How Nine plans to win back TV

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 30 August 2016
New Australian drama Doctor Doctor

Nine Entertainment Co is banking on huge investments in locally-produced content and new technology to wrestle back market share after a forgettable 2016.

Last week, Nine confirmed its stock had taken a hit after programming flops in the first quarter of the year and a softer advertising market left the network well short of expectations, reporting 15% drop in profit in its FY16 results.

Nine's chief of sales Michael Stephenson admits that programming lessons have been learnt and plans are well underway to ensure 2017 begins in “overdrive”.

In an unprecedented move, Nine presented a detailed 18-month plan to advertisers and agencies a month ago – three months ahead of its traditional upfronts event.

This is the earliest any network has shown its hand – a move IPG Mediabrands CEO Danny Bass describes as “smart” as it allows brands the time to get involved in shows at a deeper level.

“Smartly, they spoke about clients that would be relevant for those shows and because they've gone early, the opportunity for a clients to get involved is less difficult than if they had gone later when shows are fully formed,” he tells AdNews.

Beyond linear TV

Nine's programming deck will be bulked up with a 50% increase in locally-produced Australian content, particularly in scripted reality TV formats and new dramas.

Stephenson is bullish the schedule will see Nine hit the ground running in 2017 and take on Seven's dominant properties, led by My Kitchen Rules, which proved a ratings wrecking ball for any show that went up against it this year.

In the past year Nine has overhauled its digital offering with 14 content verticals, new advertising data tools Audience Sync and Audience Match, AVOD player 9Now and a new female-skewed channel, 9Life. It has also welcomed a new regional partner, SCA, which is already paying dividends.

The digital reboot is an important step towards creating a content ecosystem that will attract more eyeballs and the early signs are promising as nine.com.au shot up the Nielsen rankings for July.

Imminent improvements to ad technology will also allow Nine to deliver audiences to advertisers agnostically across TV and digital channels – what Stephenson describes as “utopia”.

“We're now a part of the online video market and there are significant opportunities based on our assets to deliver top line revenue growth. Our investment into content, technology and data means we can compete with anybody in that online video space,” he says.

Nine is on track to begin programmatic trading of linear TV inventory in early 2017 before work begins on agnostic trading across linear TV and digital.

“This will create significant demand for our inventory based on the new investment models we will take to market, some of which will remove the volatility that can exist with fluctuating audiences,” Stephenson adds.

As the total TV audience declined in the past year, future growth will need to come from digital and the ability to offer multi-platform campaigns.

Australian made

Michael Stephenson quote

In the more immediate term, Nine has placed its chips on its largest schedule of Australian content to date to win back audience share.

In 2017, there will be 500 hours of new entertainment, including 50 hours of Australian drama, with heavy hitters slated for the start of the 2017 ratings season. This is roughly a 50% YOY increase in locally-produced content in primetime.

It includes two new Australian dramas this year - Doctor Doctor and crime thriller Hyde and Seek, before the Summer of Cricket, which has scheduled Australia against much stronger opposition than last season, such as recently crowned top test side Pakistan.

“You'll see us really go into overdrive at the beginning of [ratings] survey next year. We start with a super-sized version of Married at First Sight, which we believe will steal a demographic from My Kitchen Rules,” Stephenson says.

This will lead straight into Australian Ninja Warrior, The Voice, a new food format and The Block.

“We will have 40 weeks of locally-produced Australian content at 7.30pm. Supporting that will be more hours of Australian drama and there are some new shows like Karl Stefanovic's This Time Next Year and a new show from Hamish and Andy,” Stephenson adds.

“We're obsessed by getting off to a fantastic start to 2017 – it's critical for us.”

Confidence or desperation?

Danny Bass quote

Nine's decision to lay out its cards out on the table so early can be interpreted as a sign of extreme confidence, or desperation, as it allows rival networks the chance to strategically build their own schedules against Nine's key properties.

Regardless, it's a move that places the network's sales team on the front foot and allows them to build some momentum around key properties ahead of rivals.

Bass reckons Nine's underwhelming performance this year will not have a bearing on how the market responds to the network's schedule for 2017.

“You can never write any network off based on one year, they only need two shows to pop at the start of next year and they're back again,” he says.

“What you want is confidence in the people that you deal with to ensure that if things don't work in the way they're expected or promised, you can work solutions round that.

“Ultimately, what we look for is consistency and an understanding of what a successful show might be. No media deserves its place on the plan more than another.”

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