As CEO of the largest entertainment and communications provider in Greece, Panos Papadopoulos has his mind firmly on innovation. “I strongly believe that, especially in a market like Greece, innovation is vital. Growth and innovation tend to be synonymous and this is the DNA of Forthnet. We try to build our differentiation advantage through innovative services that improve our subscribers’ quality of experience,” he says. The innovative services that he is referring to include internet and satellite pay TV, as well as broadband and telephone provision. Forthnet is much more than just a telecoms provider.
It has an interesting history as a successful spin-off from one of the top academic research institutions in Greece, the Foundation of Research and Technology Hellas, which gave the acronym FORTH. “Our history goes back to 1984 when the first email was sent and received with the rest of the world outside Greece, and then in 1989 we established the first internet connection with Europe and more specifically with France,” explains Papadopoulos. “This internet connection project was carried out by a group of FORTH researchers and in the following years they had the idea of creating the company that would commercially exploit the new internet market. That is, more or less, how Forthnet was founded in 1995.” Panos Papadopoulos was a core member of those researchers.
So from this background of academic excellence, Forthnet evolved into the largest independent broadband and telephone provider in Greece and it was the company that brought innovative new services into the Greek market - including being the first to broadcast in HD through its pay-TV platform, Nova, which it has owned since 2008. Papadopoulos says: “It was a strategic decision to acquire Nova, the telecom industry was saturated and we identified that the future was in the entertainment industry. The pay-TV penetration in Greece was very low five years ago; it was around 11 percent, far below the European average. So the huge opportunity was in the entertainment sector, and we have proved that having Nova as the main arm of our commercial strategy would be successful.”
Forthnet owns and broadcasts, along with Nova distributed channels, the Novasports and Novacinema channels. The sports channels offer the most popular Greek sports content, such as the national top leagues in football, basketball and volleyball. The Novacinema channels, through exclusive deals with the major Hollywood studios, offer premieres and blockbusters one year before any other channel in Greece.
And Forthnet invests heavily in sport. “We are the main broadcaster of all Greek sports. During the last five years, we have invested more than 250 million Euros in the Greek sports industry, making us by far the main supporter. Speaking more specifically about the Greek football industry, researchers say it accounts for more than 40,000 indirect jobs. So we could claim that all of these 40,000 indirect jobs are linked to our operation as the largest commercial supporter of Greek football.”
This impressive statistic is further supported by Forthnet’s backing of local cinema. Papadopoulos says: “During the last 15 years we have supported and invested in more than 125 co-productions and this translates to 50 million Euros in the last five years alone.” And when Forthnet is involved in a film, this means it undertakes the whole promotion, from the production until the movie is on at the cinema and eventually broadcast on Forthnet’s channels.
Although supporting homegrown sport and creative talent is admirable in itself, Papadopoulos admits it is also all about strategy. He says: “We believe that local content and especially local sports content is at the top of Greek audience’s favourites . This is how we shifted our strategy during the last five years. We focus on local content, we invest and capitalise on that by creating the content that differentiates us from competitors.”
Aside from the over 1.16 million subscriptions (in 805,000 households), another interesting avenue for growth for Forthnet has been with business customers. “We have a very strong footprint in the business sector, with more than 40,000 small and medium enterprises as clients and that was due to the huge experience we had from the early steps of our history in the business sector. With that specific clientele, what we try to provide is flexible solutions that can adapt to any business customer’s needs. We can bundle our business portfolio in order to provide fixed telecommunications services, managed security services, collocation services, hosting services and cloud services, giving our customers continuity and security and, of course, a reduction to their operational cost.”
And Papadopoulos recognises that there are still many ways that Forthnet can grow, both with its consumer and business customers. “Greece is still well below the average of the European Union on pay-TV penetration, and we do believe that supplying this in combination with telecoms services is the main way for us to grow.” But, keeping in mind the company’s innovative nature, it is also concentrating on providing for today’s generation of consumers, who increasingly want to look at content on mobile devices.
So with this in mind, Forthnet introduced Nova Go, featuring live and on demand TV content on laptops, tablets and smartphones. This launch highlighted Forthnet’s position as a leader in the market. Papadopoulos says: “We have transformed the whole company, the whole organisation, into an entertainment and communication service company. We are the only company in Greece that has expertise and culture in the pay-TV market. Our competitors treat pay TV as a fixed telecom retention tool. For us entertainment is our main focus. We pick the content we provide to our subscribers, we choose the programmes that the average Greek household wants to view, from Greek football and Greek basketball to blockbuster movies and hit series.”
This content-focused approach will continue to set Forthnet apart. Papadopoulos concludes: “The new consumer wants to see and consume different services and entertainment in general. They will be more and more involved in content creation and the whole entertainment industry is shifting to provide new user experiences, converging traditional media and social media, while at the same time rapidly evolving technologies that meet the user’s need for mobile entertainment.”