How Nine has rebuilt its audience and programming after a bumpy 2016

Adrian Swift is no stranger to Nine, so it was no surprise when he returned to the network after just 18 months at the ABC. Ahead of Nine's Ninja Warrior premiere, Zoe Samios sat down with Nine's content boss to discuss his return to Nine, his learnings from the ABC, and what makes good reality television.

Just 18 months after becoming head of content at the ABC, Adrian Swift returned to what he once called his ‘spiritual home’ – Nine – for the fourth time.

After more than a year and a half in his latest role as head of content production and development at Nine, Swift says his focus has been generating mass audiences for the network.

Swift: Nine had a bumpy 2016

“We had a pretty bumpy 2016, certainly the opening part of 2016. So it was an opportunity to work with people I know and love, Michael Healy, Hugh Marks, to rebuild the schedule and rebuild the schedule in a world where our audiences are everywhere.

“What’s exciting for us as programmers is we now, if we commission a show, we don’t just commission nine hours of television, or 28 hours of television.

“We commission 15 hours of television, 26 hours of online, 14 hours of social. We are actually now building entire ecosystems around shows and that’s really interesting.”

Swift first joined Nine as a sports reporter and presenter in the late 1980s, before returning as an executive producer in the 1990s and as director of development in 2011.

This time round, Swift is enjoying free-to-air broadcast television’s best asset – creating shows that “capture the public imagination”.

“Having the opportunity to generate a massive audience around something people care about, that’s still the most exciting part of being here,” Swift tells Mumbrella.

“What was beautiful about the ABC was, they had lots and lots of plans but they were struggling to find the shows. Nine didn’t need to have a plan, you just made shows and you stuck them up the mast and people watched.

“What’s been great about coming back to Channel Nine this fourth time is we’ve got shows and we’ve got a plan and we know what we are doing in terms of where the audience is going.”

In his time with Nine, Swift has commissioned shows including The Voice and Big Brother, and is also responsible for commissioning Ninja Warrior, which is set to launch on Nine this Sunday.

Swift is behind Nine’s latest decision to commission Ninja Warrior

“I grew up watching Nine. When I first saw television from afar as a young reporter on The Guide it was always Nine I wanted to work at so it’s good to be here.”

He says his favourite thing about working in commercial television is getting up in the morning and knowing what he’s doing.

“We’re going for mass audiences, demographic focus so 25-54 particularly, but we are going for mass audiences.

“When we commission a show, how do we get a million people to turn up in one place at one time? How do we get half a million app downloads around that show? How do we get a Facebook reach of 250,000 every night?

“It’s about numbers, it’s about driving people wherever they are and to know clearly what your KPIs are is refreshing.”

While his experience at the ABC was quite different, Swift says he learnt lots in his previous role, which he could transfer back into his latest role at Nine.

“The big thing that we were always talking about at the ABC which I think we were a little bit slower to adopt here was talking about a total measurement of audience. What the ABC did really clearly and cleverly was they very early on went – ‘It’s not about the overnights’.

Swift: Married at First Sight became a narrative across the week

“We held on to the overnights a lot longer but I think one of the things that we are now moving to really clearly is ABC’s measurement – it doesn’t matter where the eyeballs are as long as we have the eyeballs,” he explains.

“There’s no divide between short-form IP delivered content and broadcast content. It’s about where the greatest content is, and purposing it for the platform that people consume it on.

“The ABC have done that really well and I think we are getting a lot better at doing that now.”

Swift, who is no stranger to commissioning reality television shows, says understanding the Australian audience is “unique” is key to picking the good reality shows from the bad.

“It’s a combination of knowing what works in other territories but you have to understand Australia is unique. There is no other market in the world that has this preponderance of stripped shows running at 7:00pm or 7:30pm all across the week. This is unique anywhere in the world.

“Big Brother is still on one night a week on CBS, it’s on one night a week in the UK. We are the only country that puts things on three or four nights as week.

“The thing I look at the most are things like telenovelas or things like EastEnders or Coronation Street. All our reality shows become soaps. You saw it most fundamentally with Married at First Sight where it just became a soap opera and a continuing narrative across the week and a hook across to the next week.

“What we look for is things people know and understand – so love would be the thing that underpins Married [at First Sight], renovating (The Block), eating – (Family Food Fight), achieving your dreams, (The Voice) – finding those things that we all know about and then putting people you care about into a construct that people understand and then hopefully the stories that come out of that are compelling stories.”


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