm piece of land in Pipera, where we were planning to build a hospital, a hotel and a shopping mall. Unfortunately we had to halt these plans, like many others, for obvious reasons."
The magnitude of Dogan Group's business reaches beyond the media: in Turkey, the group has major operations in the energy field. "We already have a big investment in energy in Turkey, in both hydro and wind energy. The hydro power plant has a 550 MW installed capacity - a EUR 1.3 to 1.5 billion investment in joint venture with Dogus Group and Unit Group- and as we speak we are in the process of building another one in joint venture with Dogus Group and Anadolu Group that will be operational in September 2013," says Kurcer.
In Romania too, Dogan Group is now planning to enter the energy sector. "We are really interested in the opportunities offered in Romania's energy sector and we are looking closely at opportunities in wind and photovoltaic. we will decide in about three or four months if we enter the energy sector in Romania as an investor."
Coming back to the business that is taking up all his energy for the moment, the management of Kanal D, Haluk Kurcer is proud of his accomplishment. "At the moment we are in the top three most watched TV stations; we are playing with the big guys. It is very demanding as we are in another world now, the premier league."
Climbing to one of the top positions in the TV rankings is not an easy job, but Kanal D seems to have found the secret of getting into the homes of Romanian viewers. "We are a TV station for the whole family. Everyone in the family will find something interesting to watch on Kanal D, and our job is to entertain the viewer the best we can," says Kurcer.
The road was paved with mistakes, he admits, "but we learned and we hope not to repeat them. There were some TV shows that did not perform as expected. We also changed our profile, from a TV station targeting mainly women to one addressing the whole family."
Dogan Media Group is the leader of the Turkish media market with numerous TV stations (around 27 percent market share), many publications in print media (approximately 49 percent market share for print operations) and radio stations. Locally, the group has decided, at least for the moment, to retain ownership even though over the years there have been proposals to sell parts of the station or even the whole business. "We have had such discussions but for the moment the plan is to stand alone. We started with Ringier, which had 25 percent of the shares, but now we have bought their shares and Dogan Media International is the only shareholder. But the market is unpredictable - who knows what will happen in a few years? A lot of things can change in the market and in the world economy."
Asked if the group is still planning further investments in the Romanian media, Kurcer confirms that it is looking for opportunities. "These opportunities might materialize in another TV or radio station, but also in projects related to websites and online presence."
Online is another area where Kurcer proudly presents his new baby. The tabloid website wowbiz, which covers Romania's highlife, is a success story just three months from its launch. "We definitely want to increase our online presence, and we are strongly encouraged by the fast growth of our wowbiz.ro project."
Even though the audience figures look promising, the life of a media business is not easy these days. With shrinking advertising budgets and strong competition, the race for profitability is tough.
"We have reached our target for the first five years for performance, but financially I cannot say the same thing. This is due to the dramatic drop in advertising revenues that is common to the whole market. Still, we hope that Kanal D will become profitable this year," says Kurcer.
The dedication of the people working at the TV station and the young management team are the secret weapons that Haluk Kurcer relies on in the battle for ratings and market share. "We are working with a very young team and we have got tremendous results, especially in 2010 and 2011. We need to keep close contact with the audience and balance our programs between revenues and viewers' needs," says Kurcer.