New Horizons Await the General Manager of Horizon Television

Asbarez: How has Horizon evolved throughout the years and since its founding in 1989? Bianca Manoukian: There is an old Armenian proverb that says a good harvest is the result of good "seeds." It is because of the vision of our founders: the leadership of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Armenian National Committee that we are where we are today: The best Armenian television and the only 24 hour one in Diaspora. In May of 1989, Horizon aired its first show. There was this dire need in the community to see what was happening in our homeland, thousands of miles away, after the devastating earthquake and the beginning of the Karabakh movement. Horizon went from an hour-long program to twice a week, then five days a week, until 1999, when we were granted a partnership with Charter Communications–the cable company servicing the Glendale-Burbank-La Crescenta area–to offer 24 hour Armenian programming. After being on cable for years, and seeing how the satellite industry was growing, and how people from everywhere "needed" Armenian television at their homes, we began broadcasting on T5 Satellite. In 2004 we expanded to become a free to air station, so that everyone around the nation–even in Canada & Mexico–could see us. Due to popular demand, we began web casting in November of 2006. Now, no matter where you are in the world, you can always watch Horizon! Asbarez: With television becoming the medium of choice for our community, what are the challenges of producing a 24-hour channel? B.M.: I don’t think that it is just for our community. People’s lifestyle has changed and evolved so much in the past decade that internet, satellite, and on-demand entertainment are substituting the more traditional forms that existed. This puts an additional burden on any network. In our case, the biggest challenge is to have to perform to the most advanced standards of the industry in order to meet the expectation of our viewers. The second challenge is the diversity of our audience. It’s kind of hard to quench the thirst of the basrgahyes, the amerigahyes, the Hayastantsis, Beirutsis, and Souriatsis, who have all brought their share of influenced cultures from their host countries. The third challenge is the cultural clashes and the generational gaps that exist in our audience. What seems "cool" and trendy to our younger viewers seems unacceptable to our older generation. Now if the average working adult has two hours to watch television everyday, what is it that they want to see? That is the one million dollar question. The fourth is the scarce number of good journalists, as well as our cultural taboos to face today’s challenges and difficulties. I can go on and on and on. For example we have difficulty finding good programming that highlights our Armenian cultural heritage–even in Armenia. The producers are more interested in Westernized production copycats or Russian oriented programs than they are in programming that outlines and features our culture and heritage. Unfortunately, the market does not support programs with an emphasis on tradition enough for them to develop and grow. Asbarez: What sets Horizon apart from other Armenian programming? B.M.: Every program that airs on Horizon must have the national ideology element. Horizon is not a for profit business, therefore programming choices are not made based on commercial reasons. Horizon is the only Armenian Television Network where we have eight newscasts daily and hopefully soon we will be able to restart our English language news and programming. Horizon News is the only news program worldwide in Armenian that covers news of interest to the Diasporan audience. On a daily basis we have coverage from Armenia, Artsakh, Javakhk, Diasporan Communities, Regional (Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia, Iran), international, national, Southern California, entertainment, health, business and sports. So any Armenian becomes exposed to a variety of topics by watching Horizon. We have our sister station in Yerevan–Yerkir Media. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, and our grassroots structure, we are the only station with correspondents and live coverage from all over the world. Horizon belongs to the community and is one of the most influential media through which we communicate with communities worldwide. After all, we have over half a million viewers. Asbarez: What kind of ties does Horizon have in Armenia and how are those relations leveraged on a daily basis? B.M.: We work very closely with Armenia’s Public Television (H1) and provide them our news segmen’s, which are in turn broadcast worldwide on international satellites. It is just as important for the Diaspora to reach out to our compatriots in homeland. We work very closely with the Sharm Association, which is the leading production and public relations group in Armenia. We have worked with the Noyan Tapan news agency very closely and most importantly we have our affiliate station in Armenia, Yerkir Media, which was launched in 2004. It grew so fast that it has become one of the leading and trusted news sources in Armenia. Their news has won several awards, and I am sure that our viewers who have the pleasure of watching at least a few segmen’s during each newscast can vouch for them and their professionalism. Quite often we have live programs and interviews with guests in Armenia. We do marathon specials like on April 24th, providing direct live coverage… Or, the September 21st parade, or any other special occasion. On a daily basis, we exchange news, views, and opinions both on the air and off the air. Asbarez: What were some of the challenges you faced in the five years? B.M.: Well, I can actually write a few books on those, mainly because at the same time that I was Horizon’s executive producer and programming director, for the last three years, I also wore the company’s business manager’s hat. When I was entrusted with the latter, I expected this to be an interesting job, but I hadn’t expected it to be so interesting… I would say the main challenge was the cultural clash and the uniquely Armenian modus operandi. Almost nothing that I had learned in college matched the situations that I had to face. Therefore to "usual" solution was a workable solution. And I think part of it comes from the traditions of our own culture and the resistance to change from the status quo. The cultural differences and the different experiences that normally influence people’s perceptions of work ethics or routines, or management styles or even personalities were evident in the daily challenges that I had to face. From spending an hour literally bargaining over a $5 discount with a customer, to having to explain to another that just because they are a friend of a friend of my neighbor, it doesn’t qualify them to get a discount, or many other incidents that prolonged our daily operation. Or, for example, having to listen to someone lecture me on since women often come in second both at home and in the workplace, the ARF leadership was wrong to appoint a "woman" to a managerial position. However, these challenges, along with those usual and customary to the media industry, and the poor economic cycle that the entire state was suffering, required uncompromising performance and determination, attempts at charm and good-natured humor and, patience and persistence Every time that I would hit a roadblock, I remembered the advice that a very good friend of mine gave me once: In order to get from the ground floor to the tenth floor, you cannot jump at once. You have to climb up one flight at a time. Asbarez: How has Horizon changed in the last five years? B.M.: I think it would be best to ask this question from our viewers. For obvious reasons I cannot be objective when answering this question. The biggest change was our news production format and frequency, as well as our international live coverage. But there were also some major policies that we have adopted: 1. Finances were not going to dictate our programming. 2. All of Horizon’s programming must reflect "Armenianism" 3. No "Rabiz" music or videos were to be broadcast 4. Programs must be geared toward satisfying the younger generations 5. Given that television has become a means to preserve our national identity, our programs must entertain, while, at the same, time educate the viewers 6. Have a special forum for international performing art. 7. On a daily basis, remind people of that day’s or week’s significance in our lives and history 8. On a daily basis, remind ourselves of Hai Tahd–Genocide recognition, activism, historical Armenia and restitution–whether it is through special programs or the weather report from Moosh or Van. What is ours is ours. 9. Leave the studio based programming and get out in the community 10. Provide coverage to all community activities of interest and value to our society 11. Horizon belongs to the community. Therefore, any member of the community must feel free to walk into Horizon just the same way they would walk into their own homes. (After all we must remember the principles by which Horizon was founded–by our people… for our people). Asbarez: Is Horizon Television truly a reflection of the Armenian community here in California and the United States? How? B.M.: Definitely! Without the community support, there was no way that we could have achieved what we have in the past 18 years. However, despite the fact that over half of our audience is outside California, we have not been able to truly and fully be as inclusive as we wish we would. Our affiliate organizations, our friends, community associations and organizations all have a vested interest in seeing Horizon grow. Their support has been instrumental in helping us achieve our goals. For example His Eminence Archbishop Moushegh Mardirosian, the Western Prelate, has been instrumental in helping us obtain state-of-the-art broadcast equipment to give us the necessary tools to grow even more, because he believes in our work and sees its impact on the community. Or, Mrs. Ashkhen Pilavjian’s generous contribution, which helped us change our satellite platform so that we reach out to more households with better quality and more efficiency. We have the representatives of many different organizations who have been working very closely with us to use Horizon to maximize their reach. And I guess I will loose my objectivity again if I were to assess the results. I think they can answer this question better themselves! Asbarez: Why did you take on the task of managing Horizon and Asbarez? B.M.: It happened all so quickly. I was the public relations director of the ARF Western Region and one Friday afternoon I got a call asking me to temporarily fill the position vacated by Ara Khachatourian who was moving on with a great career opportunity. Shortly, due to lack of proper management and financial chaos, I was asked to again "temporarily" take over the business management position until "we were able to find someone." Although I stayed a little too long for a "temporarily" status, but, you know, naturally we are built to conquer our environment, solve problems and achieve goals. I think, as human beings, we find no real satisfaction or happiness in life without obstacles to conquer and goals to achieve. Asbarez: What do you see in the future for Horizon? B.M.: Generally speaking, prediction is very difficult. However, in this case, I have to make an exception. It is a great pleasure for me to see my very good friend Harry Vorperian as one of my successors. Institutionally, we are fortunate to have expanded our past structure to separate the business entity from the production entity, thus giving a lot more opportunity to the creative mind to work and produce, while the business manager minds the business affairs. We are also very fortunate to have Raffi Sarkissian as our business manager, who will bring his vast community organizational experience and management expertise to the table and help Asbarez/Horizon move to the next level. Coming back to Horizon’s future, I have to say I cannot wait to see it. With Harry’s exceptional talent and Horizon’s "dream team" all I can say is "watch out world, ‘Horizon’ is on the horizon!" As we are getting ready to celebrate Horizon’s 18th anniversary in May, we will all witness the transformation and the growth. However, production is quite time consuming. Sometime, we spend literally days preparing a five minute segment. TV is one of those super-complicated industries where the real work is done behind the scene. It’s the nature of the beast! Just to give you an idea, one great project that we have been working on since last October is called "LA Hyelights." The show is going to be an entertainment travel type show exploring the jewels of Southern California. We have brought on board Emmy winning director Mark Mardoyan, who is leading the project with a great team of professionals and experts. Before we started the production, we did extensive research & planning about the production. Once we had our plans, we had to find the funding because such great entertaining programs with the desired quality that we wanted. So we approached a great friend of our community, Mr. Khachig Mouradian, and submitted our proposal. Mr. Mouradian graciously offered his sponsorship of the program and we got began production. In order to air a program, you have to have at least seven episodes "in the can"–or already ready to roll. In order to ensure quality, you have to do your pre-production such that the actual production can run smoothly. All of these elemen’s take time and meticulous attention. Other mainstream broadcast and cable networks devote vast resources to this. We try to the job of a hundred people through a shoe-string staff. The reason I wanted to mention this was to point out that it is not that easy to try to swim in the same pond as the big fish do, but we do anyway. It just takes us more time! Even if you have the money and the best talent, the roadblocks in production are tremendous. At the same time, determination gives you the resolve to keep going on despite the roadblocks that lie before you. You have three choices: walk around them, jump over them, or crawl underneath them, but never make a U turn. We are confident that this new program will become a critical new addition to our line up! Or for example the New Year’s Eve special segment that we had prepared in a similar format that was called "Los Angelesian Holidays," took us 12 days to shoot and over 300 hours of post production. That is where we want to go in the future, to have a lot more of our own productions outside our studios and have professional caliber films, documentaries, & movies and programming in general. We do not want our productions to look any different than the ones on major networks. Our goal is that the only difference will be the bilingual element. To get there, we need a lot more resources, and we believe our community, like always, will help us get there. Asbarez: What would be your advice to the new leadership? B.M.: Well that is a bit difficult since I have always been the one going to Harry and getting his artistic advice, and asking Raffi about his advice. But one thing that I learned–the most valuable lesson of all–was that I was nothing without our "Dream Team." The greatest plans will remain on paper and will serve no purpose if it is not for their executors. The team is what makes the leader look good. I think it was President Roosevelt that said "The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it." I also learned that there are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure. Set your principles and ideals and do not let anyone or anything make you give them up. Do not try to please everyone, as in the process you will end up pleasing no one. Days and months fly by so quickly, so make sure that you do not plan for ventures before finishing what’s at hand. Stay committed to your decisions but stay flexible in your approach and although we cannot live in the past, we can chart our future clearly and wisely only when we know the path which has led to the present. As much as you may try to practice zero defect there will be days that you will feel knocked down but that is irrelevant. It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up. You both have gotten a great team behind you. Your passion and commitment will be greatly contagious so don’t talk, act. And one thing that I learned from my idol is that a great team leader must be part of the team, and at times even a follower. The title will not dictate to you what you should do or will not set your boundaries. On the contrary, you determine what that title means. Asbarez: Any final thoughts? B.M.: Thank you, thank you, and thank you. To the ARF Central Committee of Western United States for placing their trust in me to serve my party. And also to all my ungers for their support and encouragement. To my predecessors: Garbis Titizian, Koko Balian, Hamlet Chraghchian, Nigol Bezdjian, Armand Baghdoian, John Kossakian and Ara Khachatourian for laying the strong foundation on which I had the privilege and honor of building up and for helping me learn about the path that they had lead, and sharing with me their successes & failures, which made my job a lot easier. To our wonderful producers, advertisers, and sponsors, who never said no to us and were always there for us whenever we needed them the most in which ever capacity we needed them. To all our sister organizations and affiliates for their continuous support and .encouragement. To all the individuals who were my supporting backbone, whether it was graphics, camera angles, brainstorming, printing, marketing advice, computer advice, FTP allocation, tech support, or repairing our constant emergency A/C problems. To our loyal viewers who literally make us what we are by their suggestions, criticisms, encouragemen’s, and detail orientations. To my dear friends and colleagues in DC, Armenia, Lebanon, Artsakh and everywhere in the world for. their cooperation & support To our great volunteers: Dashnagsagan "Unger" Tsolag, Michel Shahinian, Hourig Fournouzian, Aline Bezdigian, Hovan Tashjian, Vehik Gabrielian, Mkhitar Mooradian, and many more great individuals whose passion and commitment inspired us all. To my dearest colleagues. I can not thank you enough for every thing you did. The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn. Each and every one of them, whether in the newsroom, behind the camera, or behind the desks answering phones and selling ads, is that one acorn. Last, but not the least, to my family for allowing me to take off to spread my wings and to grow stronger. Thank you for teaching me that a mother is a person who can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take.


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