“There Are No Talks”: Nine CEO Hugh Marks Rubbishes Merger Rumours

“There Are No Talks”: Nine CEO Hugh Marks Rubbishes Merger Rumours
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B&T was lucky enough to score 10 minutes with Nine boss Hugh Marks in the lead-up to tonight’s upfronts, where the media reforms, Aussie TV drama and the broadcaster’s revamped programmatic offering were all discussed.

Obviously, there’s a lot of pressure on TV networks in 2017. What’s Nine’s strategy there, and how will your programming try and combat that?

We as a business are fairly unique in this market. We’re investing in content and in platforms, so I think of Nine not just as a television business, but as a content business.

If you look for the television business, its Nine, 9Now and Stan, and if you look at Apple’s latest iOS, they start to use TV rather than videos as their app. What does that talk to? Every big technology company in the world is investing in television. And guess what? We’ve already got great content, we’ve already got great platforms. We’re seeing audience change on those platforms, but we’re seeing that audience grow on some platforms, and we’ve just got to continue to invest along that path and keep meeting the audience with great content.

So, that’s the strategy – it ain’t complex, we’re seeing it work. Rather than being under pressure this year, we’ve seen growth in our numbers – we’ve seen growth in 9Now, we’re seeing continued growth in Stan, we’re seeing growth in 9Honey and our digital platforms. We haven’t quite yet touched social media as an opportunity for us to exploit our content – that’s in the year ahead. We’re a content company rather than just a free-to-air broadcaster.

The media reforms should pass in the coming weeks. How will that affect Nine’s strategy? Again, there have been rumours of merger talks between Nine and Fairfax and SCA.

The licence fee relief gives us the comfort to continue to invest in content, so that was important. The ownership reforms are probably of less immediate use for us. We’ve got a lot of things that are in our control to deliver four our business, and we’re pretty much focused on delivering and executing to that strategy, and not being distracted by acquisitions or mergers that may not bring anything to the future of our business. There is already a lot happening in our business, and already a lot that we can pull off and deliver that will talk to a very vibrant business for the future – we’re well down that path.

There are no [merger] talks – we’re pretty clear about that. What business or combination of businesses would enhance our ability to deliver on our strategy? I think that’s what you’re going to look at, and that’s what we’ve focused on.

How damaging has Ten’s calamitous year been for free-to-air overall? Has there been any advertiser backlash?

I don’t think it’s impacted the market that much. Ten’s done a good job of keeping the ship pretty steady through that period. They’ve had support from their agency partners and production partners, and I think the team there have done a really good job in a difficult environment.

How will Nine’s revamped programmatic offering, 9Galaxy, impact media agencies? Is this the beginning of networks bringing more of the media buying in-house?

No, I don’t think so. I think it just makes transacting television easier and more reliable. So, at the moment in that off-peak category where 9Galaxy will play first, you buy 100 TARPS and sometimes you get 120, sometimes you get 80, sometimes you get 50 – it’s not a great experience, and when you’re competing with Facebook and Google who guarantee delivery of audience, that fact for television is not great.

So, the ability to guarantee to an advertiser that what they buy, they will get is huge. The ease for an agency or an advertiser then transacting that as opposed to the manual, laborious process it is today, it just makes the platform that much more appealing.

Ninja Warrior proved a huge hit for Nine. Does that show that networks should be more daring with their programming? To take a chance on new shows?

The audience is constantly seeking surprise and delight – you have to continue to innovate the shows that are working and bring new shows to market in a way that the platform doesn’t get stale, and I don’t think that’s ever been different. If we lose sight of that, then we suffer as an industry.

We went into the year going ‘let’s do some different things, let’s bring some surprising things to the audience’. All of those were risks – we had to do it. We made the right calls and now we’re getting the benefits.

Has making drama in Australia become too much of an expensive risk?

No. I think drama certainly has a role to play, and it’s pretty important in the breadth of content that we need to be able to offer advertisers – it’s just that the model changes.

So, if you look at Ninja, it’s very big for live viewing, but doesn’t do much in catch-up or drive that much activity into our digital platforms. Then, if you look at Married at First Sight – which I’d say was a more important show for Nine this year than Ninja – it did a good number in TV, but was unbelievable in catch-up and really big in terms of driving audience into our digital platforms.

Drama – the right drama –  will do big numbers in catch-up over multiple years, so we’ve just got to change our mentality so that we start to match our commissioning with how the audience consumption of those sorts of shows is changing.

Drama absolutely has a future, but we need to be mindful that that future is different to linear overnight audiences.

What will Channel Nine look like in 2022?

We’ll be the true merger of great content with bloody brilliant technology that delivers solutions to advertisers, and with an increasing subscription element to our revenue base.

 

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