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Avoiding ‘siloed, orphaned digital products’: Inside Seven’s digital strategy

It's no secret that publishers and broadcasters have struggled to reinvent themselves for the digital age. With a restructure of Yahoo7 and major cost cuts underway, Mumbrella’s Zoe Samios sits down with Seven West Media’s chief digital officer, Clive Dickens, to map out Seven’s digital plans.

Five months ago, Seven West Media’s boss Tim Worner stood up in front of an audience in Melbourne and told them the year just gone had been Seven’s “toughest” in recent history. The cost cutting plan he later announced could only be described as inevitable.

But on that same day in October, something else was clear: Seven would hone in on its digital strategy, improving its ability to deliver audiences for advertisers across multiple platforms.

Seven pulled its streaming platform from Yahoo7 at the end of last year

It’s no secret broadcasters and publishers have suffered under the rule of technology giants like Facebook and Google.

For Seven West Media, which owns West Australian Newspapers and Pacific Magazines along with part of Yahoo7, the way to combat these giants is by focusing on TV – what Clive Dickens, Seven’s chief digital officer, calls the “100 pound gorilla”. 

Running directly alongside its TV efforts, Seven is doubling down on its digital video strategy. For Dickens, it is a “misnomer” to “orphan digital products, teams and strategy into one single siloed operation”.

Seven to ‘double down’ on video, says Clive Dickens

When the acquisition of Yahoo was completed by Verizon last year, Seven announced it would remove its Plus7 long form streaming platform from Yahoo7. At the time, Dickens told Mumbrella it was “critically important” the company was no longer seen as just a broadcaster.

Yahoo7 – Seven’s joint venture with Yahoo – began in 2006, and was previously home to exclusive lifestyle content from Pacific Magazines’ lifestyle assets, as well as Plus7 and West Australian Newspapers (WAN) assets. They have since been pulled from the platform. With it, a number of jobs were lost across editorial, technology and television teams.

Dickens now says while the extraction of Pacific Magazines, WAN and more recently 7plus has had an “inevitable” impact on Yahoo7, it was simply a strategic pivot away from being “over reliant” on a single investments.

He backs the initial strategy, noting it was “absolutely right for its time”, but that now it’s about giving each business the ability to compete and talk direct to advertisers and consumers.

“All of their [Pacific Magazines and WAN] content was exclusively housed inside Yahoo7. So that was obviously presenting Yahoo7 to be to be a much larger business at the time because they had exclusive representation for West Australian Newspapers and exclusive representation for big brands like Marie Claire and New Idea.

“The company strategy has been to allow those businesses to develop direct to consumer products to allow those sales teams to go and talk to advertisers across all devices.

“When you actually look at the sum of the parts, we now have more audience, and more revenue in aggregate by executing this company strategy, than when it was all housed in one place,” he says.

These days Yahoo7 is part owned by Oath – an ad technology company made up of Verizon’s AOL and Yahoo entities.

Dickens says Yahoo7 still has a “sizeable audience”

Dickens’ ‘publishing focus’ is now directed towards WAN and Pacific Magazines, but he’s optimistic about the future of Yahoo7, which he says has “a very sizeable audience”.

According to the latest Nielsen figures, Yahoo7’s total unique audience is 8.7 million.

And that sizeable audience is of value to Dickens, who is focused on achieving frequency and reach.

One of the benefits of a large company in Oath is massive scale, something publishers have sought out for some time. From Dickens’ perspective, this scale is still important to combat the likes of the big five: Amazon, Facebook, Google, Tencent and Alibaba.

“When you see the Disney company deciding to partner for scale with 20th Century Fox Company on content, and you see Comcast partnering for scale with NBC and the other big deals that are happy, you start to understand why here in Australia we need to do that as well,” he says.

Dickens sees Yahoo7 as an important investment for reach, arguing fully owned and operated (O&O) entities are “just a press release”.

What Dickens is focused on however, is “doubling down” on video.

“We have been as an industry ignoring the ascension of video-based advertising. Digital video based advertising is growing enormously. We estimate the digital video market in Australia now to over $1ms alone and is growing at 30-40% per annum.”

Dickens says so far, 7Plus is “well ahead of expectations”, according to independent industry metrics.

In January, the first month of 7Plus running as its own entity, Seven made up 47.4% of all streamed minutes in Australia. He tells Mumbrella 7Plus was only “marginally” behind 9Now in people.

The Winter Olympics contributed to 103.5m streaming minutes to 7Plus’ total audience.

However, while Dickens is pleased with these results, he had qualms with Facebook and Google’s preference to measure streaming audiences differently.

Dickens calls for a standardised metric for streaming

He says the tech giants should “be held accountable” to the same video metrics. In Australia, the broadcasters count a stream start if it runs over 15 seconds. Facebook refers to a stream start as anything under one second.

“We encourage other video operators outside of OzTam VPM to not only report their minutes, but also report them in the same way,” he says.

“We’re just saying to Facebook they need to be accountable to the same Media Rating Council (MRC) accreditations as we are, which is how much of the video is played, only refer to a video if it’s over 15 seconds.

“Every single television market in the world for the last 50 years is measured in the same way. And that’s what needs to happen. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram can’t even agree themselves what a streaming minute it is, and we often come back to that and we think they should be held accountable by the IAB and the MRC.”

Regardless of the digital metrics, it’s big events like The Winter Olympics that Dickens believes are still “very important” for the business. For him, live events like the Olympics and Commonwealth Games allow for ‘addressable advertising’.

“During all of our sporting events and accelerating into the Commonwealth Games, we now dynamically ad insert addressable TV ads into our screens. So we have 70m impressions to date with our partners,” he says.

“Now, depending on where you watching and who you are… you’ll start to get different ads at different times on different devices.

“That means that live addressable TV can start to become even more accountable to its advertisers, with target audiences being very different.”

Addressable advertising requires sizeable amounts of rich data. However, Seven’s digital platform doesn’t require compulsory sign in, unlike rival Nine.

It could be argued Seven doesn’t have enough data to deliver addressable advertising, but Dickens is adamant it comes down to an “active audience”. He would not disclose how many sign in users 7Plus had.

“We focus on active audiences, we focus on making sure people come back at least once a month but ideally a couple of times a week. We will never put out a number of how many people we’ve collected over two years, it’s a vanity stat only. What’s important is many people come back every day every week, or every 28 days.”

Dickens has an issue with mandatory sign in, saying Seven does not currently require it, as it’s not a “television experience”.

Rather, Seven prefers to offer incentives for those who sign in. One of the reasons for this is Dickens is particularly wary of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe.

“We suspect that that type of privacy scheme is likely to come to our jurisdiction at some point in the future. With data comes great responsibility. We feel it should be a value exchange back to the consumer, and that’s what we’ll be doing.

We don’t force people to sign in, but we’ll be launching a whole set of incentives over the coming months where there’ll be certain features. For example on all sports products where you sign in, you get upgraded to HD, you enjoy less commercials, you can share your premium content across eight device. That’s the strategy we’re deploying.

“The last thing that we feel very strongly about is verification – making sure that we actually know that those people are real human beings as well.

Another concept at the forefront of Dickens’ digital strategy is connected TV – otherwise known as internet-enabled television. What that offers is one to one advertising with high viewability. It has been a concept at the forefront of broadcasters’ minds since last year. New Screen Australia figures showed broadcast video on demand services increased to 84% from 74% in 2014.

Dickens sees a large opportunity in the space, but adds broadcasters need to work together to make the technology usable. He says Seven is in “high level conversations” with ThinkTV, Freeview and OzTam about collaboration around connected TV.

“We shouldn’t be competing on technology. Our mantra is agree on technology and compete on content,” he says. “We are sprinting as an industry to replicate that deep, positive, experience of broadcast.”

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