Nine sales boss: ‘It’s not the 1980s, we should be judged on performance of all our channels’

Nine’s new sales boss has expressed his frustration with the industry focus on the ratings failure of Reno Rumble, arguing the TV network should be judged on its performance across all four of its channels.


Stephenson: “We are demonstrating that we can be nimble enough to adjust the schedule when we need to”

New sales boss Michael Stephenson, who took the sales reins from Peter Wiltshire earlier this month, told Mumbrella: “We recognise how important prime time is, but it is also not the 1980s. There are four channels – and that’s why we invest in having four channels of content: to give Australians a breadth of content to enjoy for free.”

Stephenson’s comments come as media buyers report they are in talks with the TV network around make-goods following the ratings failure of Reno Rumble which, as of next week, will move to the later time slot of 8:50pm on Monday and Tuesday, replaced by Married at First Sight in the key 7:30pm slot.

“That gives Reno Rumble the best lead in possible. That’s the decision the programming team have made, and one I completely support,” he added.

“What we are demonstrating is a sign of confidence that we can be flexible and nimble enough to adjust the schedule when we need to.”

The tanking of Reno Rumble, which pulled an audience of 370,000 on Monday compared with 1.327m for Seven’s My Kitchen Rules, comes on the back of the underwhelming performance by Australia’s Got Talent, which Nine put up against My Kitchen Rules in the hope of differentiating its content.

Stephenson was reluctant to be drawn on whether AGT’s performance had weakened the build-up to Reno Rumble, but conceded: “Would we like more ratings? Of course we would, but it is what it is and we have to therefore ensure that we have the best and strongest schedule to deliver the best demographics for advertisers.”

The senior Nine Entertainment executive also noted that he believed Reno Rumble was a good show and dismissed concerns among some media buyers that its failure may indicate that viewers are tiring of the renovation format including The Block, which is scheduled for later this year.

Reno Rumble's ratings have disappointed and saw the program moved to a later timeslot.

Reno Rumble’s ratings have disappointed, resulting in it being moved to a later time slot.

“Reno Rumble is a good show, it has good characters, it is well produced but it is different to The Block,” said Stephenson. “It is a hybrid – it is a competition among groups rather than individuals, it is about helping families who have had a tough time of life.

“The Block, on the other hand, has proven over a long period of time that it continues to deliver the demographics and, importantly, it is one of the most well supported shows on TV from an integrated point of view.

Myself and any programmer out there would love if there was a magical formula (for ratings) – I mean everyone would be using it. But there isn’t.”

On the issue of make-goods – re-run credits given to an advertiser by TV networks – Stephenson was unable to comment on client conversations but argued that advertisers would not be worse off due to the poor ratings performance of Reno Rumble.

“Anyone who has been buying and selling television for a long time knows there is zero risk for a partner or sponsor of a major format,” he said. “We are completely respectful of the significant investment that they make into our formats.

“With that comes a sense of comfort around the delivery of the audience and the delivery of all the integration in the shows.

Where there is an advertiser or partner of Reno Rumble they will get from us exactly what they bought – we will not let them down.”

Stephenson also challenged the market to look at the network’s overall performance across the whole day in 2016, arguing this should be from the start of the calendar year, rather than the traditional focus on the ratings year.

Nine notes that this year, according to OzTAM in the key advertiser demographic of metro viewers aged 25-54s, from 6:00am to midnight, there has been an overall audience decline of 9.4% for Nine, 10.8% for Seven, and 6.7% for Ten.

“When anyone is assessing anyone’s performance you have to look at four channels and you have to look at it from the moment we start broadcasting to the moment we end every day and you have to look at it from January 1 to the year to date,” Stephenson said.

“When you look at 6.00 to 24.00 calendar year to date all channels – which is all we have to sell – we are the number one network in 25-54s with 36.7% share. We are the number one channel among 16-39s, 36.6% share, we are the number one network for grocery buyers with children with a 36.8% share.

“Those are just the facts. Open to close from the beginning of the year to now. Those are the demographics that advertisers care about.”

While Nine is keen to focus on the full day and key advertiser demographics, analysis by Fusion Strategy shows that in prime-time this ratings year Nine’s audience declines have well exceeded its rivals.

Among all people live peak audience share for the first six weeks of the ratings year Nine’s main channel is down 14.44%, year-on-year, while Ten and Seven’s main channels are also down, but only by 2.73% and 1.79% respectively.

Nine’s sales boss acknowledges that prime-time is still important but is reluctant to be drawn on the reasons for the continuing decline in the terrestrial TV market beyond highlighting how Nine is investing in streaming products like 9Now to cater for the shift to online viewing.

Nine is investing in 9Now as audiences increasingly shift online.

Nine is investing in 9Now as audiences increasingly shift online.

“Free-to-air television continues to be the most effective platform for brands,” said Stephenson. “Technology is changing consumer behaviour. They have more choice than ever before, that is just a fact, which is as a business we have invested in SVOD (Stan), why as a business we have invested significant amounts of money in 9Now.

“It doesn’t mean you get it right every time – and that’s the industry we are in, but what we do have is an incredible pipeline of products coming our way to continue to give consumers variety within free-to-air television.”

Nic Christensen 


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