Roman Mlodkowski is CEO of BIZNES24, a private business news channel in Poland, and IESE alumnus.
You would think that starting a new national television channel from scratch would require major investment and lots of people. Not so in the case of BIZNES24, Poland’s only 24-hour business news channel, a model of effective innovation, improvisation and cost control. According to BIZNES24’s founder and CEO, Roman Mlodkowski, “You can make professional television for pennies. It requires lots of work but it’s doable.”
Mlodkowski began his career as a journalist in Poland in the 1990s after the Solidarity movement helped bring about the end of Communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe, culminating in the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. “It was an exciting and interesting time to be a journalist,” he recalls, “not just because we were young, but because the world had changed completely: we moved from oppression to freedom. It was a new world.”
Unlike his colleagues who focused on political news, Mlodkowski specialized in business journalism. “Strategically, it’s good to differentiate,” he says. “For me, there are more answers to be found in business and economics than in politics. Business journalism deals in real numbers, so you can tell the full story.”
Stories that need to be told
After many years as a radio and TV presenter, producer and director, Mlodkowski didn’t see much space on Polish television for the many interesting stories that he felt needed to be told of companies that were growing and changing the ways things were done. So, he decided to set up his own business news channel. “I keep starting things, which is a privilege but also a curse,” he remarks wryly.
BIZNES24 was launched on January 2, 2020, in the same building where the first independent Polish television channel, Polsat, had also begun. Polsat vacated the building on March 2, and in 18 days Mlodkowski and his crew transformed the studio into their own operation. Their inaugural broadcast was Friday, March 20, 2020 — a fateful time as it also coincided with the start of COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns in Poland and around the world.
A large percentage of BIZNES24’s revenues came from doing special projects, which they weren’t able to do because they weren’t allowed to meet anyone. In time, lockdowns eased, but just as things were picking up and growing, the war in Ukraine broke out, which once again curtailed their ability to do projects.
Innovation, the secret to survival
Despite these crises, BIZNES24 has prevailed. The secret to their survival is innovation, he says, especially in their cost structure. Instead of spending millions on the latest technology and equipment, they bought a PC — a powerful one but a PC nonetheless — and software costing around $450, which he says can do as good a job as a million-dollar control room.
They also saved money by buying equipment that Polsat no longer wanted, obtaining three studio cameras for a fraction of what they were worth when Polsat moved out. They also keep personnel costs down by employing one control room operator instead of the usual three, and when one of the anchors is off work, Mlodkowski himself steps in and assumes their place in the newsroom.
Making a difference
Mlodkowski credits the creation and success of BIZNES24 to the sheer motivation of his small yet highly dedicated team. He is a strong believer in “triple motivation” — that is, extrinsic motivation (pay), intrinsic motivation (professional challenge) and, above all, transcendent motivation, the idea that the work you do benefits society. In a world of fake news, he and his team are convinced of the importance of keeping people well informed about economic and financial matters.
“We enjoy this professional project that we are building and the feeling that we are making a difference together. It’s a huge privilege to work with people like this.”
One of the things that Mlodkowski learned while doing the Advanced Management Program (AMP) at IESE is the need for structure. The media industry requires an attention to detail and a focus on things that can easily get overlooked, especially when broadcasting 24 hours a day. Setting up clear management structures from the start is invaluable.
Being a trustworthy source
BIZNES24 is carried by all the major distributors in Poland and has its own streaming channel. According to Nielsen, BIZNES24 reaches over 2 million viewers a month, or roughly 100,000 unique viewers a day, catering to a niche but affluent target audience. “We make terribly boring television,” he jokes. “You have to be really interested in business to watch us.”
Because BIZNES24 is a small, low-cost operation, what their shows may lack in spectacular lighting or slick graphics, they more than make up for in the quality of their guests and the strength of their editorial independence.
“One of the reasons that we can survive in this market is because we’re a trustworthy source,” says Mlodkowski. “The news is something that we never sell; you can’t buy an interview. We’re very strict about making sure that the viewer knows which content is independent editorial and which is promotional or commercial content.”
Mlodkowski’s life is dominated by television. He admits that the long hours can sometimes make family life challenging, but he wouldn’t have wanted a different career. “When you have a creative job, it’s a blessing. Just like a painter or sculptor doesn’t go to work, they just paint or sculpt, I don’t go to work either: I make television. My job is my passion.”