One-On-One With Nine’s Chief Sales Officer, Michael Stephenson

One-On-One With Nine’s Chief Sales Officer, Michael Stephenson
B&T Magazine
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Exciting times are ahead for Nine Entertainment. We chat with the company’s ad revenue lead to see what’s in store.

We’re nearing the end of 2020, with Oztam’s official television ratings for 2020 released.

These show Nine as clear winners for the year and—depending who you ask—winners in the burgeoning BVOD market, amid the extraordinary challenges of 2020, namely the coronavirus pandemic.

Michael Stephenson is Nine Entertainment’s chief sales officer, a role he has held at the company since 2016, which sees him responsible for the company’s overall advertising revenue performance.

Prior to the release of Oztam’s ratings, B&T spoke one-on-one with Stephenson, chatting about some of Nine Entertainment’s key learnings from the year, and what it expects in the year ahead.

There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on the economy of Australia, and those of nations across the globe.

It’s also had a profound impact on the ways in which we consume media, with entertainment companies racing to keep up.

It’s a period that has certainly accelerated Nine Entertainment’s digital transformation, Stephenson tells B&T, with the company now focused on how it delivers across every platform.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that the future is about total television,” he says, “it’s about addressable advertising, and it’s about automation.

“And if those three things are the future of advertising, then the last six to nine months have really allowed us to double down on our focus and accelerate our movement towards that place.”

While the Seven Network claims it has clinched top-spot for the nation’s leading commercial free-to-air BVOD platform, data from Nine show it leads this segment on many fronts.

The latter leads in terms of commercial FTA live minutes, with a share of 46 per cent; while eight out of the top 10 live streamed programs belong to Nine, in the year to date. Married at First Sight also leads the way in terms of VOD minutes.

Likewise, Nine leads in terms of its capture of unique audience, reaching on average 3.8 million people monthly; and across key demographics: men over 18, women over 18, Millennials, and people 25 to 54.

Source: supplied by Nine Entertainment

This news comes amid the wait for the soon-to-launch platform VirtualOz, which will allow advertisers to measure co-viewing, among other features.

Stephenson believes this platform will prove much of what media companies already know, like the fact BVOD adds incremental reach to live, linear television.

It will also, for the first time, measure co-viewing and prove that there are multiple people consuming a single stream when television or BVOD is consumed through a connected TV.

“That in isolation is changing the expectations of advertisers,” Stephenson tells B&T, “because brands now are talking to us and working with us to understand why and how they should buy advertising across live linear, live streaming, and on demand to maximise the reach that they can get from their total television experience.”

He adds: “We’ve proven time and time again that television in all its forms is the most effective way to advertise, and it’s the most effective way to build brands and build businesses.

“With the market rebounding far quicker than anyone has expected, and the market in growth, this is a great thing for our industry.”

In terms of content for the year ahead, Nine revealed in its upfronts that 2021 would see a consistent schedule—Stephenson described this as important for brands—alongside more than 50 hours of new Australian programming.

“All of it will be focused on the key demographics that advertisers care about: 16 to 39-year-olds, 25 to 54-year-olds, grocery buyers and children,” he explained.

In addition, 2021 will determine the success of one of Nine’s more exciting propositions. In a bid to create the “Superbowl of Australia”, Nine has put the challenge to brands, marketers or creative agencies to create unmissable big-brand moments for State of Origin’s commercial breaks.

The reward for the winners is $1 million in advertising inventory across Nine. Stephenson said there had been a lot of early interest in the initiative.

“What we do know is 50 per cent of the effectiveness of advertising is the creative messaging,” he says, “the other 50 per cent is where you place it.

“And of course, if you look for a big audience, there’s no better place than the State of Origin. I’m really looking forward to that.”

When asked whether Seven’s rights to the Olympics had him concerned the network would soak up advertising dollars, however, Stephenson said: “We’re focused on 52 weeks of primetime consistency, not two weeks in the middle of the year”.

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