‘We’re in an unbeatable position’: James Warburton on Seven claiming the crown early

Seven has declared an early victory for 2023, sending out a press release this morning claiming the network has “taken the crown in 2023”, with eight weeks still left in the ratings season.

The victory seems fairly safe: as of this morning, Seven held a 42.3% commercial share nationally in total audience, with 40.8% in the capital cities, and 45.2% in regional Australia. It also leads nationally in 25 to 54s and 16 to 39s.

The 7plus audience has jumped 17% during 2023, with a 36% share of the BVOD market for the year-to-date.

The top five most-watched programs for the year have all been on Seven, with the Matildas v England women’s football World Cup game drawing 7.32 million viewers across broadcast and BVOD.

Even if the victory seems sewn up, calling the win early is undoubtedly a brash move.

Mumbrella spoke to Seven’s CEO and managing director James Warburton — and chief content officer, entertainment programming, Angus Ross — about their massive 2023.

It’s a big move to declare the early win for the year. What made you decide to do so?

Warburton: It’s the most dominant Seven’s been for a long time. We’re pretty dominant in effectively every single part of the schedule, from the network, with more people watching, through Sunrise, Morning Show, News, winter sports, summer sports, drama and multi-channels.

And even what we’ve been able to do from a 7plus perspective, particularly with the growth that we’ve got.

Every single part of the schedule has come together, and I’m proud of the team in terms of bringing it together and being so far ahead at this time of year.

So when you look at it across the board, at any angle, any way you cut it, we’re in an unbeatable position.

For the year-to-date you have 42.3% total audience share. That’s quite incredible.

Warburton: We’ve said for a while now, it’s a two horse race.

The third player – or actually fourth – is having a pretty bad year. So when you look at where we are and what we’ve still got to come, the important thing is that we’re actually growing. And, so yes, you know, we’re growing our share and growing our share points, but we’re growing franchises.

When you look at what Angus has been able to do with Farmer Wants A Wife, Dancing with the Stars, MKR, we’ve got the number one new entertainment show in terms of The 1% Club. So, we’ve got lots of franchises and lots of areas of the schedule that are growing, as is streaming on 7plus, which, you know, continues to go from strength to strength.

And we’ve got this absolute streaming revolution, you know, just around the corner in next September, obviously, with the AFL and cricket coming — which is the equivalent of a ‘Matildas’ and the Tokyo Olympics, so four billion minutes, split across 52 weeks, which will mean from, that perspective, 7plus becomes absolutely unbeatable as well.

Franchises have always been a strength of Seven. You still have Better Homes, which started in 1995, and Home and Away, which started in 1988, which are both among your highest rating shows. Is building these tentpole shows the main goal?

Ross: You’re always looking for consistency across your schedule. And, for years, we’ve referred to shows like Home and Away and Better Homes and Gardens as the bricks in the wall. That’s the bedrock of your schedule. And then you lean into the tentpoles, and we’ve been rebuilding our tentpole schedule over the past few years, to the point now where, as James referenced, we’re actually we’ve been growing our key tentpole performers year-on-year: Farmers, Dancing, My Kitchen Rules, they’ve all grown actual broadcast audience this year. And I think we’re going to do the same thing with SOS Australia when we launch that this week, out of Bathurst, I think the audience for that will also grow year on year.

So what it means, looking into 2024, is that we can come out with a hell of a lot of consistency with proven formats across the majority of the year. We will, of course, have some new announcements at the upfront. But the majority of the schedule will be proven performers, combined with the dominant news, the dominant multi-channels, and the dominant summer and winter sports.

It’s interesting you were talking about Home and Away.

Home and Away is the biggest show on 7plus. It does about a billion minutes a year. And, in that 7plus VOD space, Home and Away is that gateway to other drama, so drama tends to over-index there, and that’s where the deals we have, those overseas pipelines with NBC, with Sony, and with a couple more that we’ve got under construction, it’s so important – and that’s why Seven has been doing so well in that VOD space for the last three quarters of this year.

So, once we come out with that sports streaming, we’ve really got the ability for that one-two punch: dominant VOD, and dominant live streaming, which will make 7plus unbeatable.

Do you use streaming as a testing ground? Let’s say Packed To The Rafters suddenly becomes huge on streaming, in the way we often see old shows do on Netflix. Would you move it to free-to-air or commission a reboot?

Ross: I don’t want to completely give the game away. But there have been a few examples with US dramas, where we’ve changed our approach to them, based on what they are doing in the 7plus VOD environment.

The big shows on broadcast are big shows on streaming. But there have been a couple of shows that have worked a bit the other way, that you may give more broadcast prominence to, because of what they are doing in the streaming environment.

Obviously, the Matildas were massive for you this year. How early did you know that was going to be the big thing for the year? When did you start feeling that?

Warburton: I mean, all these things are a risk, in terms of performance. But you know, certainly, we’ve got pretty strong sport analysts that had a view. And we thought, as we said before, the Matildas would go pretty deep into the tournament.

You know, it’s interesting: half-a-billion dollars has been spent on football sports rights in the last decade. And we spent a small amount of money, and probably picked the eyes out of it.

You know, we still outbid the others, to get it from Optus — obviously it was absolutely massive from that overall perspective, but I think that’s also where Seven’s really good at sport. We generated our own coverage instead of taking the world feed, we assembled a really good cast, with Mel McLaughlin knowing so much about soccer, and being the face of soccer for so many years, and also then Bruce [McAvaney] being the face of sport.

We also did a great job in terms of promoting it, exciting Australia about it, and then, you know, the wonderful performance of the team on the pitch, said it all, so to speak.

So yeah, it’s a range of elements. And then obviously, performance-wise, they went deep into the tournament, which always helps.

I said the same thing about the AFL, you know, the way in which the team schedule and build the AFL.

If you look at Brisbane, the Lions obviously went all the way to a heartbreaking loss in the Grand Final. But we’ve been building the AFL, in Brisbane, in particular, for a long period of time. Even with the strength of the NRL, you’ve seen the Lions actually knock off Broncos and Cowboys games, directly against the NRL, it’s been the main channel

As it has been in Sydney with the Swans, that has been very strong. So the way we actually schedule and build – there is no better sport partner than Seven.

You also survived the loss of Kochie this year. Sunrise continued to dominate, which must have been a relief.

Warburton: I mean, it was a two-year plan. We knew Kochie was going to retire at some point. And we identified Shirvo [Matt Shirvington].

We got him in first on Seven News, and then he started doing the fill-ins on Friday, and then summer fill-ins, and fill-ins the weeks that [Kochie] was away. We got to really look at the dynamic. And so, it was pretty much a no-brainer to put Shervo in.

Before that, was obviously the transition from Sam Armitage to Natalie Barr as well, you know, so we’ve had quite a bit of change in that program over the last few years. And we’re as dominant as we’ve ever been from a Sunrise perspective.

Sunrise has been number one for twenty years now.

It’s what we do.

I mean, we don’t have distractions, we don’t have other things that we focus on, or do, or make excuses for.

We don’t have massive trade marketing budgets, where we come out and try and force down your neck that we’re the biggest and the best and everything else.

We just get on with the core content. We eat, sleep, and breathe it. And we are very focused on making sure we can connect with more Australians than anyone else. And that’s what we’re about.

And, in fairness, I’ve been around for the last four-and-a-bit years.

But, for 15 of the last 17 years, Seven has won.



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