Kasia Kieli: I always have plan B

“After years, I can focus on a single market again. When you are responsible for multiple markets in an international company, and I was responsible for 140 markets, you need to operate largely on a general plane,” says Kasia Kieli, head of the newly created media giant Warner Bros. Discovery in Poland and new CEO of TVN.

Magdalena Lemańska | Forbes

FORBES: “Did you manage to achieve your goal last year and spend every weekend in Warsaw?”

Kasia Kieli: “The last two years changed a lot about this. The pandemic taught us all that we can work differently, and without negative impact on business. This is the perverse effect of the pandemic, because before that, I did not actually have a week without air travel. Last year, I spent more time at home, which does not mean that I worked less. Last year was an intensive year that was full of challenges for us, both in Poland and in Europe. Last year, in the middle of the pandemic, we launched our global streaming platform, discovery+. Not to mention the fact that when a news television station is part of your business, as a rule you do not work Monday to Friday only.”

“You will now be responsible for the operations of merged Warner Media and Discovery and TVN, but only in Poland. It is a good or bad change?”

“I am very happy about that, this is the culmination of my professional path and accomplishment of my ambitions. This role is not only harmonized with the needs of the company, but I am emotionally involved in it, and I am very pleased with it. Discovery and Warner Media are in the process of finalization of the largest media merger in the world, resulting in a unique group. The American giant, the producer of Hollywood blockbusters from Batman to Harry Potter to Matrix, the owner of such a strong brand as HBO, will join forces with a major player in the non-feature production business, Discovery. A company with diverse assets will be established. Poland is the beneficiary of this merger: we have TVN, a strong brand in the news and local production segment. That is why our market has been carved out from this emerging new structure: it will be a separate region.”

“This can be treated as preparation for the return of Lex TVN. Any carving-out of a part of the business also results in rumours about possible divestment.”

“The carving-out of the Polish part of business shows how important this market is in our structures. This is an expression of appreciation for its size, complexity, the needs of local viewers and the business potential of the market. Last year we faced a number of challenges. We had to defend the continuity of our business and, at the same time, defend freedom and independence of the media in Poland. We received massive support not only from our viewers and not only in Poland, but also from our US colleagues and business partners. This support has not stopped, because it is related to the defence of the fundamental democratic values, which are crucial for our American owners: freedom of the press and expression, and also defence of private property. The fact that I will be able to focus entirely on Poland will allow me to respond faster and more effectively to the emerging opportunities and to promote Poland more strongly in the structures of Warner Bros. Discovery. Even before the merger, Discovery invested a lot in the team and in creating new content in Poland. Departments that support many of our international markets in the financial and HR aspects, from Europe to Asia, were moved to Warsaw. We introduced sports to TVN, which I am very proud of. We have Eurosport in the group, and TVN viewers were able to watch ski jumping competitions live. The entire group was involved in modern coverage of ski jumping events on all our platforms.”

“After the merger, will we see a platform with HBO, Discovery Plus, news channels and Polish television shows as part of a single subscription?”

“Streaming is certainly a strategic area for us, because the most serious fight is now taking place on the international streaming market. In some sense, such an offering is already available in Poland, as Player subscribers may access all channels of the TVN group, HBO and the vast VOD offer of Polish productions as part of a single subscription. However, as far as further plans are concerned, it is still too early to talk about details, although this market will certainly change considerably. Netflix, Disney, Apple and Amazon are all major players, but our strength is a combination of HBO Max best Hollywood content with local content from Player. We already have a total of 10 million users today.”

“When you started working in this industry in the 1990s, you wanted to be an anchor in Nowa Telewizja Warszawa.”

“And I am glad I did not succeed, because it was not for me and I would not make any career as an anchor. Instead, I worked in the sales department. Sometimes, you can benefit from your failures. Everything that happened afterwards was a coincidence, but also the result of determination and perseverance. I believe that these two features are very important in life, just like hard work, being open to opportunities around you and being able to use them. Sometimes this means that you have to leave your comfort zone and it is often very difficult. I was certainly helped by the industry in this regard. The media environment is full of challenges, but in my case it is also very supportive. It is very important to be around people who share your passion, give you the energy and play on the same team.”

“Were you afraid when you launched Discovery’s Polish branch in 2000?”

“I think that contrary to appearances people are more often afraid when they are older. When you are young, you have the bravado and a lesser sense of your own limitations. That is why it is so easy to throw yourself into deep water when you’re young. When I was 22 and studied linguistics at the University of Warsaw, I was not afraid of going to the States and teaching American students… the history of the United States as part of the scholarship that was offered to me by a professor visiting our university. That was, after all, a very hard task. Fortunately, I have qualities that help me in situations like these.”
“My first job. Even when I was a teenager, I took care of children and earned pocket money for that. Then I worked in many places, also as a bus girl. I bought a tiny car for the first serious money I earned. When I was at the university, I went to the States to lecture US history to American students. I have always had a great need to be independent,” says Kasia Kieli.

“What qualities are these?”

“I am very critical of myself and I always feel that I could solve something faster and better. This really tortures me. I have been involved in numerous negotiations after which I would be angry with myself because I felt I had failed entirely, even though I was prepared for the negotiations the best I could have been. I like to feel prepared for every eventuality. Then, if something goes wrong, I feel that I did everything I could. This was also the case with the last year which was difficult in our company.”

“So what were the B and C plans in case Lex TVN was adopted? This is certainly a closed book already?”

“These are not the things that I can foresee. However, TVN is an American company, and the United States is now Poland’s largest ally, and this alliance is very important today and is based on values such as freedom of expression and respect for property. Sure, we had contingency plans last year. Some of these scenarios were known to the public, for example the fact that we obtained a Dutch licence for TVN24. After all, our Polish licence was renewed three days before its expiry date. We also worked with Washington and Brussels during this difficult time. For me, communication with employees was essential at that time, since they had so many doubts and concerns. Still, they knew that we had plan B and that we were prepared. So, as an organization, we came out of the entire Lex TVN situation even stronger.”

“Have you never felt burnt out and not planned to set up your own business?”

“No, I have not. I am not burnt out either, because I am incredibly motivated by the people whom I work with. For me, it is important to have positive energy at work and to surround myself with the people who want to work. This gives me wings. Now, I am excited that I can focus on a single market again after so many years. When you are responsible for multiple markets in an international company, and I was responsible for 140 markets, you need to operate largely on a general plane. This is why I am really happy with the change of my position at the company. Obviously, everyone is sometimes simply tired, but I have my ways to rest, I simply go to the garden or I cook.”

“I remember that you spoke against parities. How do you support women then?”

“My approach has changed, especially since I started working with TVN in Poland. It seems to me that women need to be supported in our market. Here, I see not only blocks in organizations, but also in women themselves, who often resign or give up, because this is the right way to do or this is what the situation requires. I believe that you need to push forward and invest positively in yourself. At Discovery, for three years now we have had a very strong Discovery Women’s Network initiative which supports women at their workplace and creates the best conditions for their development. Our channels focus on the proper representation of women among guests of our news programmes. We are checking how many female pundits we have on our programmes. When we covered ski jumping, I pushed for having female pundits in the studio. I feel that at this stage of my life and career I should speak more about this issue.”

Source: Forbes