Melissa Hey and Michael Stephenson examine the business of TV

• How new sponsors clamoured to be part of TV’s hottest property

• OMD’s chief investment officer on ratings numbers that matter
• Nine sales boss on the plan that delivered Nine’s best-ever Q1 ratings
• How new sponsors clamoured to be part of TV’s hottest property

Interviewed just before the Easter break, Mediaweek was joined by one of Australia’s biggest TV advertisers, OMD’s national chief investment officer Melissa Hey, and the sales boss of TV’s #1 network, Nine chief sales officer Michael Stephenson.

Below are some of the highlights from a Mediaweek podcast where they analyse the commercial value of Nine’s hit Married At First Sight, the rest of Nine’s schedule including the Australian Open and what Nine still has to come in 2019.

Listen to Mediaweek podcast: How Nine dominated Q1 of TV ratings 2019
• What ratings numbers matter most

Melissa Hey also discusses the challenges at Seven and 10 and both guests talk about the changing way TV is consumed and the ramifications for TV ad revenue.

Although it may be a familiar tale to some, it is worth exploring with Michael Stephenson the genesis of Nine’s Q1 success.

Michael Stephenson

“Three years ago when Hugh Marks joined Nine, he sat with me and asked what he could do to help the sales. There were two things that I spoke to Hugh about. One thing I said was having the entire business focused on the demographics – 16-39, 25-54 and grocery buyers with children. The second thing I said was we had to start the year stronger.

“To his credit, plus Michael Healy, Adrian Swift and the rest of the content team, we supercharged Married At First Sight. History will tell that was an excellent decision.

This year was the culmination of three years of hard work and planning to get to a point where Married At First Sight could launch off the back of the Australian Open. There isn’t a better promotional platform on television to launch a year.

“That has all contributed to where we are today – at the end of the first quarter. We have had our best start to a year since television ratings began on OzTAM [2001]. It is a record and we now have incredible momentum.

We have delivered against 25-54s which is the major success metric for any of us and we have a 43% share of that target audience. We are growing our audiences in the demos and offering great value to advertisers.”

OMD’s Melissa Hey said the Australian Open wasn’t the only factor helping Nine’s Q1 performance. “I would argue that the PR that Nine began at the end of last year started discussion around the show and then the Australian Open helped push it further.”

Hey also noted how after 10 years of My Kitchen Rules the audience was probably ready for something new. “Married At First Sight is also different to anything that is out there. Perhaps also the talent on My Kitchen Rules this year hasn’t been engaging as it has been in other years.”

As to audience trends around popular shows, Hey spoke about the changing consumer habits about choosing what to watch.

When you have multiple major formats on television like we do throughout most of the year on Seven, Nine and 10, consumers will choose their go-to show and they will predominantly watch that live. They will then watch their alternate shows on demand. Because we have invested in the [on demand] technology it is giving consumers more choice than ever before. They are watching more video content than they ever have.”

Hey added that TV media buying still centres largely around live linear TV. “Everyone is talking about selling online streaming as an additional audience and we are currently working through how you do that.

There was some discussion around the suitability of the Married At First Sight content for all audiences given its early timeslot.

Stephenson: “At its core, Married At First Sight is a social experiment. The couples there are genuinely looking to find love. Within this series Jules and Cam did which is testament to the fundamentals of the show. The show creates drama and controversy and creates a social currency. That is one of the reasons why it was so successful.

Hugh and Michael and the team are conscious at all times about the tone of shows and making sure a program is right for the timeslot it is on air.

“They did a great job of capturing the drama while also making sure it was appropriate for viewers.

From an advertising point of view we started the series with four partners and we ended with six. It is almost unheard of that during a series you will find new partners and sponsors for a format.

“We also had a record number of spot buyers coming in because they wanted to take advantage of the audience.”

Hey: “Buyers know what the show is about before going in it. If a client doesn’t want to be associated with that they say upfront and they won’t go in.”

Hey said it was the role of the agency to advise clients on what shows would be acceptable content to carry their messaging. “Clients have to decide whether they go for the ratings and the reach it can deliver or whether they will walk away from it. That is a discussion we have to have with the client.”

Nine in “great shape” for rest of 2019

Regarding the rest of the schedule, Stephenson said Nine is in great shape. “After Married At First Sight, we go straight into Lego Masters with eight episodes. Then it’s into The Voice and then Australian Ninja Warrior before we go into The Block. There is a mix between long formats across multiple weeks and shorter run series. It is all Australian-created content and family-focused at 7.30pm.

“That creates our spine for audience delivery for the entire year. Off the back of that we invest into our 8.30pm content – Travel Guides, Your Gen and Australian drama.

“The lead into all that are of course Nine News and A Current Affair.”

The ratings numbers that matter

“Total people doesn’t matter to us,” said Hey. “I don’t have one client that buys total people. People 25-54 is the metric we go on and examine.

Seven used to quote total people because it was a sure thing for them. 10 have also cut the numbers that best suits them.

From an agency perspective we have to look at them based on what our clients are buying against.

Stephenson: “Our broad measure of success is 25-54. Also our share of audience from open to close, across four channels, from January 1 to December 31. We report on if we are growing our audience in thousands year-on-year because that is what advertisers are buying from us.

Hugh Marks would look at our sales performance and if we can generate a share of revenue that is greater than our share of audience. That is our internal measure of success.

When looking at 10’s results this year, Hey noted they it had been competitive with some particular programs under 50: “It will need an extra kick and I think that is coming with MasterChef. If 10 had continued with Sunday Night Take Away there would have been concerns about how they were going to pull back the decline.

Gogglebox has been performing well and Dancing With The Stars is doing [under 50] numbers that is keeping 10 in the game.

The Project is a good show, but it needs to be a bit more consistent. It is good to see 10 marketing it which it hasn’t done much before.”

Forget about “non-ratings” and “out of survey” weeks

Stephenson, who sits on the OzTAM board as Nine’s representative, said “survey” periods don’t matter any more. “I haven’t used the word in many years. People watch television from January 1 to December 31 and that is when advertisers buy inventory. There is no such thing as a non-survey period. It should be 52 weeks a year.

Hey added: “Clients are active 52 weeks a year. There should be no off-ratings. Networks do put repeat programming on air when the so-called survey is off.”

Hey added the non-ratings periods do cover weeks where there is less viewing because people are out and about.

Tomorrow: Nine’s expanded asset portfolio, the TV ad funnel, the future of TV measurement and regional media ad spend

Top Photo: Melissa Hey with James Manning and Michael Stephenson

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