Satellite Media leaders Nikki Streater and Nick Lowe erased the company line between digital and media before they could foresee the avalanche of devices and channels that would bring the two areas together. Now it's clients that cover a raft of touchpoints — and support its forays into connected retail and events — that interest them most.
Start from the beginning...
Lowe: Satellite began in 1998 as Satellite Pictures, a TV production company. The original founder was David Rose and I started in 1999 setting up the interactive side. I was a communications graduate and my dream was to build music TV websites. Nikki joined in 2000 from from the Max TV music channel and promoting the Big Day Out. A focus on storytelling and content has been a good foundation for what we do and has really benefitted the digital production company.
We started building websites in the early stages, then moved into mobile. We built a lot of the parts of Vodafone Live in the early 2000s and we've worked with Coke since 2000. The company is half owned by South Pacific Pictures, which is in turn owned by all3media International in the UK.
How have you found new outlets that make the most of your history in TV production?
Streater: In television, we're making lots of it, but not necessarily for broadcast. It might be on [a client's] YouTube channel or in an app, but the skills are the same.
Lowe: Satellite used to be broken up into a media team and a digital team and we had [music magazine] Rip It Up, which we sold last year. Selling Rip It Up was about focusing more on the digital production we were doing but also because Satellite moved away from being such a music focused production company.
Streater: We have a music doco coming out, but it's less ongoing. We're not doing a 52-week chart show anymore. We do it periodically and we shoot a lot of music events. We shot all the iHeart Radio concerts, we live broadcast it and stream it to wherever, to a site or to mobile. Now it's non-prescriptive. You always used to be able to say, 'this is how we do an event'. Now it's about who it's for, where does it live, and you have to ask those questions every single time. In the same way the distribution model has change for music and film, there used to be just one, now it maybe goes straight to Netflix. The skill now is where the audience for this and how do we get it out there? It's different each time. Sometimes the answer is broadcast TV. But it's often multiple outlets.
Some of your clients are big names and have been with you a long time, what dynamic does that create?
Streater: We've been working on the Coke New Zealand business since 1999 and now Australia. We've built up a huge amount of experience about what works for them. There's so many facets of their business, we've got a really good sense of what works and what we've tried before. It's just reputation. We can build anything, but we're good at recommending a sensible solution and asking at the outset why we're doing this.
Lowe: The partnership we have with these businesses has to be a long term one. We see consumers' behaviour changing around how they're engaging with our messaging and products, so we won't solve that necessarily in the next year, but we can see a future where things will be different and we have to start on this journey now.
Streater: It's about being agile too. Years ago we made a lot of TV shows in partnership with Coke and they were right at the forefront of the show. We could have said, 'that's the only way to go'. Now we're doing all this stuff with them from interactive vending to events to messaging on the big screen at Christmas in the Park. We have a voice now. It's very collaborative and it's often creative agencies or the global business that dictate what it might be, or an idea comes down from global that we need to work together to adapt for the local market, because New Zealand is very distinct. Rolling out an American campaign isn't often the right idea. They'll hear our recommendations, but very rarely do we say, 'you should do this'.
We're less interested in being web guns for hire, but in long term partnerships like Coke and hopefully Fonterra will be the same. To solve a business problem, yes we could build a website and walk away, but we're less and less interested in doing that.
You're doing a lot of work 'in the wild', what do people want now that events are about more than the experience or a TV broadcast?
Lowe: We did the Powerade challenge, an integrated outdoor tracked run with vending machines and digital billboards and NFC [near field communication] billboards. That was our team realising we have to do the on the ground work as well as the office and internet side of it. We had to put shipping containers on the wharf and fill them with water so they didn't blow over.
We were at the Parachute Music Festival and we used NFC wristbands for festival goer activities. We built a check in system for 2Degrees so when you recharge your phone at their recharge shed you tag your wristband and when you come back later it tells the staff where your phone is stored.
Streater: It could be anything from an A&P show to the Big Day Out to the Ellerslie Flower Show. Seeing the buildup, something at the event, then talking to all these people again, it's actually really accountable. It also validates going into these events. Previously it might have been anecotal how many people you interacted with. Now people can say, we saw this many people. Sometimes it's not about talking to them again, it's about visitor numbers or time per visit or a drill down into demographics and making that part of a bigger comms strategy.
Lowe: The key thing for us in that space is because consumers have access to amazing experiences we've found we have to deliver new stuff. The challenge is coming up with ideas that will wow and impress that are different to last year. That's the creative task for us.
Software development is your key focus now, was it hard to build that talent base?
Lowe: We have 45 staff across different areas. The proportion of work across areas depends on who they're working for but softwar development is by far the biggest. Fifteen staff are dedicated to programming, mainly back end systems and applications for desktop or mobile.
Streater: We made a conscious decision two years ago to invest in our software build capacity because if you're going to be serious about it you need clever people in all sorts of different technologies. We made a decision to build up our skill set in house and to get the right people. We see it as an area of growth. When you have a client like Coke you want to have the person sitting right there who remembers what we've done for them, instead of being at the vagaries of outsourcing. Finding people with the right experience is increasingly becoming a challenge. We hired fairly aggressively last year so our challenge now is making sure people have the right amount of work and the most interesting work. I wouldn't say it was easy to find the right staff.
Lowe: There is huge demand and a couple of New Zealand companies who use a lot of resource. For us it's about providing a great place to work and a mix of projects from week to week that challenge them.
What 'future is now' stuff is on your services list?
Lowe: In the retail technology space we started with digital signage. We put them in to reduce speed to market, reduce cost and distribute media to the store. That's now moved into more of a connected store space where we can do audience tracking and awareness and personalisation of those environments, plus interactive media.
We have projects with some major retailers this year with digital services to enhance the retail experience, managed over the air by our platform. The internet initially allowed us to content manage out to the store. Now we can do two way, real time activity. We're getting into ibeacons, the sensors and the iOS feature. When I walk into a store I can receive special offers or be prompted to do things. It used to be that we wouldn't know where somebody was unless they used our service. Now you can push stuff to someone as long as the access is there. That opens up new challenges with privacy and security and operating a fleet of devices, but it's all stuff that can be solved and we're getting into what that means for the business and the consumer. No one wants to be spammed to and we're in the market of protecting what the consumer wants or is prepared to accept.
Streater: That's where the content comes in. If you can talk to people in the right way with smart content, then you've nailed it.
Lowe: Part of our software team is building electronics components rather than just software on a CPU, which is a really exciting extension for us. .