Seven to shift focus to younger demographics under new CEO James Warburton

New Seven CEO James Warburton has admitted the network skews too old in the audience it attracts and relies on “ageing warhorses” for its programs.

Speaking to Mumbrella, Warburton said the network needed to do more to connect with “heartland Australia” if it was going to turn its fortunes around, and bring in the younger viewers who are likely currently tuning into competitors Nine and Ten.

Seven needs to attract younger viewers

The repositioning comes after Seven stalwart Tim Worner vacated the CEO position just days ahead of its financial results.

Warburton, himself a former sales boss at Seven and CEO of Ten, V8 Supercars and APN Outdoor, then returned to the network as its leader to replace Worner.

Seven West Media, which includes the television assets, as well as Pacific Magazines and West Australian Newspapers, then posted a $444.4m loss just five days into Warburton’s tenure.

On a call to investors following the results, Warburton admitted it had some key programming holes, and was skewing too old.

He then told Mumbrella: “I’ve been very open about the fact that we have ageing warhorses in a couple of formats. And that we have skewed too old in some areas, so that is our focus.

“You don’t want to alienate the core viewers that you have and skew the network too young either, but really, what it’s about is actually reconnecting with creative ideas that the public comes to expect from Seven.”

The network has had somewhat of a failure to launch lately, with last year’s Dance Boss bowing out with just 264,000 metro viewers. Then there’s this year’s canned Temptation Island, and the removal of The Super Switch from the primary channel schedule after it premiered to just 308,000 metro viewers. Seven tentpole My Kitchen Rules has also suffered gradual ratings decline – largely due to its age – with an additional 2019 season shelved.

In the weekend just gone by, Nine Network also took over the Seven Network in the survey year-to-date ratings, putting it on track to win the total people battle for 2019. As of Sunday, Nine Network has a total people survey year-to-date share of 29.7%, ahead of Seven Network’s 29.6%.

Warburton, however, said it’s time to “change the narrative, and to be very focused on the business and its plans to move forward”.

How though, will Seven take hold of that narrative, when Nine has spent so long positioning itself to both consumers and media buyers as the key player in the advertising demographics, particularly those aged 25 to 54, and grocery buyers? Not to mention Ten pushing itself as the under 50s network?

Warburton says nothing is on the table, and nothing is off the table.

“You don’t flick a switch. You don’t do it in five-minutes flat. We have to invest, and we have to build our schedule. Sunday to Tuesday 7:30pm is our problem, so we have to revitalise the formats that we believe that we should take forward, and we need to get back to being the Seven that we used to be, around creating, executing and launching content that really connects with heartland Australia,” he said.

He is immediately focused on the network’s relaunch out of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but won’t be drawn to a firm answer when asked by Mumbrella what Seven’s future is in the mid-term. What does a successful Seven look like in 2025?

Warburton: The man to save Seven?

“I’ve been here five days, so I’m going to pass on that one for now,” Warburton told Mumbrella last week.

“I’m very clear in terms of the immediate focus and what I need to do over the short-term, and I will continue to update the market as we get to AGM in about 12 weeks, and then obviously our half-year results early in 2020. So I think we will form that view very, very quickly.

“Our plan is to relaunch the network out of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. And just to be clear, I am absolutely salivating about the Olympics in 2020. It will be the most-watched ever, and have over 35 streams in addition to our broadcast channels.”

In a bid to become more of a content-led company which is entrepreneurial and run less like a media business, Warburton said mergers and acquisitions were also absolutely on the table.

Some investors on last week’s call had questions over how that would be possible given Seven’s debt levels – a net debt of $564.4m as at last week’s results.

But Warburton said there are a range of options available to get debt down.

“Well as I said there is a whole range of options, and I’ve been very, very clear about it’s been five days and nothing is on or off the table, that there are a lot of options that we have, and probably the only thing that would be worth pointing out is that we have an extremely committed major shareholder as well,” he told Mumbrella, referencing Seven’s chairman Kerry Stokes.

The network can’t cut its way to success, he said, and it needed to be more innovative and transformative.

Indeed, upon leaving his previous role as CEO of APN Outdoor when it sold to JC Decaux, Warburton said he wanted his next role to be focused on innovation and transformation.

“Do you believe that that’s what Seven is? A business focused on innovation and transformation?” he was asked by Mumbrella.

“It is now,” was Warburton’s resolute answer.

“I have always focused on performance, top-line growth and transforming and innovating and being entrepreneurial, I think as I said at the time [of leaving APN Outdoor]. I would never have expected this role to be on the table, and it was an absolute no-brainer, and I couldn’t be more delighted to be back at Seven.”


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