Mi9’s performance in the 2014-15 fiscal year was better than expected, says MD Alex Parsons

Less than 12 months into the job, Mi9 MD Alex Parsons talks about the company’s 2014-15 fiscal performance and future goals

By James Manning

The managing director of Nine Entertainment Company’s (NEC) digital business Mi9, Alex Parsons, told Mediaweek he was pretty happy about the digital business’ performance in the financial year that ended this week.

“It has been better than anticipated, but with digital a fast-growing segment, it should have been a good year for us.”

Parsons took over from Mark Britt at Mi9 just under 12 months ago. He had been running the Rate City business for NEC and its partner. Parsons has been with ninemsn since 2007 after spending time with eBay and then Sensis.

The NEC digital holdings include Mi9 plus the affiliated businesses Rate City and the investment in Pedestrian.TV. “Mi9 includes the ninemsn publishing business, and the sales business of Microsoft as well as the joint venture with Daily Mail,” explained Parsons.

Parsons looks after the business side of of 9News.com.au too. “We have Australia’s leading news and current affairs content person in Darren Wick. He manages the people, they sit with his team at Willoughby, and we do all the technology and the sales. If you think of how that is structured it is how the future will evolve for our business.”

Parsons admitted all the different pieces of the Mi9 pie can make it sound like a complicated offering. “We own and operate the ninemsn part and we are the sales representative for Microsoft and we used to do that with Bauer. We have finished with that relationship now [Bauer] to focus on the biggest parts of our business.”

The relationship with Daily Mail for Daily Mail Australia sees Mi9 provide editorial and product input with Mi9 providing sales.

The launch of the brands Coach, Honey and Pickle makes up for some of the content gaps in the Mi9 content offering previously filled by some of the Bauer titles.

“Honey has been #1 for the past two months against Cosmopolitan and Vogue Australia – competing with some very big brands in that space. Honey is our fashion and beauty brand and Coach is a health brand.

“Pickle is more of things we have been doing in the past like viral video aggregated in the one place.

“From a sales perspective we have continued to grow gross revenue in those areas because we own it now.”

Some digital publishers must look at recent ninemsn product launches and marvel how the sites seemed to go straight to #1 in their categories. “One of the things about being a large publisher is that you can use the smarts, the skills and the experience coupled with the passion and motivation you have developed over the past 15 years or so,” said Parsons. “We brought in some great people externally in particularly on Coach and Honey where we have some amazing people who have led the editorial. We have a pretty compelling content management system for us to roll out new sites. We are not building something from scratch. Instead we are recreating templates and designs we already have. Once we focused on the tone of voice and the type of content and the right editorial staff to deliver that content. Getting it out there and getting the network up and running was something we had been doing for years. Not everything is always going to be successful, but the work our team has done to put a strong project around it has created three winners for us.

Parsons credits one of the launch activities that helped Honey in particular was a link with IMG for Fashion Week. “The work the team did collaboratively in that space has been fantastic.”

As to using the same formula for other digital launches, Parsons said they constantly review the content genres they are in today and ones they want to be in. “We have had amazing success in the news space. When you look at the Nine News brand it is the one brand that strikes me that transcends multiple mediums. We might still have a bit of work to do in sport. The brand I grew up with in sports was Wide World of Sports and the weekend of television that accompanied it. Our team is working very closely with the TV sports part of our business to come together on that front.

As to areas not serviced as well as they could be, Parsons hinted that consumer finance is something they might look at. “No one has really hit that out of the park yet.”

Despite entertainment being very well serviced and competitive on the web, Parsons said their site is the market leader. “The Fix is our entertainment category killer – it goes very well and has just been redone. Most of our websites now are fully responsive regardless of which device people are using.”

The other Mi9 asset covering entertainment is Nine’s jumpin. “Where 9jumpin is today is a long way from where it is going to be in the near future. The power of NEC will be applied to that part of the business. 9jumpin is still the market leader and we are working on making it even better. We are working to offer everything, not just parts of things. Our consumers have an expectation that they want to be able to see all our content. The ABC has done a very good job in that space with iview.”

As to tech challenges, Parsons pointed to a responsive design that can work across all devices, instead of having to build a different app for every device and operating system. “We can push out content in a pretty seamless fashion and the challenge is now to continue connecting our consumers with our advertisers.”

Content continues to be king

“We live and die by content. We have to have great content to bring consumers in. We have come from a business model where we used to get Hotmail logouts and Internet Explorer defaults. Traffic was never our problem. Our issue was always how do we make more money out of this traffic we have got. Now that we don’t have that we need to have a compelling content offering.

“We want to continue in our leadership position with premium video. There is still a lot of opportunity in that space.

“Data is another key area and how can we align with our video offering and append membership and start to have value exchange with consumers. We might offer half as many ads if they tell us more about themselves.

“We also have a fourth pillar around driving alternative revenue sources which is something we have addressed with Pedestrian.TV.”

Advertising: Video and programmatic

When it comes to the challenges of advertising on mobile devices, Parsons said he often wonders why mobile is priced less than desktop. “Nobody has really come up with an answer other than when mobile launched it was smaller and therefore a little bit cheaper. We have a lot of formats where there is no differential in pricing between mobile, a tablet or desktop. Video is a great example of that. What we want to move to is not selling a platform, but selling an audience regardless of what the consumer is using.

In terms of new formats we have to get away from trying to turn a leaderboard on desktop to a leaderboard on mobile. Frankly it just doesn’t work and it doesn’t look great. Video advertising is an amazing format and video is core part of our current and future strategy.”

Parsons said the video supply and demand equation is working in publisher’s favour. “Video is never not sold. What advertisers have been doing with us is getting in early and securing a chunk of the supply. What we are doing at the moment is trying to generate more and more supply to match that unrelenting demand.”

In short form Parsons said they recommend advertisers keep the ads to 15 seconds. For long-form video Mi9 offers advertisers the opportunity of 30-second ads. “We are an ad-funded video-on-demand business and we don’t charge consumers any fees to watch our content and therefore we do need to run ads. Over the course of an hour we would have a similar amount of ads as you would see on free-to-air TV.

“We do a lot of testing of what works best for our business and consumers. There comes a point where too many ads equals fewer consumers.

Programmatic is a massive part of the Mi9 business and it uses AdNexus. “It is only going to grow over time and it is working very well for us today. We utilise data as a ways and means to drive that programmatic offering. We are also involved on the mobile front in a 50/50 JV with Fairfax on Apex. Ultimately as volumes of inventory continue to be at all-time highs that is an area we need to drive harder in the future.”

Not all ads will move to programmatic. Mi9 will hold onto a small percentage of its premium inventory that drives a lot of its revenue to keep a good relationship with clients and agencies.

>> The Mi9 offer

9news.com.au

• A unique audience reach of 2.380 million. The site has consistently been among the top five news websites over the last two years.

• Generates an average of 12.5 million video streams per month*.

• ninemsn news websites had more video streams in May (11.402m) than the entire Fairfax network (7.226m).

9jumpin.com.au

• 9jumpin is the number one catchup site again this month across unique audience reach in both video and surfing datasets.

• Unique audience of 1.363 million.

• Device usage is split – 50% are visiting the site via their computer, while the other half are on a mobile device.

ninemsn Lifestyle

• ninemsn Lifestyle reached a total unique audience of 920,000.

• Higher female online audience (541,000) than competitors: Yahoo7 Lifestyle (507,000), Mamamia (492,000), Bauer Media Women’s Network (462,000) and Daily Life (357,000).

ninemsn Pickle

• ninemsn Pickle reached 621,000 and ranks at 10 within Lifestyle category.

• People are visiting four times over nine minutes.

• 56% female.

ninemsn Honey

• ninemsn Honey has a unique audience reach of 345,000, growing by 0.29% and remains higher than competitors Vogue.com.au (219,000) and Buro 24/7 (187,000).

• Higher than Bauer competitors AWW (330,000), Woman’s Day (285,000), Cosmo (141,000), Shop Til You Drop (68,000) and Elle (60,000).

• 64% female.

ninemsn Coach

• ninemsn Coach grew +3.6% MoM to reach 318,000 and is now ahead of Body & Soul (313,000) and Bauer competitors Woman’s Day (285,000) and Cosmo (141,000).

• 57% are female 25+.

Source: Nielsen Online
Ratings May 2015

*Based off an average of the last 6 months (Nielsen Online Ratings – Video, Dec 2014 -May 2015)

Mi9 is an expansion of the ninemsn business including a range of products and brands across online publishing, data strategies, consumer insights, digital design and advertising technologies. The business said its lofty purpose is “to create the future of media”. Mi9 employs more than 320 people across Australia and New Zealand, with offices in Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Auckland.

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