Ten showed ‘there’s no place like home’, but ‘skipped over’ non-programming offering: 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. Last week, it was Ten's turn.

Last year, chief sales officer Rod Prosser appeared in a Carpool Karaoke segment with James Corden. Fast forward to this year, and Ten stressed the importance of home. Its 2021 upfronts presentation opened with Amanda Keller as The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy, flanked by her Living Room co-hosts – who were the lion, tin man, and scarecrow – and Osher Gunsberg as the Wizard of Oz himself.

Sizzle reels highlighting Ten’s slate were used to illustrate the network’s ‘heart’, ‘brain’, and ‘courage’, but the segment used the ‘No place like home’ tagline to confirm that shows usually filmed internationally – The Amazing Race, Survivor, I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! – will be made in Australia next year.

The move gives the broadcaster some certainty in a COVID-uncertain world. As Chris Brown put it at the very beginning of the show: “Jeez, has 2020 been a write off or what?”

Airing at lunchtime on Thursday, the upfronts focused on one thing: entertainment. Its other announcements – adding Flybuys to its data stack and a ‘Content Carousel’ on 10 Play – had gone live earlier in the day, so the media company was mainly concerned with reinforcing the value of its existing slate (although Bachelor in Paradise and Dancing With the Stars won’t be back in 2021) and bringing its new programs to life: Making It, The Dog House, and First Inventors.

The Content Carousel in action on 10 Play

Media buyers were impressed with the additions – will they be a new Masterchef or Survivor, though? – but noted the strong emphasis on programming meant the data and tech capabilities were glossed over. But the ‘bold, bright’ and ‘whimsical’ approach paid off for the ‘under 50s’ network, according to the execs in charge of funnelling ad spend.

What are you most excited about?

Nicola Lewis, chief investment officer at WPP’s Group M: The celebration of Australia was clear, with the return of I’m a Celebrity, Survivor and The Amazing Race to our shores. Conversely, I was really pleased to see The First Inventors – historically a really important series that will only serve to educate us all in the history of our country. A bold and important move by Ten.

Paul Wilkinson, head of investment at The Media Store: That depends on who you ask… keeping it true to the new normal, my 5-year-old was sitting next to me throughout the stream. As soon as The Masked Singer appeared on screen, she stopped watching YouTube, and started riffing off the characters. Safe to say, that show has hit its mark, and I think it’s a good example of how Ten have succeeded in growing audience.

Over the last few years, Ten has proven to be willing to take risks on new programming (such as The Masked Singer) and it’s paid off for them, as they have launched some of the best performing new formats and have indeed grown their audience – so I was pleased to see that they are aiming to do the same in 2021 with new shows such as Making It Australia, Dog House Australia and The First Inventors (which for me, as a viewer, looks really interesting).


Craig Cooper, chief investment officer at Dentsu Aegis Network’s Carat: This year’s upfront really showcased that Network Ten has entered a new era, being firmly reinforced by Viacom CBS and the power that comes with a multi-billion dollar global entertainment company.

Nick Durrant, general manager of investment at Mediabrands’ Magna Global: One of the most exciting points for me was to see ViacomCBS start to be really integrated throughout the Ten offering, from global insights to the new SVOD offering.

You really got a sense that they were part of a larger global content powerhouse. However, they very much retained their local voice in market with the style and substance of their programming. It was also good to see consolidation in their schedule with new shows coming in to add something rather than to fix a problem, as might have been the case in the past.

There were also some bold programming choices. In particular, First Inventors looks fascinating, although the time slot will be critical. Finally, you have to acknowledge the optimism and sense of fun throughout their presentation. Ten do a very good job of reflecting their brand personality in their upfront.

Jodi Fraser, commercial director at Publicis Media Exchange: It’s exciting to see Network Ten enter 2021 from a growth position and with a refreshed product offering. Moving production and filming for their programming previously shot overseas to Australia is a really smart move as it will allow them to control their ability to deliver programming regardless of the situation with COVID.

Jane Combes, head of trading at OMD Sydney: I always find the most exciting thing with Ten’s upfronts to be the creative and entertaining way they deliver their offering. It’s always enchanting, but even moreso this year. Ten’s theme of vitality, coupled with us all being “at home in Oz” was engaging, compelling and amusing from the start. Ten demonstrated they are true storytellers that can deliver courageous Australian content, with both heart and brains.

Ten showcased an Australian programming slate that we can count on and in a year of uncertainties, that’s what I was looking for.

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

Nicola Lewis: Easy to see progress on Ten’s data asset over the last 12 months, specific to addressability. It was also positive to see ongoing commitment to innovations in BVOD integrations – in particular Premium Pause (which a number of GroupM clients have successfully tested this year), and in 2021, the Content Carousel.

Key to ongoing success will be a solid market roll out process – agency by agency, client by client. The depth of opportunity needs to be understood outside of the elements presented, so the real value of each opportunity can be evaluated in the context of our individual client’s core business challenges.


Paul Wilkinson: I felt that the focus was 95% content, which in itself is not a criticism, but in the world we now work in, TV networks need to offer something deeper than programming. We need to know about the targeting capabilities, the tech, that helps fuel engagement with our advertising.

As such, I would have liked to know more about the data offering and more detail around how the other areas of the network are evolving such as BVOD and streaming services – I felt these were skipped over quite quickly.

Craig Cooper: The upfronts did feel quite light on from a sport perspective, but this may have been intentional given this genre is dominated by its competitors.

Nick Durrant: Other than who the most eligible Bachelor actually is, I would have liked to see one new stand out show that could really boost their schedule next year. I don’t think Making It or First Inventors is a new Survivor or Masterchef and one more tent-pole would give them a clear spine right across the course of the year.

This, though, is perhaps unrealistic given the financial year all the networks have had and the challenges of filming in our new normal. On the whole though it’s a pretty strong line-up and it will be interesting to see how The Amazing Race does in Q1. I feel that just like Masterchef this year, it might be right show, right time.

Jodi Fraser: No.


Jane Combes: It would have been great to see a little more beyond Ten’s content, which was the primary focus. Ten mentioned some key developments such as their Flybuys partnership, Viacom CBS consumer insights, Paramount+, a reimagined Imagine, as well as their Content Carousel. No doubt these are all exciting developments in the Ten offering, and I was left wanting more information on these and how they can add value and benefit to our clients.

What was your overall impression?

Nicola Lewis: It was bold, bright and focused squarely on the pillars of their success in 2020.

It was an encouraging story of audience growth, enabled by a clear global to local approach – not only in terms of Viacom CBS, but also of transporting the production of some of their largest, most success formats to Australian shores.

It was also important to see ongoing commitment to the Ten strategy. Staying true to their strategic positing including talking to under 50s, whilst doubling down on 52 weeks a year is certainly paying dividends.

At the same time, the sheer scale of content that Ten Viacom CBS has at their finger-tips is clear – a factor that will only serve to benefit the network as we continue to see fragmentation of viewing across both platforms and genres.

Paul Wilkinson: It was true to the personality of Ten: slightly whimsical, light hearted, and overall quite entertaining. The Wizard of Oz x Living Room piece was very amusing. As with all virtual upfronts, there is a limit as to what they can showcase, but as I said above, I would have liked to see more time dedicated to areas outside of the content slate.

Craig Cooper: The 10 Viacom CBS team absolutely nailed their upfronts this year; the theme of the Wizard of Oz was tonally on brand and delivered a perfectly distilled why we are ‘At home (in the land) of Oz’.

I also thought it was smart to show evidence of owning the under 50s audience by linking their audiences with having the highest share of life events; it resulted in a traditionally analytical measure seeming more personable and real. I suggest this won’t be the last we hear about this concept and think it opens up a multitude of moments to own.


Nick Durrant: It was a strong performance from Ten. They focused on their programming and gave a real flavour for what to expect in 2021. The show matched their brand personality and was distinctively from Ten. The programming itself is a build on this year and the Amazing Race in Q1 could be a surprise hit with an audience that has been starved of travel due to the restrictions most currently face.

Jodi Fraser: Network Ten has a solid plan to deliver growth in 2021. The network has evolved its products and offerings to answer client needs, and you can really see the impact that the acquisition by Viacom CBS has had on the Ten business.

Jane Combes: The key point I took away is that content is at the forefront of Ten’s ethos, delivered consistently, across all platforms. My overall impression was one of a stable, reliable network. I was surprised to see that whilst they are part of the Viacom CBS ‘global powerhouse’, they have by no means lost touch with Australia. It was pure Australian comedy and content standing front and centre, which I was very impressed by.

I walked away thinking Ten is a strong network with momentum and I’m excited to see how the year pans out for them.

How do you think the network has performed in 2020?

Nicola Lewis: Their audience growth is undeniable, and their key tentpoles have performed well. For a new team, their sales approach has also been impressive. Finally, there has also been an unrelenting focus on TV – be that BVOD, linear, or SVOD which is a focus that really does play to the network’s strengths.

Paul Wilkinson: The numbers speak for themselves really – they are the only major free to air network that can truly say they have grown audience without having a long list of small printed caveats at the bottom of the page. Given the long term downtrend of TV viewing, this is a fantastic result for Ten and TV as a whole.

Numbers aside, I think that Ten have probably performed the best in 2020 in terms of their ability to maintain programming despite the logistical nightmare COVID brought to production teams, but they were quick on their feet to make the best out of the situation and provide some light-heartedness to what is currently a difficult time.

Craig Cooper: You can’t deny that the 10 Viacom CBS audience and revenue shares delivered in 2020 have been super impressive. With the background of bushfires, floods and a global pandemic, they have proven that with resilience and a challenger mindset, you can deliver in spades.

Nick Durrant: 2020 has undoubtedly been a successful one for Ten. The programming movements they made last year have really paid dividends for them with Survivor and I’m A Celeb giving them a strong start to the year and Masterchef proving a powerhouse in Q2. What must be really pleasing to Ten is that their biggest risk, replacing the entire judging cast in Masterchef, led to its strongest performance in quite a while.

Jodi Fraser: Network Ten is coming into 2021 with great momentum. It’s in an excellent position to grow audience and revenue. Additionally, it has expanded its digital offering with data and new placements, which will give the network an advantage moving forward.


Jane Combes: I don’t think anyone can deny it has been an incredibly tough year for the industry and Ten has not been immune to that impact. In saying that, they have really had a strong year of audience growth across the key demos – total people, 16-39s, 25-54s and their under 50s heartland. Their programming slate is clearly working. Throughout 2020, we have all craved a level of escapism, and their content really delivered that for audiences.

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

Nicola Lewis: It is virtually impossible to deliver everything to all people in a virtual world, and as such hard to get the balance between content and product right. Ten stuck to their tried and tested format – content, content, content with big dose of entertainment thrown in for good measure.

Paul Wilkinson: I believe they did well given the circumstances, but as I have said before, upfronts are more than just a presentation – they provide a forum whereby the industry comes together and connects – that’s impossible in the virtual world.

Craig Cooper: This was the entertainment we all needed from 10 Viacom CBS. The world has some serious challenges right now, but never before has the power of premium and emotive content been so important. The streamed event was well structured, succinct, and just simply a success.

Nick Durrant: Ten did a good job in the virtual context. They kept it sharply paced and to the point, and most importantly they managed to convey a real sense of the network. You miss the in-person fun of a usual Ten upfront but this was the next best thing.


Jodi Fraser: I think Ten did an excellent job. With content as the key focus, the team was able to deliver an upfront that was both informative and entertaining. Ten was able to deliver important product developments, along with showcasing key programming. It was very well done.

Jane Combes: It was great to see Ten retain their theatrical flair and sense of humour with their upfronts, something the market has grown to expect over the past few years. Whether it be cabaret or carpool karaoke, we all wonder ‘what next?’ and the fact that this year’s upfronts was virtual clearly didn’t dampen their entertainment-focused approach.

In terms of missing out, Ten’s cheese platter is usually phenomenal, but that’s the only thing I can think of.


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