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Crisis in Greek television – Part 2

The recent economic crisis in Greece has had a devastating impact on Greek television. In this second of a two-part blog, Georgia Aitaki consider the impact of the crisis on Greek television fiction.

The people of Greece were officially informed about the deteriorating condition of Greek economy in 2009; the gradual downgrading of Greece in global markets, the recourse to financial assistance from abroad and the implementation of austerity measures were the first indications of the beginning of one of the most difficult time periods that the country had gone through since the dictatorship of Colonels.

It soon became apparent that the ‘Greek Crisis’ was the tip of the iceberg called ‘Eurozone Crisis’. The crisis affected Greek economy and society in ways that go beyond the scope of this article, but it is important to address the consequences it had on the media industry and television (fiction) in particular.

Counting the casualties

Greek economic crisisThe season 2009-2010 was recognized as a record-low for the production of domestic television fiction in Greece. Only six new fictional programmes were produced that year and broadcast to local audiences. This was definitely not the situation that Greek viewers were accustomed to; especially after 1989 and the emergence of private television, fictional programmes covered multiple time-slots during the everyday schedule.

A close examination of the programming strategies of Greek TV stations may reveal the main reasons why domestic television fiction suffered such a severe blow:

a) The cost of television fiction:

During the 1990s the popular genre of situation comedies cost approximately 3-4million drachmas (€9,000-12,000) per episode for the period 1991-1992 and 6-8 millions (€18,000-23,000) for 1996-1997. According to Angeliki Koukoutsaki, “sitcoms constituted the ideal programme for the prime-time, complying with the mercantile spirit of the private television which wishes to attract the maximal audience by investing the minimum amount of money”.

Adventure and crime drama of the ’90s was more expensive, costing 4-6 million (€12,000-18,000) drachmas per episode for the period 1991-1992 and 14 to 18 million (€41,000-53,000) drachmas for 1996-1997. The daily format of soap operas required more modest spending; subsequently, Greek soap operas were traditionally of lower budget, costing approximately 2.5 million drachmas (€7,000) per episode for the 1992-1993 period (see Koukoutsaki 2003).

b) The decline of advertising:

As it has been mentioned in part one of this blog, most fictional programmes were broadcast during prime-time. Their popularity functioned as a major attraction for advertising companies, which spent large amounts of money so that their products were showcased during the commercial breaks of fictional programmes, since it was then that they could reach the largest amounts of viewers. The significant fall of advertising revenue – TV stations’ major source of income – impeded the production of a large number of expensive productions.

 c) Cheap(er) alternatives:

With the number of new domestic fictional programmes shrinking from 2009 onwards, TV stations started looking for alternative options in order to fill the gaps in the everyday schedule without having to spend a lot of money. Confronted with the inability – or unwillingness – to give the green light for the production of Greek programmes, public and private broadcasting followed different paths concerning their chosen strategies.

During the years of the crisis, importing (cheap) Turkish fiction became part of the channels’ strategy in order to substitute the (expensive) production of Greek fiction

During the years of the crisis, importing (cheap) Turkish fiction became part of the channels’ strategy in order to substitute the (expensive) production of Greek fiction

On one hand, public television chose the path of quality, bringing to Greece five cases of foreign television fiction which has gained popular and critical acclaim throughout Europe. These series were: Borgen, Parade’s End, Upstairs Downstairs, Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey. On the other hand, private television – namely Mega Channel and Antenna TV - discovered that celebrity/reality/contest shows were the ideal substitute for the prime-time slots, especially during the weekend.

Since 2009, the following TV shows have been broadcast – among others – by private channels: Next Top Model, The X Factor, Greece You Have Talent, Dancing with the Stars, Greek Idol, Real Housewives of Athens, (Total) Blackout, So You Think You Can Dance, Your Face Sounds Familiar. What is more, Greek television proved to be a very hospitable platform for many cooking shows either produced domestically or adapted to the Greek reality such as: Kitchen Nightmares, Love Bites, Master Chef, Junior Master Chef and Top Chef.

Another way that private stations responded to the need for cheaper products was by importing television fiction from Turkey. Although imported fiction has always been a strategy used by television stations in Greece, as in other countries of Europe, without causing any significant anxiety to the public, the case of Turkish television fiction deserves special treatment.

Programmes such as Karadayi, Fatmagul, Suleiman the Magnificent, Sila, Adanali and Asi were broadcast by private stations on a daily basis and were received with mixed feelings by domestic audiences. It is worth noting that the dominant discourse about these programmes discusses them as one of the reason for the disappearance of domestic fiction. Their low cost as imported products has made them particularly attractive to Greek programmers and has diminished their interest in supporting domestic productions even more.

The current situation

Throughout these years, different voices expressed their opinion about the future of Greek TV fiction, some – like the popular Greek actor Yannis Mpezos – arguing that the crisis will help television to eliminate numerous programmes of low quality, while others echoed concerns about the social implications of Greek fiction becoming extinct. Greek director, Manousos Manousakis, for instance has been speaking about the cultural significance of domestic fiction, while Sara Ganoti – former vice president of the Hellenic Actors’ Union – has revealed another aspect of the effects of the crisis on television fiction, that of the unemployment rates reached of actors which reached 93% in 2012.

Ethniki

Ethniki Ellados is one of the most recent productions of Greek fiction, integrating the social effects of the economic crisis as one of its main themes

Nevertheless, despite the significant changes that the financial crisis brought to the field of production of domestic programmes, TV fiction has not disappeared yet. Of course, it would be hard to argue that the number of series and serials produced for Greek audiences look anything like the abundance of choices that were once available on broadcast TV, but it is worth noting that TV fiction has proved to be a resistant product, highly preferred and even requested by local audiences.

An interesting thing concerning the most recent productions of Greek TV fiction is that they often refer to their crisis as a main theme, content-wise. Piso sto spiti (Returning Home), for example, tells the story of a Greek family in serious debt, while To Kato Partali is about the adventures of a former ‘golden boy’ in a village of the Greek periphery. In 2015, a new series began with the title Ethniki Ellados (National Team of Greece) addressing the issue of what it means to be Greek in a growing xenophobic society.

It remains to be seen whether Greek TV fiction will manage to completely overcome the serious blow it took during the first years of the economic recession.

Georgia Aitaki is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Journalism, Media and Communication, University of Gothenburg. Her research project (under the working title “Private television, public culture”) examines commercial Greek television fiction produced between 1989 and 2012.

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