Nine's Michael Stephenson on converged audiences, Total TV and the 2024 ad market

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 12 December 2023
Michael Stephenson

The Australian television landscape in 2024 will prioritise the strength of digital and an industry working together to measure audiences for advertisers.

One trend that Michael Stephenson, Nine’s chief sales officer, has highlighted is the acceleration to converged audiences and trading. 

“It's great to see our traditional competitors launching or relaunching technology platforms to offer converged trading functionality,” he said.

“9Galaxy has been there for about five years and I really think next year is the year that we accelerate towards a converged trading proposition for brands, the ability for them to take advantage of the total television audiences that both Seven, Nine and Ten deliver.”

Stephenson said another key theme for next year is the launch of VOZ as a currency, with the measurement standard already in daily production, data being delivered to agencies and the industry working with third party software suppliers to enable the trading of audiences.

“For the first time, brands will be able to recognise the incremental reach that BVOD adds to TV and recognise co-viewing for the first time – that’s two awesome things for brands and you can't do that with YouTube or with Netflix or with Disney+ or any of those platforms, so that's a real competitive advantage,” he said.

“With VOZ Streaming, the ability to use that OzTam ID as the single source of truth for cross platform trading will also happen next year. At an industry level, we're already individually accelerating towards our digital futures and then you layer on top of that fully integrated currency and a product in VOZ Streaming to allow people to take advantage of that; it’s like ‘game on, this is going to be exciting’.”

Stephenson was similarly positive about the projected performance of the ad market heading into 2024.

Despite saying that 2023 has been one of the toughest years on record – “more challenging than the GFC and more challenging than COVID” - with broader macro-economic challenges like rising inflation, supply chain issues and geopolitical events to contend with, he believes the total ad market was “incredibly resilient” and will finish 2023 broadly flat before looking likely to grow in 2024.

“If interest rates remain steady and at some point begin to decline, consumer confidence will continue to increase and I'm sure that consumer spending will support a stronger ad market and greater investment from marketers,” he told AdNews

“Marketers have been cautious and I think in the early parts of next year, we will see them start to return to market.”

One focus for Nine in 2024 will be the first full year of Nine Ad Manager, the self-serve tech platform that officially went live around six weeks ago and allows Australia’s 2.5 million small to medium size businesses to build a targeted ad campaign with video creative generated by AI.

Although saying it was too early to share data points on its performance, Stephenson said that against most metrics Nine Ad Manager has so far been aligned to the plan that the broadcaster has built and against several metrics, it is “miles ahead”. 

“We're in the early stages of our marketing campaign, which is really around top of the funnel awareness,” he said. 

“We are attracting hundreds of advertisers to our platform in the very early days that we would never have traditionally approached because they're small to medium businesses using self-serve technology. 

“We’re seeing people who historically have used Facebook Ad Manager or YouTube for the advertising of their small to medium business and are now coming to Nine.

Looking back at the highlights for Nine in 2023 – which has included the 9Network claiming a calendar year victory as number one in the key demographics of People 25-54, 16-39 and Grocery Shopper + Child - Stephenson said that the way in which the media giant is accelerating towards its digital future with the combination of terrestrial TV, live streaming and on demand with 9Now is “really becoming a serious thing”.

“The power of 9Now amongst its traditional competitive set, but also its ability to accelerate into the digital video market, and really change the game for video advertising is progressing really, really well against our plans,” he told AdNews.

“10 years ago, TV was only delivered through an antenna and at some point in the future, there will be TV only delivered via the internet. The vehicle that gets us from one side to the other is this thing that we've called Total TV.”

While saying that today, terrestrial television is still the ‘90 pound gorilla’ of video advertising, supported by live streaming and on demand, Stephenson said that as the world becomes more internet-enabled, 9Now will become a much bigger part of the broadcaster’s focus. 

4 million Australians currently tune into 9Now every month - 17% more than 2022.

“With that comes a whole range of super interesting benefits for audiences and brands – sport in 4K, start over functionality and FAST channels for consumers; from an advertising point of view, targeted advertising, interactive advertising and creative optimisation based on individual signed in users,” he said.

On what viewers can look forward to in 2024, Stephenson said the year kicks off with the Australian Open in January before heading into “the biggest entertainment format of the year” in Married at First Sight. 

“We’ve then got our spine of tentpole shows all the way through the year - Lego Masters, The Block, Parental Guidance, Love Island, My Mum, Your Dad, the NRL, the State of Origin and then the big one on July 27, the Olympics and Paralympic Games, which will be the biggest digital event this country's ever seen and completely dominate total television,” he said.

“Loads of content in addition to our strength in news and current affairs across all platforms, so the content slate is strong. There's a really great pipeline of fresh, innovative local productions and all of them targeted towards those demographics of 16-39, 25-54 and grocery buyers with children.”

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