Media – Keshet CEO Avi Nir

Avi Nir  credit: Gil Gibli

The man who controls and (almost) never manipulates our collective consciousness.

It's hard not to be impressed by Keshet’s achievements in recent years. It has gradually grown from a television channel into a media group with a foothold in every market segment and category where it can produce content and gain advertising revenue. Its television channel has a 60% share, at least, of total money spent on commercial advertising; it owns the most powerful television news company in Israel; it has two content websites (Mako and N12) that rank among the top five in the country; an investment arm that converts advertising airtime into shares in promising commercial companies; and an international arm, Keshet International (KI), which markets and produces content abroad. This year, Keshet added another important piece to its portfolio: a share in RGE Media Group that brings with it the possibility of establishing an over-the-top (OTT) media service that would eliminate Keshet's dependence on the HOT cable and Yes satellite infrastructures, and provide another way to charge for its content.

Keshet is what it is today thanks to the vision and management ability of the person who heads it, Avi Nir. Nir is capable of thinking several steps ahead, and aided by a solid group of managers, each strong in his or her field, Nir takes risks, betting again and again on maneuvers the market doesn’t always understand. Avi Nir is Keshet, and Keshet has been managed by him so successfully that even during Covid-19, the business has stayed very profitable.

But along with admiration for Keshet's success, it's hard not to fear the enormous power the group wields, and its impact on many areas of public life - economic, consumer, political, cultural, and more. A powerful television channel with two leading websites, operating in a small market with a singular language, gives Keshet a monopoly on the collective consciousness. This is perhaps not terribly important when it applies to issues like who will be Israel's next pop idol or which "Married at First Sight" couple will be coffee break topic of the day, but when it comes to having the ability to shape perceptions about politics, health and security via a news organization that has no real competition - that is far less amusing.

As far as non-news content is concerned, Israeli viewers nowadays have an ever-expanding range of options. When it comes to news, however, Keshet, through Channel 12 News, has only strengthened its center stage position, thanks not only to its capabilities, but also because the news organizations at Channel 13 and Kan 11 have failed to become significant competitors.

Power over viewers' consciousness gives Keshet power over those who feed off viewer attention: commercial companies, politicians, even over regulators. For advertisers, for example, Keshet is an effective tool, but also a factor that influences their business decisions - and not always in the way they planned. Consumer affairs program Tohnit Hisahon, for example, posed a threat to advertisers; each week the show addressed a different category, comparing the prices of products abroad with prices in Israel, not always providing explanations for the difference in cost, and reinforcing the perception of Israel as an expensive country.

So, when a highly rated show puts this issue on its agenda, with no other show on air to provide a counterweight, clearly the advertisers must fall in line. And when News 12 demands an exclusive interview with a senior politician, the chances of their being interviewed on another channel are almost non-existent, as are the chances of Keshet journalists and on-air personalities moving to another channel, and perhaps creating some healthy competition.

Keshet has gotten used to thinking like a monopoly. Journalists have become ‘talents’ with a variety of parallel pursuits such as hosting conferences and lectures that are not necessarily in line with professional ethics and only increase the impact they already have. The news editions are filled with aggressive promotional items for the channel's content, and not much remains of the so-called "Chinese Wall" that was supposed to buffer between commercial content and news content.

Sometimes, within this wealth of activity, it feels like the good of the viewer isn’t a primary consideration for Keshet. For example, in the war against Reshet over the launch of "Survivor", to thwart its competitor Keshet would suddenly change its broadcast schedule each day --at the expense of confusing the viewership and confounding its expectations.

The market describes Keshet as forceful and aggressive, a company that sees its side as almost always justified, less so the other side, that sets targets and attacks, while leading sophisticated campaigns to make the chips fall, not as they may, but the way it wants. Another very recent example was the battle waged by Keshet against cutting the length of news editions, when it put what was described as unimaginable pressure on the Second Television and Radio Authority council to prevent the move. This time, Keshet lost the fight, precisely perhaps because it exerted overly strong and aggressive force.

With his sophisticated management skills, Avi Nir has made Keshet so powerful it sometimes seems as though Israel is a state within a corporate entity, and not the other way around. In the Israeli microcosm, Keshet has become what Google and Facebook are for the rest of the world. Content creators, producers, advertisers and politicians - everybody needs it, so it's hard to stay away.

The RGE deal and entry into OTT is expected to increase this power even more. The move will allow Keshet to significantly reduce its dependence on the platforms which currently transmit its content to viewers' homes - HOT and Yes - and will also facilitate additional profit centers, such as subscription fees, while reducing its dependence on the classic model of advertising and advertisers.

And yet, in 2021, Keshet got a small sampling of the limitations of power when Michal Halperin, Head of the Competition Authority, did not permit it to acquire control of RGE and limited the number of shares it could buy. This did not change Keshet’s plans fundamentally, but did serve as an important reminder that any force which becomes too powerful must sometimes be restrained. The question is whether in Keshet’s case this is at all still possible.

In the past, there was speculation about Avi Nir's aspirations to enter into the content industry outside Israel. At present, Nir enjoys a respectable reputation in the international content industry, and all doors are open to him. For the time being, however, it seems he will stay and continue managing Keshet long term. The combination of a person with extraordinary capabilities, shareholders who trust him and grant him leeway, and an organization that, in any case, already has enormous power - all ensure that Nir will remain one of the people who influence not only Israeli media, but Israeli reality in general.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 30, 2021.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2021.

Avi Nir  credit: Gil Gibli
Avi Nir credit: Gil Gibli
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