Russel Howcroft: “Nothing Tells A Brand’s Story, Builds A Brand’s Fame, Its Success, Like TV”

Russel Howcroft: “Nothing Tells A Brand’s Story, Builds A Brand’s Fame, Its Success, Like TV”

Network Ten general manager Russel Howcroft has added chairman of the new TV industry body Think TV to his resume. Here he tells B&T why free-to-air still kicks butt for advertisers and why digital and social are telling us porkies…

John Bastick
Posted by John Bastick

What is Think TV? What was the reasoning for yet another industry body?
It’s about the trade, the marketer, and as a result we’ve got Foxtel as a shareholder, as is Seven, as is Ten and as is Nine. And the reasoning behind it is research, it’s insights, it’s communications and education to the marketing community and the media agencies around the commercial power of broadcast TV advertising on all screens.

It doesn’t impact your duties at Ten?
I remain a Channel Ten employee but I’m now on Think TV’s board alongside Anthony Fitzgerald from MCN, Kurt Burnette from Seven, Michael Stephenson from Nine; it’s a trade body that very much is based on the highly successful entity in the UK called Thinkbox.

Is it a case of ill-bedfellows? After all Seven, Nine and Ten are hardly best pals, are they?
And you can throw Foxtel into that as well. Yes, we all compete for clients, for share of audience and share of money, of course we do, and Think TV is about ensuring that TV is seen for what it is, and what it is, is the number one driver of commerce in an advertising sense. The ROI on TV is irrefutable.

I don’t think anyone says it doesn’t work, but you pay big bikkies for the privilege, don’t you? 
It’s not about how much it costs, what the point is it’s highly effective and as a result of that it provides incredible value as well. It’s also worth remembering, in a production sense, it did used to be expensive but that’s in the old analog world. In the digital world you no longer have to spend a lot of money to make TV commercials.

Are agencies at fault here? The actual creative isn’t what it should be to get the eyeballs the money demands?
From a creative agency point of view, I think they would love to be able to have conversations with their clients around the commercial power of TV advertising, they’d love to have ROI conversations around the power of TV advertising and what Think TV will do is it will help them. Take the UK, ad spend on TV there is up 7.5 per cent. In the US it’s five per cent growth. Why is that happening? Number one it’s the accountability of TV advertising and that’s less so with something like digital media. And number two is the return on investment, and the age-old part of it is that TV remains an incredible storyteller. Nothing can tell a brand’s story, build a brand’s fame, its success, like TV.

Is it a case that TV ratings are down, so advertisers are less likely to want to advertise and with less cash the networks struggle to make better shows? It’s this sort of vicious circle, if you will?
The content on Australian TV is outstanding and when it comes to numbers we get way too excited about a media headline that sings about the marginal decline of some audiences. That does not change an ad’s effectiveness.

You can’t deny there’s been a big decline in free-to-air audiences over the past decade? You only need look at the numbers.
There’s a big difference between advertising consumption and media consumption. Think TV is about the power of the advertising be it broadcast TV on a digital platform or the telly in your living room; the power of the advertising is what matters. It’s not how many watched the show but how many engaged with the ad.

Do you think there can be a prejudice in agencies among, say, the Millennial buyers, around TV? They see it as ‘old media’? They don’t recommend it to clients as much as they perhaps should?
What I would want Think TV to do is to ensure that the data is front and centre so clients and agencies can make the right choices. Regardless of demographics, TV remains the number one medium that they consume. Even with the Ys, the teens, it’s still the number one medium.

Will that still be the case in five or so years’ time, however? Is free-to-air drifting into a real shit storm?
No! Fifteen million Australians watch TV every single day. By the end of the week, any given week, 87.5 per cent of people watch TV in Australia. And that is the opportunity to see advertising and the Think TV conversation is about the power of advertising within broadcast content. There’s a significant difference between a viewer and a view. Say a show gets a million viewers, that’s what gets reported, it’s the average, even if the show got 1.2 million viewers at any stage. Therefore a million people have seen the advertising within the show, but in digital they talk about views and a view is different to a viewer. Digital talks of these huge viewer numbers but often that’s a three-second peek. It’s about comparing apples with apples not apples with pears. You can’t compare a viewer who sits and watches an hour of TV to someone who quickly scans Facebook.

Speaking of Facebook, how big is the fight with TV and the digital players for ad dollars?
There was a report out of the US recently by the Video Advertising Bureau and they calculated that if all the time spent on Facebook, if it were a TV show, it would rank on any given day as only the 140th consumed TV show in the US. Digital promotes the big number and that is dictating the money flow. The marketplace needs to be aware of the disparities. Even when people are on their iPads they’re often watching TV, too.

The prognosis on Foxtel’s future isn’t always good. What’s your view there?
Absolute nonsense. It’s like predicting the weather, they never get it right. These are just crazy doomsday scenarios that people come up with around these incredibly robust media platforms that have millions of people watching them. And who benefits from all these people watching? It’s the brands.

SVOD, Netflix, you can’t deny these are disruptive times, however?
No, I’m not discounting them nor am I ignorant to change. When I started in advertising in 1987 the average Australian watched three hours of TV a day and here we are in 2016 and the average amount of TV watched by Australians is three hours. Yes, people consume other media but I do not buy that social media has the same effective capacity as television does.

This is more a question for you with your Channel Ten hat on and there is a gripe, that you’d be aware of, that the networks aren’t doing enough to drive new shows and new content? All we get is yet another series of MasterChef.
Who says that? MasterChef regularly gets over a million viewers. People don’t want to watch it? I don’t buy that for one second.

As always, a pleasure.
Thank you.