Seven’s Kurt Burnette on Big Brother’s renewal, AFL and EAVE

Big Brother will be back in 2021 on Seven, with the network announcing over the weekend that the show had been renewed for a second season, proving the gamble had paid off.

“Big Brother was designed to come in and target the demos. Seven has a strong platform from Sunrise to Seven News and The Chase, that’s been rock solid for many years, but the challenge we had was to fix Sunday to Wednesday at 7.30pm,” Seven’s chief revenue officer Kurt Burnette told Mumbrella.

Burnette says Seven is on the right track for a strong 2020

“Big Brother was the first real, different, crack at trying to make sure we brought back good dinner entertainment, which lifted the whole schedule. Because it’s more than one show, it’s always about more than one show.”

Seven CEO James Warburton was very frank at the network’s upfronts event in 2019, saying its 7.30pm slot had seen ‘poor programs and failures’.

“As a content company in recent times, we’ve lost our way in our entertainment strategy and tentpole strategy. We haven’t invested in these tentpoles, we haven’t developed them, and accordingly from Sunday to Tuesday 7:30pm has been a real problem. We’ve been weak, inward focused, tired and stagnant, and recently, we’ve had a string of poor programs and failures by our own high standards,” Warburton said.

Big Brother came out strong, its first elimination drew 930,000 metro viewers, but has slipped slightly since then. But Seven seem to be happy with the performance, saying the improvement in the key advertising demographics (16-39s, 18-49s and 25-54s) is what the network was looking for.

“We were hoping it would perform well in the demos, and it is. It’s exceeded expectations in the demographics. So for [Big Brother] to be coming back, it’s a fantastic thing because it gives us momentum as a business. We’re up 40% in the 25-54s and that’s even before the numbers increased during COVID-19. So this for us is a game-changer, it’s really powerful,” says Burnette.

Host Sonia Kruger will stay with Big Brother in 2021 and Endemol Shine Australia will complete the production. Chief content officer Peter Newman thanked the fans for opening themselves up to the new format of a beloved classic.

“We’re extremely proud that Seven has commissioned us to deliver another series of the reality show that started it all, Big Brother. We’re also very grateful to the fans of the show who have embraced the evolution of this incredible format. In 2021 Big Brother will be back more mischievous and devious than ever before. You won’t believe what he’s got planned for the Big Brother house.”

Big Brother has also been a winner on 7Plus, Seven’s Broadcast Video on Demand (BVOD) platform, which has seen its biggest live streaming (excludie live sport) and biggest VOD day records broken multiple times by the reality show. The platform has now seen its biggest week on record for the last two weeks in a row.

But it isn’t just Big Brother that Seven is happy with in 2020. The AFL, while it got off to a rough start with the COVID-19 restrictions forcing a delay to the season, is also delivering on some very bold promises from Seven. The return match was the most-viewed Thursday matched ever and biggest regular season match in a decade.

“The AFL is a truly national code – when both the AFL and the NRL came back, they both did really well, but the gap between the codes has become more prevalent since then. I can’t put my finger on why that is exactly, I’m personally an NRL fan, I was brought up on NRL, but you see the passion in AFL in its markets, it’s truly a national code,” says Burnette.

“That’s why we go after the AFL and why we went after the cricket, it’s a national product and in our schedule, it’s about building on a solid base. Thursday to Sunday is about sport for us and for the last two weeks we’ve had 45% of the 25-54s from Thursday to Saturday. If you’re a retailer and you’re trying to get people into your stores on the weekend it would be advantageous to be with Seven. That’s a pretty strong proposition.”

Throughout both Big Brother and the AFL, Seven began to implement its enhanced advertising and viewer experience (EAVE). Announced last month, the new system will shorten breaks and deliver more for viewers, which the network says results in better engagement.

“It’s not a new thing, it’s already happening around the world. But when COVID hit we decided we didn’t want to be the same business coming out as we were going in. So we’re making changes to our balance sheet and trying to pay down debt and sell off assets, but we’re also looking at our products and our structure,” says Burnette.

“It’s a very simple premise – if the viewing experience is a good one, the advertising experience is an excellent one. We’ve reduced our ad content overall by 30%, including shorter breaks which we executed through Big Brother. We want to give our audiences a unique experience on Seven and a better advertising experience for our partners.”

The network also rolled out a number of different advertising packages across its AFL coverage, including virtual ads linking to integrated sports. These creative offerings are all part of the EAVE plan – a combination of smarter integrations and reduced breaks. So far, it seems to be working. Burnette says more data will be coming out across the latter half of the year, but so far the network is seeing a 9% increase in audience retention through the reduced ad breaks.

“If you’re in an engaged content environment with a reduced ad load it makes common sense that it’s going to be more impactful. We’re still doing research on it, but so far the statistics are very clear and very powerful.”

So far, Seven reports a 64% drop in ‘advertising clutter’, a 15% increase in audience delivery and Big Brother’s shorter breaks saw 67% less viewers tune out during the average break.

“When you think about the buying process, it’s very important that notion of momentum, that’s what’s so powerful for a business. People are going to start buying for July to December and Jan to June now, so that forward moment is so exciting for us as a business, if you’re growing by 30 – 40% as a business and you’re already a strong platform, that’s the momentum that everyone is going to be looking for.”


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