Media agencies on Ten Upfronts: 'Consistent, considered and safe'

Josh McDonnell
By Josh McDonnell | 11 October 2019
Ten CEO Paul Anderson on stage at the 2019 Upfronts

Upfronts season is underway, with Ten the first television network out of the gate, as October becomes dedicated to the plans for each major player.

Announcing new MasterChef judges, the reboot of its trading platform Buy10, a programming schedule based on consistency and a "market-first" offering for its broadcast video on demand (BVOD) platform 10Play, the "under 50s network" took a toned-down approach compared to 2018.

Starting things off with a special Carpool Karaoke episode with late-night host James Corden and Network Ten chief sales officer Rod Prosser, the business was clear in its strategy for 2020, building on the year gone by.

Now with a refreshed sales team in-house, the network is looking to building on new foundations and lean heavily on new formats such as The Masked Singer, and the successes of shows such as Australian Survivor.

To get a better understanding of what the industry made of Ten's annual event, AdNews approached some of Australia's top media agency executives for their opinions on the network's plans for the new year.

GroupM chief investment officer Nicola Lewis says the network is starting to carry the "younger network" narrative through well, adding that its strategy around working in partnership with CBS was "compelling" as it emphasises that Ten remains in the driver's seat but is supported by it owner's "global strength".

"All of this is leading to them holding true to their promise to deliver consistency. I thought their call out that they are the lead Network powered by CBS, which gives them scale no other local broadcaster has, was also confident," Lewis says

"2019 was the year of embedding their new working relationship with CBS, and 2020 will be the year of reaping the benefits of their new ownership."

Amplifi ANZ chief investment officer Michael Bass agreed, adding that the important thing in any upfront is to see progression year on year and it was Ten they have a well thought out plan in place.

He says the biggest part of delivering on the agenda the network outlined last year was a "robust and strong" sales team, which he praised for achieving in a relatively short space of time.

"Now it’s about building on their content platform and ensuring that they don’t see as many misses in new programming," Bass says.

"It’s a very considered strategy and probably a little less risky from a programming perspective. The data play builds nicely on their successes around the video space, so it will be great to see how this comes to life over the coming months."

Nicola LewisNic Lewis

Bohemia general manager Theo Zisoglou says the strategy seemed "very safe" for the network in 2020, with a clear strategy to dial up on the success stories of 2019, while still "playing catch-up" in areas such as digital, data and automation.

Adding that consistency is important for each of the networks, he highlighted that in 2020 Ten should be leveraging CBS more and try to crack bigger programming formats.

"The positive for Ten is that in general entertainment now they are competing – all networks struggling to crack the one million-plus shows, so now is the time to strike with more great content," Zisoglou says.

"Ten have built some great consistent franchises through Survivor, The Bachelor/Bachelorette, Masterchef and now the Masked Singer and it’s great to see them competing on the major demographics."

PHD chief investment officer Lucy Formosa Morgan highlighted that the event itself was definitely "less loud" than the prior year but acknowledge 2018 had been tough for the business and it had been forced to start from scratch.

She says that while last year the network revealed a slew of new content formats, with some not working, Ten still had some solid successes with 2020 the year to build on them.

"Consistency is critical for any network and has been the war cry of both Seven and Nine in the past after they’d turned weak performances around," Morgan says.

"Advertisers and agencies need to be confident that a network has a strong programming line-up; a line-up that’ll attract viewers and be a safe bet for their advertising dollars.

"There are still some unknowns but at least they’ve got a tried & tested program slate to promote, which they can confidently talk about."

Michael bassMichael Bass

One buyer not sold on the CBS hype was Hyland founder Virginia Hyland, who says she remains confused about the role the international owner plays in the network's overall strategy.

While she praised the consistent offering that Ten put forward, she believes it may be better not to emphasise the CBS factor without a firm explanation of how it influences the local strategy.

"I’m still confused as to the role that CBS plays within the Ten business. The presentation explained that Ten and CBS are working alongside each other which doesn’t translate into a clear understanding of the role CBS plays," Hyland says.

"Perhaps it would have been better to explain that CBS funds Ten but the network is left to make its own decisions. The content, at this point, does not seem to be influenced by CBS."

OMD Sydney head of trading Jane Combes says content is no longer the only king and that for Ten it needs data and tech by its side. 

She says Ten need to play in that space and they need to do it well and with the backing and knowledge they have with CBS, they have the opportunity to really get it right.

"2020 will be a good year for TEN. They’ve spent the last 12 months really finding their feet but today they proved they’re ready to step up to the plate and play ball. It’s exactly what the market needs," Combes says.

"It’s amazing to see that content no longer runs first. You can’t just have a good slate and hope for the best. Audiences are fickle and hanging your hat on content alone is now a risky business. Data and tech are clearly leading the conversation, whilst being upheld with some great content."

OMD Jane CombesJane Combes

Further digital investment, Buy10 and You.I

One of the major talking points for Ten was its commitment to its digital video strategy, upgrading its BVOD user and advertiser experience across 10Play and bringing back its old trading platform Buy10.

Publicis Media Exchange commercial director Jodi Fraser says the announcements made in these areas were another "clever reminder" from Ten that it has innovated early and has built on its first-to-market success.

"Having a dynamic buying option is crucial to maximising success for clients and networks. The name reminds us that Network Ten has always been a network driven by innovation in television.

"Broadcast and BVOD are the main game. Easy access for advertisers, reducing friction in the buying process will benefit Ten immensely in 2020.

"Investing in technology that will allow agencies access via a self-serve platform is the future. Agencies may need a little more time to get the skills in place, but that is no reason for the networks not to move forward with innovation in buying."

Jodi FraserJodi Fraser

Ten's partnership with app developer You.I will allow the network to develop new advertising opportunities on 10Play outside of the traditional mid and pre-roll ads, including ads during pauses and runners at the bottom of the screen.

Kaimera CEO and founder Nick Behr says any innovation in ad inventory of such an established channel is always of interest and worth pursuing as it doesn’t often happen.

He says it is clear Ten is taking steps to future-proof their business, which was good to see, adding that he thinks consumers will respond well to, and from an advertiser perspective, they’re a good addition to the existing pre and mid-roll formats.

"All premium video services are becoming increasingly more popular with advertisers – an engaged, targeted audience with high-quality attributes in the form of high viewability and high view-through rates," Zisoglou says.

"It will be great to see more information on how the new data strategy will be infused in this platform as they have probably been late to the party here but all the news from today is pointing in the right direction."

Theo Zisoglou
Theo Zisoglou

Formosa Morgan says the new formats across Connected TV are interesting and Ten will be the first network to bring something different to market other than standard pre-mid-rolls.

However, she says testing and more detail will tell if it’s a genuine opportunity for advertisers and how it aligns with programmatic.

"We’re keen to investigate the new formats more, and particularly test how consumers engage with them. From what I gather there will be various formats available such as passive, intrusive, integrated, etc," Morgan says.

"We’ll need to gauge consumer sentiment of each, as the last thing we want is to damage a client's brand through negative sentiment."

Commenting on Buy10, most buyers agreed that the return of the self-serve platform, while not ground-breaking was still a valuable tool for Ten to give back to agencies.

Wavemaker Team Red investment and activation director Mat Linnett says 10Buy is a welcome addition to Ten’s offering and the re-introduction of the name I’m sure will have many seasoned buyers retelling "some old war stories" around their investment teams.

However, he says this time around 10Buy is a necessary product in meeting the market demand for trading automation rather than a true competitive differentiator as the first iteration was in the 2000s.

Lewis says while it’s not specifically ground-breaking in the context of networks working on the development of automated platforms, the power for Ten is that its data stack is unique, and therefore will enable "more accurate targeting" of audiences in the linear environment. 

"For our client's automation is an important part of their inventory mix, and so will use the platform in order to create a holistic TV plan, that delivers to both reach and cost goals. The industry is moving towards automation and so Ten can hit the ground running," Lewis says.

"To achieve the desired success it will be important that the platform is refined and continually tested to ensure the right audience is delivered within booked parameters, and the right cost. The extension into a self-serve platform will certainly broaden Ten’s appeal to the direct advertiser sector of our industry."

Nick BehrNick Behr

Bass agreed, adding that Buy10 was certainly ground-breaking in its day, but the world has evolved since then.

"The industry has been crying out for a central buying hub for all networks on one platform," Bass says.

"Whilst this is a good advance for Ten in this space, my opinion remains the same; more attention should be placed in finding a one-stop solution rather than continuing to invest in a stand-alone product.

Echoing Bass' comments, Zisoglou says the 10Buy play "had to happen" to keep up with the other networks but says the reality is that these automated platforms are not the holy grail.

"We need one platform to be able to trade all networks and all screens through to ensure control of effective reach and frequency and the ability to trade on more bespoke audiences."

Sport remaining a concern

For many buyers, such a Behr, that lack of a major sporting property remained a concern.

He says that while their strategy for 2020 looks solid, the absence of sport from the line-up certainly can't be ignored.

"There’s an obvious shift in momentum in their favour, which seems to have had a positive ripple effect right through the business," he says.

"The absence of a major sporting code is a big concern from an advertiser perspective and should be for Ten given the continued success their competitors are seeing on this front, in Seven, Nine, and Foxtel/Kayo. I thought given their ownership of CBS that we might potentially see a US sport announced, so it strikes me as a missed opportunity."

matlinnett-lrc.jpgMat Linnett

Linnett says a lack of sport is certainly a disadvantage in attracting certain categories such as alcohol, gambling and auto, and may impact some of Ten’s ability to command share in deal conversations.

However, on the bright side, he says sport is an incredibly expensive investment in broadcast TV and occupies a "disproportionately small amount" of the free-to-air schedule.

He adds that Ten have an opportunity to use their funds to test new formats across broadcast and digital channels to grow their base.

Hyland says adding sports has become fragmented where mass codes are losing audience to new emerging sports such as basketball, cycling, soccer, etc. agreeing with Linnett's point that major sport codes can be costly to buy and there’s a risk that it doesn’t return enough advertising revenue.

"Ten clearly understand this and also understand that their goal is to scoop up 100% of the under 50 audience – men and women. This means if they do align to sport it needs to be chosen with precision," she says.

Virginia HylandVirginia Hyland

Fraser says the industry shouldn't forget that Ten has a history of providing consumers an alternative to the other FTAs and just like what it does in the news space, it is providing strong alternate programming for consumers who want something different to sport.

However, she says it also can't be ignored that having a strong sporting code is the last piece of the puzzle for Ten and that it would complement Ten’s strategy and positioning, and drive share.

"Sport is a significant driver of audience for TV networks, so of course any gap in sport will have an impact, but what Ten is doing well is focusing providing a genuine non-sport alternative," Lewis says.

"They focus very heavily on reality, with a solid narrative around flexible effective integration opportunities within them. Reality will continue to draw bigger audiences, but not only this they act as a lever to bring a new audience into the existing eco-system. This is a strategy ten are staying very firm on, with a laser focus on under 50s."

Combes pointed to the fact that Ten CEO Paul Anderson had been out in market alluding to the fact that Ten will be actively bidding for the NRL rights in recent weeks.

She says with the backing of CBS, they obviously have the capital to really compete for some sporting rights that could make a "monumental difference" to the network.

"This year is their first year with the MCC, and I’d say they’ll be bedding that in and negotiating hard in market once the right property goes up for tender," Combes says.

"They don’t need a lot of sport, but they should be making a play for something extraordinary. The AFL and NRL are both going into broadcast rights negotiations soon, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they were setting their sights high."

Lucy Formosa MorganLucy Formosa Morgan

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