Nine kicked off upfronts season for the major networks last night in a lavish event that spanned both sides of Sydney Harbour, beginning at Luna Park before the 1500-odd crowd was shipped across to the after party.
“Australia’s Media Company”, as it calls itself made a major play on its total media proposition, in its first in-person event since its merger with Fairfax in 2018.
It was a “very slick upfronts again”, says Carat’s chief investment officer, Craig Cooper. “After two years of virtual presentations, this was exactly what the industry needed.
“This year felt like Nine was the fully integrated company that they had envisioned after so many M&As over the last couple of years.”
“Nine used its commercial leaders and a wide range of talent to continue to pitch itself as Australia’s leading multi-platform media organisation with content and product innovation across Broadcast, News, Digital and Audio,” says GroupM’s chief investment officer, Seb Rennie, adding that it is strengthened by investment in tech and data to enhance the consumer and advertiser experience.
A new company purpose
Nine began the event with a Welcome to Country, followed by CEO Mike Sneesby presenting the company’s new mission statement “Australia Belongs Here”.
“I love their new purpose,” says Spark Foundry’s Sydney head of investment, Sue-Ellen Osborn. “It seems to speak to everyone, is inclusive, and helps to connect all their assets to the broader Australian community.”
Group investment director at PHD Australia, Brittany Crowley, says Nine’s new emotive proposition “provides a golden thread to connect their offering, from content and storytelling to data and audience,” while Cooper agrees that the company should be congratulated on the significance of the resulting internal work.
National head of partnerships at Initiative, Simon Reid says brands are more than ever wanting to align with media partners whose corporate values align with their own. “Nine’s brand identify aims to deposition foreign-owned competitors, while simultaneously supporting homegrown brands and content.”
While clear vision and value are increasingly important, “numbers are king,” says Awaken’s CEO, Chris Parker. “While Nine’s purpose is great and may align with more brands now, it is their results and advertising ecosystem that will sway the planners.”
Mediacom’s national head of investment, Nick Thomas says: “Nine’s packaging is always slick and the wrapping of ‘this is where Australia belongs’ was a great way to hold together everything that ‘Australia’s largest media company’ presented for upfronts this year.”
Next year’s content slate
Nine’s upcoming content for the year saw it present a host of new formats, such as adventure show ‘The Summit’, new reality romance programme ‘My Mum, Your Dad’, as well as returning favourites in The Block, Legomasters, and Married At First Sight among others.
“It is always best to have a mix of reliable high performing formats like The Block, MAFS and Lego Masters, along with the excitement of new and interesting content,” says Osborn, adding there is “something for everyone to connect with.”
Crowley reckons that the Nine didn’t disappoint from a content perspective, agreeing the slate caters to the breadth of evolving Australian audiences and mindsets across all segments.
Reid notes its content slate was in line with the new ‘Australia Belongs Here’ positioning, showing it was all-encompassing for Australians.
“Nine have struck a great balance of delivering guilty viewing pleasures and family-friendly brand safe content.”
“2023 is going to be a big line up of new local content,” says Thomas, adding, “there is a lot for audiences to be excited about, with Adrian Swift announcing the launches of My Mum Your Dad, Warnie, Food Stars and more – each appealing to a different subset of Australia, and the teaser clips we saw got the room excited and I have no doubt they will pull some good numbers.”
Yet, for Parker, the “reality, reality, reality and some sport” approach was “more of the same” from the network.
“More challenges, more MAFS, more draw cards and some ‘same same’ but more appears to be a good thing.”
A new-look 9Now was one of the major sticking points of the night, with buyers united on this being one key point of progression out of a packed presentation.
Osborn says: “I love the update to 9Now, as it’s all designed to improve the consumer’s experience. Higher quality pictures with full HD, the ‘start over’ button, and easier navigation is great for consumers and the viewing audience, which ultimately means it is great for advertisers.”
The new UX, designed to present the “simplicity of broadcast TV, with the interactivity of digital” is impressive, according to Cooper, who says it will ultimately support growth in this space for years to come.
“Wonder though if this will help with the frequency capping issue that has plagued the FTA BVOD platforms for last few years.”
Parker says he and his peers “selfishly love BVOD”, and the further push with interactive BVOD ads and shopping is “exactly the innovation that the space has so desperately been crying out for.”
“Just like television, but with interactive shopping, will help close the loop for sales metrics.”
Crowley adds: “Through their audience and data capability, Nine have identified the changing shifts in media consumption to digital. Rather than fighting it, I see it as the network recognising the need for evolution and making change to give Australians premium content what they want, when they want.”
Reid says it was no surprise to see the 9Now push this year, given the growth the market has seen in BVOD.
“I expect this theme continues across the upfront season. We all know Nine has an impressive digital offering and this year they have the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition given their scale.”
Nine doubling down on 9Now was what excited Thomas the most out of the evening, saying “arguably the future of their business as linear audiences dwindle, it’s clear that they want to be the leaders in the BVOD space adding new features to keep customers in their viewing ecosystem for longer, with more ads in highest definition.”
Pushing forward its publishing division
Nine’s old Fairfax titles were front-and-centre in the presentation, which included a push in supercharging its Brisbane Times masthead, as it looks to further challenge News Corp in the fastest growing metro market in Australia.
It also launched ‘Today’s Paper’, a new daily downloadable version of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers.
Crowley says: “Delivering the same quality print product to audiences digitally and digital ad insertion is a step in the right direction however its effectiveness and success need to be seen when competitors are offering strong solutions in this space but when looking at scale and opportunity across many assets and formats, Nine provides that.”
Thomas says, again, this development “looked slick”, but wonders “whether audiences are really going to download digital papers”.
“But if anyone can drive audiences on mass to do something, it’s Nine’s ecosystem, so it’s on them to make this successful, attract large audiences and demonstrate that it’s worthwhile for advertisers.”
Reid adds that any asset that can deliver impactful, relevant, and engaging solutions for brands will always be welcomed by advertisers. “We know that active attention will drive consumer action and this format will certainly do that.”
“The innovation to have interactive digital ads across all of the mastheads is great,” says Parker, but adds that “we want to see the effectiveness and performance with the digital readership of the papers.”
For Osborn, a format that delivers a more engaging, higher quality ad format “is valuable, and will help drive effectiveness”.
“Evolution of existing mastheads across both channels and markets emphasises true national local coverage, shown in things like the broader remit for Brisbane Times,” says Rennie.
Light on sport?
Sport was “noticeably absent from the plethora of announcements for next year,” says Cooper, which is “surprising given the reliance, at least from a linear TV POV, in sport to drive not only consistent ratings throughout the year but also large scale reach events like State of Origin or Aus Open Tennis.”
Across its presentation on the Nine, 9Now and Stan Sport pillars, Crowley says it “would have been great to see a little more visibility of females in sport”.
Reid says that as predicted, the network prioritised general entertainment and news over sport, hinting at what we might see when competitors Seven roll out its slate for 2023 next month.
“We all know Seven will come out swinging with their sport offering off the back of the recent AFL broadcast signing so it felt like Nine succumbed to this and left the gate open.”
He adds that while the network touted its Wide World of Sports offering in the market, “it lacks the consistency to be the dominant player in this space”.
Parker agrees that there wasn’t as much focus on sport, “it felt like a bigger focus on the reality content that is consistently delivering week on week”.
Rennie says: “one unanswered question of the presentation was the role of Stan”, adding that as an SVOD service, “questions remain as to whether it evolves like Netflix are about to do and create an advertising-funded model”
Thomas agrees with his colleague, saying “the room was hoping for the launch of Stan ads and given the changing landscape with Netflix introducing advertising – the speculation is that Stan may follow suit.”
Cooper says the creation of the Nine Traffic Network is “super interesting” adding it would be “great to understand how this will impact Nine’s historic partnership with ATN”.
For Osborn, the “fantastic and entertaining presentation” showcased quality content that connects and resonates broadly with Australian consumers, saying that Nine is innovating and evolving its digital offering, “and that helps advertisers connect more effectively with Australians”.
Crowley says the “clear positioning and product line up” demonstrates to advertisers why Nine are a key partner to connect its brands to Australians via cross-platform quality content and data, where ever and whenever.
Parker adds: “Overall while the big drawcords, Married At First Sight, The Block, Lego Masters and the NRL all belong on Nine, plus the big advertising advancements: Nine Traffic Network, BVOD interactive ads, and programmatic audio are what have been missing and will make Nine more appealing to media planners.”
Reid concluded: “While Nine showcased strong TV, Audio, Digital and Publishing offerings in silo, there were limited showcases of how brands have or can activate across the entire ecosystem. There was plenty of airtime for the 20 million subscribers and the 10 million monthly active users across the “Nine World”, however very limited information on how advertisers can activate these audiences.”