James Warburton ‘derisking’ Seven’s programming slate after tough start to the year

Seven’s CEO and managing director James Warburton is attempting to minimise the risk the network takes on in launching new programming formats after the company revealed a challenging financial position and looks to emerge from a slow start to the ratings year.

Seven has a number of new formats in the pipeline – including Rebel Wilson-fronted Pooch Perfect, Plate Of Origin, Holey Moley, Farmer Wants A Wife and a revamped Big Brother – but Warburton indicated they will have shorter runs and not all will survive the year.

Warburton on stage last year issuing a rallying cry to the market

The move will enable Warburton and his programming team to try a number of formats, without pinning all its hopes of redemption on one program.

“The difficult thing with programming is that it’s very hard to get formats up,” he told Mumbrella yesterday following the group’s financial results. “So if you look at all the formats, no network ever produces something to fail, but it is obviously a very difficult market and difficult format. And particularly when you’ve got something as established as Married At First Sight [on Nine].”

Ratings, however, aren’t everything he claimed, noting his sales team, led by Kurt Burnette, was still connecting with agencies and brands and meeting briefs, despite losing the number one position to Nine last year.

“Winning the ratings is a notional view. 6pm ‘til midnight, total people does not translate to what drives premium and what drives audience,” he said, noting despite the headline-grabbing struggles of My Kitchen Rules this year, programs such as Seven News, Home and Away, Sunrise and The Morning Show continued to shine.

“I think the one thing people underestimate is Kurt Burnette and the sales team. They don’t sell ratings. They sell integrations and they sell results. So when you look at My Kitchen Rules, House Rules, they’ve already got multiple sponsors on things like Pooch Perfect, Holey Moley and Big Brother. They sell environment and they sell fantastic integration that drives results.

Pooch Perfect kicks off next Thursday

“So from that perspective, I think there’s really strong relationships that are driven. So clients don’t look at a schedule and go ‘Well that’s failed, that’s failed’ – they look at what value the network is driving, and I think we’re very focused on that. And I think our guys do a really good job from a relationship point of view.”

Warburton also touched on the roadblocks he is facing with his bid to sell of Pacific Magazines to Bauer, and come together with regional affiliate, Prime.

In a call with investors yesterday, Warburton noted he and the Seven board would be patient with the would-be Prime deal, after it was stymied by media moguls Bruce Gordon and Antony Catalano.

Asked in the follow-up interview with Mumbrella whether “patience” translated to “wearing down” the objectors, Warburton stressed that the deal was in everyone’s best interests.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of wearing Antony [Catalano] down. I think it’s a matter to look at – we’ve got a great relationship with Prime, we’ve got the affiliation deal that goes for a number of years. But everyone has to look at the commentary of Prime themselves in terms of going it alone,” he said.

“So, we’ve got a stake, we’ve got some optionality. But we’ve got a very strong focus. But the urgency, everyone talked about ‘Oh geez you’re doing a lot when you arrived’, the urgency of the turnaround, the urgency of what we needed to do, there’s no misconception from me that it was going to be an easy job. We have to transform. We have to completely reset content, which obviously takes time. And we need to do it in a market that was, and continues to be, challenged.

“So we’ve certainly got a number of things that we’re balancing on the way through. So Prime would have given us some great synergy, I still think it would have been better for both of us, would have changed the game in terms of one buy and national reach. It would have changed the game for us, and been of benefit to both shareholders, but it didn’t get up. So now we just move on with our other strategies – Studios, Ventures, and obviously for us in terms of a market like this, working down our debt as quickly as possible.”

Warburton noted in the call with investors yesterday that he isn’t banking on Australia’s ad market turning around this year.

The full transcript of the interview with Warburton, which includes a discussion of the Big Bash League, Seven’s sports line-up, the network’s hunt for a chief content officer, and where Seven will be in 12 months can be read here.


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