Inside Multi Channel Network

Multi Channel Network, best known as MCN group shot[1]MCN, was this year’s Mumbrella Sales Team of the Year. In a series from Encore profiling the 2013 Mumbrella Award winners, Megan Reynolds talks to the team behind the organisation and finds out what makes it such a successful sales outfit.

In a shimmering highrise overlooking Sydney harbour, the offices of Multi Channel Network (MCN) tower above the company’s former home in Pyrmont Bay. Sixteen years ago, the subscription TV sales company had just 20 staff working in the corner of Foxtel’s then headquarters.

When CEO Anthony Fitzgerald joined six years after the company’s inception, MCN had recently shifted to a new Pyrmont office in Harris Street, and the company was writing an annual revenue of less than $40m.

He left behind a job as sales boss at Channel Seven which was, by comparison, clocking up revenues in the ballpark of $800m. For Fitzgerald, joining MCN was like going to work for a startup.

The effect of digital on the TV landscape that is so evident today was yet to fully kick in, and with subscription TV embracing the advancing technology faster than traditional free-to-air networks, the sales boss wanted to be a part of it. While Fitzgerald’s move to the smaller company might have been seen as a risk, it is one that has paid off with the number of Foxtel channels more than doubling from 22 to 55 during his time at MCN and the company expanding into areas beyond the pay TV network.

Today Fitzgerald says: “I would describe MCN as a multi-screen, multi-platform integrated media company. The entire business is housed here under one roof. Our online people sit right next to our television people who sit next to our sponsorship and integration people. We really do provide that one-stop-shop outcome.”

The company celebrated record growth in the last five years as it began to branch out from selling slots on the pay TV channels to selling digital advertising for the associated websites and apps of the channels. As the business grew, so did the MCN team, and in 2011 the company moved to its current office in Union Street, Pyrmont, spread across a single floor of a building otherwise occupied by American Express.

Another major boost for the company was a deal forged late last year which saw MCN partner with Telstra to sell advertising across the telco’s portfolio including Telstra T-Box, BigPond.com, BigPond TV, AFL.com.au, NRL.com.au, V8 Supercars, the Racing Network and music streaming service MOG.

The deal elevated MCN from a boutique digital sales offering to one of the top five players in the market. The number of employees also elevated following the deal. There are now 256 staff at MCN’s offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, with 209 based in the Sydney office alone.

The sales portfolio now spans more than 72 websites, 61 mobile sites, 40 apps and three IPTV services.

Yet the company’s ever growing digital offering has not caused competition within the business, instead providing complementary assets the company can draw upon. “Given that the digital business is a department in its own right, it works with the other departments seamlessly, and that’s one of our biggest strengths,” says Nick Young, MCN’s national online sales director. “We don’t commission on an individual department, we commission on a company, so everyone’s encouraged to work together to find the best solution. It doesn’t matter if you’re in TV or digital, we don’t worry about individual targets.”

One of the company’s newer departments is strategic integration headed up by Elizabeth Minogue. The department works to weave brands and sponsorship partners into various properties. For example, last year Minogue worked on the launch of Foxtel’s male-skewed action and entertainment channel A&E and signed an exclusive channel partnership deal with soft drink brand Solo.

Minogue, who marked 10 years with MCN this month, leads a team of 33 that work closely with sales, analytics and digital to identify consumers that brands and advertisers are keen to reach.

With Foxtel now reaching around 7.1m Australians, the opportunity is vast and MCN has invested heavily in a subscription TV audience measurement system called Multiview. The system builds on OzTAM’s existing ratings tracking and provides deeper insight into who is watching pay TV and how they are watching. The Multiview panel uses data stored in 10,000 set-top boxes across the country going as far as registering audience use of Foxtel’s green and red buttons on viewer’s remote controls. The data, currently used by Foxtel and MCN, and available to channels and advertisers, will be extended to 100,000 homes by the end of the year.

Heading the project is Murray Love, insights and analytics director, who has been with MCN since day one. He says: “Foxtel homes are people who live in bigger houses, earn more, spend more, have more kids and buy more stuff. So this sort of data really illuminates that unique selling point. It basically says, if you want to reach the families in the shopping centre with the huge shopping trolleys, we know how to reach them.”

Given the rapid changing nature of today’s media industry, the MCN team is smart enough to know more changes are to come. The company is currently finalising a new sales and traffic system that will allow it to adapt its trading models into 2014.

Fitzgerald says: “As the market continues to evolve at breakneck speed, our goal is not to follow the changes that are occurring in the market. Our goal is to continue to lead those changes. I know that’s a statement many companies make, but we’ve got a proven track record. We will continue to adapt our business ahead of the changing marketplace to ensure we deliver to our customers.” He adds: “Agencies will tell you their workload is growing rapidly. The amount of inventory they’re having to transact has increased exponentially, and our goal is to make it easier for them to transact business with MCN in an increasingly complex environment.”

For Mark Frain, national sales director, adapting to the changing needs of the market is the most enjoyable part of the job.

“Ensuring your business stays relevant in the changing communication world is one of the core reasons why we continue to be successful and deliver growth for our stakeholders year in, year out,” he says. “We are certainly not afraid of change. First and foremost we embrace it.”

The approach certainly appears to be paying off for MCN. This year at the Mumbrella Awards, MCN’s sales team won it’s second ‘sales team of the year’ award after also being awarded 2012 sales team of the year by B&T.

Fitzgerald says drive is key to MCN’s success, along with faith in the medium of television and an evolving business model.

“We are generally very optimistic about our future. It’s something that we instill into our people, to be optimistic, to look for opportunities, and not just to be willing to change, but to embrace change, and look for the opportunities that can create,” he says.

“Across the 10 years that I’ve been with the company, as we’ve grown from a $40m or $50m business to more than $450m – with television and online together – and from 35 people to more than 250, we’ve managed to maintain that culture. It’s instilled in every executive in the company from top to bottom, bottom to top, and side to side, and we believe in that absolutely.”

Advertising revenues for subscription TV hit a record high of nearly half a billion dollars in the last financial year, the highest yet according to the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association (ASTRA). And MCN manages around 90 per cent of that advertising which represents approximately 10 per cent of Foxtel’s total revenue. The PricewaterhouseCooper’s Media Outlook predicts these revenues will continue to rise at 9.6 per cent per year until 2017 placing MCN in a position to see further growth.

As the company’s longest serving employee Murray Love has had a front row seat to watch the company’s growth.

“The multi-platform and the data play are the two biggest things people are talking about in the industry now and we’re right up there with both of them,” he says. “They’re just parts of our business. It’s exciting times. It’s been a good journey but there’s a lot more to come.”

Encore Issue 33This feature first appeared in EncoreDownload it now on iPad, iPhone and Android tablet devices.



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