Nine ‘set the benchmark’ for Seven and Ten, but content slate lacked ‘depth’: Media buyers review 2021 upfronts

In this series, senior media buyers review each network's 2021 upfronts presentation, weighing in on what they got right, what they missed, and how the virtual events stack up to the 'real life' versions. First off the blocks: Nine.

Last year, Fox Studios was turned into a fairground for Nine’s upfronts, featuring a rollercoaster, sideshow games, towering Lego rocketship, performance by Guy Sebastian, and secret massage parlour.

Fast forward to this year, and the Hugh Marks-led network was subject to 2020’s great equaliser: the virtual event. As The Media Store’s Paul Wilkinson put it, it’s “just a shame there is no space for a rollercoaster in my home office”.

The 2021 content slate

The Voice is out, due to its spot as “by far the poorest financial performer on our slate”, so there was no Guy Sebastian in sight. And a livestream doesn’t lend itself to impressively oversized Lego structures. Instead, we got Hamish Blake appearing in a Playboy-branded robe, quipping that since he couldn’t find a Hugh Marks one, he had to be Hugh Hefner.

Here, media buyers in charge of the purse strings weigh in on how Nine, the first of the networks to present a vision for 2020, performed yesterday. The consensus? The Adobe partnership and initiatives like State of Originality are compelling, although the content slate lacked ‘depth’ and ‘fresh’ shows. Overall, however, the ‘slick’ presentation set the bar for the other networks.

Blake dressed up for the occasion, chatting to CEO Hugh Marks

What are you most excited about?

Nicola Lewis, chief investment officer at WPP’s Group M: Nine’s world-first Adobe integration is a really powerful move to combine their existing data lake with the Adobe platform. It’s impressive and gives Nine a unique position in market. That’s something we’d like to understand more about as an opportunity for our clients.

It’s clear that Nine really has spent the last 12 months reimagining Nine Radio and the audio space and is testament to the commitment Nine make when they take on a new channel. They’re proving that you can execute a marketing campaign that transcends all platforms, and even start in radio. The question is when you look at the audio landscape, its accessibility and variety: how can they attract their audiences beyond talent?

Paul Wilkinson, head of investment at The Media Store: [Powered] Enterprise for me has the potential to move the market, and our publisher partnerships, to a place that is well beyond simple base CPMs and to real business outcomes, which is something we have spoken about for a number of years but rarely had a proof point – I think this announcement puts a stake in the ground and I’d be surprised if others didn’t follow suit in some form.

The Adobe partnership puts Nine further ahead in the data space – no doubt about that. Will it match Google and Facebook? That I can’t say, but I have no doubt they will both be watching Nine closely.

Virginia Hyland, managing director of Havas Media’s Hyland Division: The most interesting opportunity for clients and agencies is the ability to tap into Nine profile segmentation [and] customer segment match across the broad assets of Nine: broadcast, digital and publishers. This is further enhanced by the ability to tap into the Coles data sets. It enables our business to find potential customers who are of greater relevance to a brand, to match customers, segment and optimise to increase the ability to drive sales conversion.

Virginia Hyland_SportsMS 2018_Close-up


Craig Cooper, chief investment officer at Dentsu Aegis Network’s Carat: [Last year] Michael Stephenson was very clear in his unhappiness with Google and Facebook securing a large share of Australian advertiser digital monies, and with the new Adobe partnership announced yesterday, he has certainly backed up this position again. This is an exciting development, and could be what Nine needs to claw back some digital media spend.

Nick Durrant, general manager of investment at IPG Mediabrands’ Magna Global: The tie up with Adobe makes a compelling proposition from an audience selling perspective. Also the total suite of Nine products was presented in a very coherent and compelling way – particularly from a broad news perspective.

I also really liked the State of Originality concept. Creating a showcase for great messages is a welcome move.

Jodi Fraser, commercial director at Publicis Media Exchange: I’m looking forward to seeing how the data lake for radio works and learning more about the Adobe partnership.

Nik Doble, Melbourne group trading director at OMD: The Adobe Audience Match offering was definitely the most exciting announcement. Will need to do some further digging on the potential to activate, and where within the Nine ecosystem, but I have to applaud the endeavour.

Was there anything you hoped to see but didn’t?

Nicola Lewis: I felt that the depth in the content slate for 2021 was missing. I would have liked to see more depth, more insights into the formats, those they are iterating, those that will be bigger next year and the new formats, but that comes down to the virtual environment they’ve had to adapt to.

We work very heavily to create integration opportunities for our clients with key content properties, so it’s integral to understand the formats and the depth of the content within those formats as early as possible, so we can get visibility on the opportunities, but the virtual format didn’t really allow for that as much as usual.

Nine Radio’s talent

Paul Wilkinson: To be honest, I would have liked to see some more innovative new programming content – I do feel that whilst there is new content, it plays it safe. That was the same last year, but to an extent that was to be expected; they had created a winning slate and didn’t necessarily need to push the boundaries.

This year, in my view, would have been the time to take a few risks and keep the format fresh – but I can’t point to one new show that does that.


Virginia Hyland: I would have liked to see more depth in 9Now content platform. How are they going to best engage with individual audiences living within the same household to create a personalised viewing experience? Where does Nine see the opportunity for future growth within this platform?

Craig Cooper: It was a fairly comprehensive presentation, but there wasn’t any mention of the production side of the TV industry. This is an area that was impacted quite severely by COVID-19, so would be interesting to hear how this would be protected by Nine in the ‘new normal’ future.

Nick Durrant: More new content – although given the strength of their existing slate I can see why they didn’t. Also a stronger programming proposition for 9Now – usually we see some strong local drama that, although unlikely to rate strongly on [the] network, can deliver strong BVOD results.


Jodi Fraser: No, I think they covered everything we need to understand in order to move forward with 2021 conversations.

Nik Doble: I don’t feel anything was missed, and it shocks me to say this because I loved the punchier format, but more time on the data and tech developments would have been great. Although perhaps that was Nine’s strategy, because now I need to follow up. Well played Nine.

What was your overall impression?

Nicola Lewis: It was sleek overall, and they are coming off a year of strong momentum. Nine’s performance was solid in 2020. They said they would focus on making key tentpoles bigger and better and they did. It has been challenging for Nine but they stayed true to their strategy, and this year’s upfront is confident as usual.

Paul Wilkinson: It was as I expected it to be: slick, well produced, to the point. I think the format is likely to be the new normal of upfronts. I’m okay with that, just a shame there is no space for a rollercoaster in my home office…

Virginia Hyland: Nine has a strong market position and is well placed to become a valuable partner in 2021. Their content is high quality overall and they can clearly define how to engage with a variety of audiences across a multitude of assets.

Craig Cooper: Nine Entertainment knows how to deliver a professional upfront event, and have delivered it again this year. It would not be an easy task to fit key content that spans their TV, digital, radio and print business[es] into a sharp 45min presentation, but they succeeded.


Nick Durrant: It was a strong proposition with a very clear message of partnership. I like the focus on business results as that is what we are trying to drive for our clients.

Jodi Fraser: The presentation was slick as always and they did a great job of presenting their 2021 plan in a new format.

Nic Doble: Nine maintained their typical high and slick standards in a virtual setting. It is clearly their ambition to be seen as a local media platform to rival the scale of the global tech players, and trump them for connectivity with Australians.

How do you think the network has performed in 2020?

Paul Wilkinson: The numbers speak for themselves in terms of their overall commercial performance and you can’t take that away from them.

But I think the bigger focus for Nine had to be how they performed operationally within the market – they have built a huge network, so it was vital they connect the various parts of their network in a seamless manner, so we as agencies can engage with them as easily as possible. I feel they have made some great headway in this area, but there is still work to do to truly break down the individual silos which are still evident – but this was always going to take time given their size.

Virginia Hyland: Considering the headwinds of 2020, Nine has grown in audience numbers and breadth of offering. They have strong assets across multiple platforms. Nine is well placed to capitalise more greatly on audience breadth and depth in 2021.

Craig Cooper: It would be easy to forget that Nine Entertainment has gone through an extreme amount of consolidation and transformation over the last few years and, from an outsider’s point of view, this does appear to be quite seamless and functioning well and will set them up for success in the longer term.

From an audience perspective, Nine Entertainment has had a consistent, top rating year again. However, whilst they are very proud of their premium content heritage (which they should be), this does tend to come with a premium price tag for advertisers. Perhaps 2021 will see them energise their cross platform delivery for clients, which could help with re-balancing these premiums.

Jodi Fraser: Nine has had a great year, with programmes like Lego Masters and MAFS performing really well. It will be interesting to see how State of Origin and NRL finals perform in the last quarter.


Nic Doble: Despite the volatility, Nine’s 2020 has followed a typical trajectory. Bookended by strong periods from a TV perspective, albeit with heightened competition in between, [and] no doubt aided by widespread self-isolation and postponed sport.

Nine deserves praise for all they’ve achieved in 2020; the continued integration of the former Fairfax and Macquarie assets and personnel was a monumental undertaking. To do this while leading the agenda from a data and tech perspective is nothing short of impressive.

How did you think Nine fared in the virtual context – did you feel like you missed out on anything versus what a face-to-face upfronts offers?

Nicola Lewis: In the virtual setting, you miss the theatre and the show, where[as] you would normally get to see the talent come to life on stage and that brings to life the character of the tentpole programming.

It was short and sweet and commercially focused, which makes sense when you think about the year that we’re in and the underlying need to give clients confidence in Nine’s infrastructure, their commitment and investment in data, tech and content.


Paul Wilkinson: It was the right amount of content to get the info required and not lose interest. But upfronts are about more than just a presentation – they are a time of year when we gather together as an industry, we catch up with new and old colleagues and we build and strengthen relationships. You simply can’t do that in the virtual environment.

Virginia Hyland: I have to say, I really enjoyed the condensed, one hour version. They were concise and clear in delivering their key messages and plan for 2021 in a professional, detailed way. I don’t believe anything was lost. I’m sure some will wish they could have enjoyed a beverage with the Nine team and their peers. However, the content was polished and interesting.

Craig Cooper: The virtual world for these large scale events has rapidly improved (through necessity) this year based on the COVID-19 restrictions. The Nine Entertainment upfronts has set the benchmark for the 2020 upfront season, with a great mix of corporate talent, relevant content, engagement and the technology used to deliver us with an overall enhanced experience.

Nick Durrant: The virtual context did mute a lot of the excitement you feel at a usual upfront. It was also a lot shorter than Nine has managed in the past – you decide if that’s good or bad.

On the whole, though, they had a very clear message and a disciplined approach to delivering it. The key initiatives were delivered clearly and succinctly. As a method of imparting news and information it worked. Which you would hope given delivering compelling content is their business.

Jodi Fraser: I think Nine did a great job of getting the information out to us in a clear and succinct way, while including some of the humour they are known for. While the virtual experience does lack some of the excitement of the event, all in all I would say this was a successful presentation of the 2021 strategy for Nine.


Nic Doble: From a content perspective I don’t believe [I missed anything], however I did miss the social aspect a lot. Here’s hoping for the best of both worlds in 2021.


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