The future of TV is without a doubt in a steady position, but this doesn’t mean it’s a cake walk, says Nine’s head of content and production Adrian Swift, who thinks TV has to sing more than ever for its supper.
Speaking to B&T, Swift believes that free to air television is still the big player in the game, and strongly believes in commercial TV.
“What we need to realise is we’re still the biggest gorilla in the forest and do what we’re good at which is driving a mass of audience in one place at one time and delivering them an advertising message which is cogent for that audience,” he said.
“The challenge is simply choice. In the old days the challenge for Channel Nine was to stop people from going to Channel Seven, the challenge for Channel Nine in 2016 is to stop people from going everywhere else.
“And actually, you’re never going to stop people. Our role is to try and keep people with us as long as we can, engaged to the greatest extent that we can. We are all battling for the death for the very last viewer.
“Where you used to have people staying with you through the evening, all those rules are starting to change, they are much harder to achieve. What that does is it puts a lot more pressure on individual programs, now things like tent poles where people would stay for the program in the middle of two other big programs; those sort of things don’t work the same extent that they used to.
“The one thing you can say about television is despite dire predictions of its demise, people have spoken too soon. Television is really the only mass market which still stands, a million people in one place at one time, Free to air television is still the thing that can deliver that.
“And around those big events- sports, news, big reality franchises, big event television- those audiences are still huge.”
Swift is firm in his belief that while Subscription Video on Demand services like Netflix are seriously shaking up the game, it simply can’t compete when it comes to FTA TV’s biggest weapons – live and local.
“The two biggest trends are live and local. People want to see things in the moment, they want to see things that are live and are happening there and then; things the nation can talk about, things they can participate in, tweet about, post or share in a moment,” Swift said.
“And local content, ten years ago every network in the country had a great American drama or crime procedural at 8:30. Those shows just don’t work anymore. People want to watch local content and that’s a huge opportunity. Nine is investing in 2016 a lot more money than it ever has in local content.
“They [SVOD] are challenges but by the same token, what they do is take eyeballs, but at the moment they’re not taking advertising,” he added.
“The reality with most subscription show is unless your Netflix and you’re talking a year sitting in your subscription library you’re still not getting anything like the same sort of numbers as you’re getting for free to air television in one place at one time. It’s a completely different model.
“In some ways what it actually does is it helps pay for content that starts on free to air TV. Whatever you say about Netflix, Stan and Presto the bulk of their libraries are old subscription and free to air content. That is the bulk of their content. In a way they are just another way of monetising content which has been on free to air.
“So is it eating some of our lunch because some of our eyeballs, post 9:30, will drift to those places? Yes. Is it fundamentally changing who we are and what we do? No it doesn’t because we are about generating a big audience at one place at one time.”
When talking sport and the big drawcards of FTA TV, Swift confirms that one thing “only FTA TV can really do” is get “millions and millions of people watching in one place at one time”.
“When so many new media have grown, people always assume they see any decline in an old medium means its doomed,” he said.
“Actually what’s becoming clearer, in some ways subscription, online, pay-to-download, any other form of video consumption is kind of circling around the edge of our orbit. In some ways it’s just confirming what we are – we are the big, lots of people in one place at one time medium. That’s still the biggest chunk of the advertising market.”
“Free to air is about really cogent ideas which sell themselves. It’s about clear scenes, it’s not about morally ambiguity. It’s clear what’s going on. They deal with the big scenes of life today rather than windows of strange or odd worlds that we haven’t seen.
“We are about big universal trends; those things apply to a drama or and they can apply to a cooking or renovating show, and frankly they can apply to a game of rugby league where it is about winners and losers. The morally righteous versus the less so.”