Content the redeemer - Foxtel pitches exclusivity

James McGrath
By James McGrath | 31 October 2014

If Richard Freudenstein has his way, you’ll come for the pricing but stay for the content.

The Foxtel chief executive was presenting at the Foxtel upfront event in Sydney yesterday, keen to tell an audience of media buyers and celebrities in the audience that although it wasn't focused on any particular competitor, that it was ready for whatever new entrants into the market threw its way.

“There’s been speculation that we’ve made these changes in response to incoming competition. We haven't, we’ve done it as part of a well-planned strategy to respond to consumer behaviour and to grow our business,” he said.

“I’m absolutely confident that we are in a position to meet any competition and beat it.”

He pitched to buyers on exclusivity of content, highlighting an extended exclusive distribution deal with US network HBO as evidence Foxtel would have the content people want to see.

As part of the extended deal, Foxtel will have access to a back catalogue of HBO content top fill its new box-sets channel service.

While the move had been touted, last night Freudenstiein confirmed that the box-sets channel would be free to most existing subscribers and to new subscribers grabbing Foxtel under its new pricing scheme, which starts next week.

He also hinted the box-sets would make their way onto Foxtel's SVOD platform Presto, saying that while he couldn't elaborate on the platform's future, an announcement would be made “soon”.

With speculation that Seven and Foxtel are to explore opportunities for Seven content to migrate onto Presto, Seven's Brad Lyons and Tim Worner's attendance at the event was noted.

Freudenstein also said Foxtel's new set-top box, the IQ3, would be rolled out over the next few months.

IQ3 will allow users to record three channels at once while watching a fourth, it will give users an opportunity to see what shows are 'trending' in Australia while it will actively recommend shows a user may be interested in.

Multi-Channel Network also unveiled its new advertising platform, while it said its triple play bundling was in final user trials before being unleashed on the market next year.

The year of sport

Foxtel was keen to highlight the 2015 as a year it has access to over 10,500 hours of live premium sport available, meaning it had to add two new channels, 505 and 506, to accommodate for the extra content.

In 2015 it will be showing the Asian Cup, the Cricket World Cup, the Rugby World Cup, the Netball World Cup, along with all domestic football codes, but Foxtel's head of Foxsports highlighted its coverage of V8 Supercars as a potential game-changer.

“You're going to see a lot of new things from our broadcasts this year...a lot of exciting innovations in our coverage that we can't wait to show you,” Patrick Delany said.

He also had a not-so-subtle message for Channel Seven, days after it spruiked its sports offering to advertisers as a place to reach the young male demographic after SevenWest pinched ESPN from MCN.

“For the advertisers in the room, there’s nowhere …nowhere, where you can get closer to sports fans in the one place like Foxsports,” Delany said.

Reality

Reality ain't dead just yet, and the introduction of an Australian format of Gogglebox is being touted as a potential game-changer.

The local production will be a co-production between Foxtel and Channel Ten, the first such arrangement in the networks' history.

Ten CEO Hamish McLennan was on hand for the unveiling of the show, which is broadly described as a show about people watching television.

While it may sound the stuff of boredom, the format has been a hit in the UK.

Meanwhile, fans of trashy TV will be overjoyed that The Real Housewives of Melbourne will be returning, along with two new housewives to add to the dynamic.

The Real Housewives of Melbourne

Also returning for further seasons are Grand Designs Australia, River Cottage, Australia's Next Top Model, and Selling Homes Australia.

Making its debut this year is a local version of Pawn Stars.

Drama and comedy

Foxtel is betting big on drama this year, with a mixture of new commissions and returning favourites bolstering the network's offering.

It has commissioned three Australian dramas, notably Gallipoli Deadline, The Kettering Incident, and A Place to Call Home.

Deadline Gallipoli will tell the story of war correspondents during the first world war, and star the likes of Sam Worthington, Bryan Brown, and Charles Dance in a four-hour mini-series.

Meanwhile the Kettering Incident is a mystery filmed in Tasmania, which is currently about half way through shooting.
However making the headlines was the return of A Place to Call Home, which had been cancelled by Channel 7 for being too expensive to make.

After a fan campaign, Foxtel elected to pick up the series, commissioning another two seasons of the Australian period drama.

It also confirmed that it would show an alternate ending to the previous season when it airs ahead of the new seasons.

Season three of Australian breakout hit Wentworth will also be shown exclusively on Foxtel.

Meanwhile, Foxtels's expanded distribution deal with HBO means all the new seasons of HBO shows such as Game of Thrones will be shown on Foxtel next year, along with new series The Nick, which is produced by Steven Soderbergh and Olive Kitteridge starring Bill Murray and Frances McDormand.

Also returning as part of the HBO deal will be Veep, Girls, and The Leftovers.

Foxtel will also screen the new season of True Detective, this year starring Vince Vaughn, and Colin Farrell.

Orange is the News Black, Mad Men, Outlander, Black Sails, and The Walking Dead will all have their new seasons shown on Foxtel.

New US dramas to make their way onto Foxtel next year include The Flash, The Virgin, Penny Dreadful, The Affair, and Wayward Pines.

From the UK comes Banished, a result of Foxtel's partnership with BBC First. David Whenam will play Captain Arthur Phillip in a period drama set in Australia's colonial past.

Also coming from the UK are favourites such as Call the Midwife and Death in Paradise, and Foxtel also confirmed that season 12 of New Tricks would be shown exclusively on Foxtel.

Foxtel has also commissioned two Australian comedy series.

It has ordered 20 episodes of a live-hour comedy show produced by gun comedy producers Rick McKenna and Laura Waters.

Foxtel's executive director of television Brian Walsh said the show would invariably make Foxtel nervous.

“There will be moments that will no doubt test the resolve of our shareholders,” Walsh said. “Some of whom are in the room tonight”.

Meanwhile Working Dog, the production company behind shows such as Frontline, The Hollowmen, and Utopia will return with an adult-skewing animation show titled “Pacific Heat”.

What the buyers said

Buyers in the room told AdNews they were excited by MCNs announcement, while they were impressed at the value proposition Foxtel was building around box-sets and how this could be integrated into Presto.

“The box set channel and it's value proposition combined with the new pricing packages could be great news for the subscriber base. As is the phone broadband and pay TV bundles proposition,” Omnicom CEO Leigh Terry told Adnews.

“If they get the marketing right and with Presto developments on the way could be big news for Foxtel and MCN.”

Jason Dooris, CEO of independent agency Atmoic212, told AdNews this this year was the year advertisers would see whether Foxtel was able to pull off its plan to broaden its audience.

“I think it's in a good position at the moment because its audience has a lot of disposable income, but I think the box-sets and the broad content being offered combined with the pricing...I think it will aid in broadening out that audience,” Dooris said.

ZenithOptimedia CEO Ian Perrin told AdNews that the content side of the presentation was compelling.

“I thought it was a very comprehensive presentation, and they've got a good handle on what they need to do in terms of offering that range of content,” Perrin said.

“It did a good job in demonstrating that rights play and the exclusivity around that “

However, he said while he was intrigued by the MCN announcement, he sounded a note of caution on the IQ3 roll-out

"My concern is around them delivering on their promises, especially around IQ3. We heard about it last year and while there was a broad roll-out period announced, I would like to see Foxtel nail that down.”

More stories:

MCN usurps US tech and media

Foxtel takes programmatic in-house

Melbourne agencies dominate ADMA awards

 

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