NZME has since the beginning of this year released over 12,000 videos, which have accumulated 42 million views, and the media company is looking to further consolidate its video offering with the launch of a production studio called NZME Vision and a new content hub dubbed WatchMe.
Rolled out earlier this week, the WatchMe website has already been populated with a collection of comedy shows, featuring a combination of established and upcoming talent, all produced through NZME Vision.
On the commercial side, the new unit is being led by media industry veteran Cameron Death, who has 20 years’ experience in leadership roles across Microsoft, NBC Universal Digital Studio and Core Media.
Creatively, NZME has taken a bolder approach, handing the reins over to radiomen Matt Heath and Jeremy Wells.
“Matt and Jeremy are great examples of the new media,” says Dean Buchanan, who was recently promoted to the newly-created position of NZME group director of entertainment. “These guys are everywhere where the audience is, delivering content when and where it’s wanted.”
In this capacity, the pair will be responsible for spotting new talent, curating content for the site and continuing to produce more of their own digital video products (both commercial and creative).
“The gap for WatchMe is that it’s one hundred percent supportive of existing and upcoming creative talent in New Zealand,” says Buchanan. “And it’s about finding that talent and those great ideas and giving them a platform to risk, try and to generate content.”
Heath had a slightly different understanding of his new role: “We plant seeds in fertile creative grounds. Is that a good metaphor? I haven’t really said anything like that before in my life. Most of my metaphors are sexual usually. But I guess that was sexual in a way. My usual ones are bit more sexual, so maybe we can go with fertilising creative eggs.”
Among the creative eggs that Heath and Wells have already fertilised and turned into WatchMe shows are Ben Uffindell’s The Civilian, Leigh Hart’s Late Night Big Breakfast Show (which will feature all-new content) and Wells' Like Mike segment (see the full lineup below).
Heath says the major advantage of the WatchMe is that it gives local talent the opportunity to get exposure on a national platform.
“If you look at something like The Civilian, we saw that he was a funny guy floating around on the internet, and it’s really cool to be able to ring him up and say, ‘Hey, do you want to make a TV show?’ And then we sort of mould him and help him become a visual broadcaster. That’s pretty cool and that’s been really fun. Spotting that talent is really the big part of it.”
Heath and Wells’ appointment to the new role comes as reward for what has been a very successful year for the pair. In addition to developing their morning radio show on Hauraki, they have also played a major role in the ongoing success of the Alternative Commentary Collective (ACC), which recently branched out to cover rugby.
NZME group revenue director Laura Maxwell says emergence of new digital channels across the industry have given NZME a degree of freedom that was previously unattainable.
“iHeartRadio has given us that freedom from a radio perspective, and now our digital assets give us that option as well,” she says.
While the ACC has been popular among listeners, there have also been a few hiccups along the way, the most significant of which was the loss of their ICC accreditation to broadcast from the event. This, however, did little to impede the popularity of the show.
Maxwell also points out that taking risks is integral to NZME evolving into a major multimedia player.
“We’ve got to try new things. You can’t continue to do what you’ve done for the last 150 years. We know that the channels to audience have already changed. What we need to do now is experiment and look for new types of content that people want to read, view and listen to.”
This approach is also about creating new revenue streams at a time when the traditional channels continue to strain.
Maxwell says WatchMe will be funded through advertising, which is likely to include banner and pre-roll ads.
The NZME Vision unit also presents the opportunity for advertisers to collaborate with talent that they believe fits with their brands. And this is something that the likes of Heath, Wells and Hart are already well versed in, having produced some outrageous content for advertisers via the ACC.
“We have taken a comedy angle because we have a strength in that area. We’ve dabbled in it and it’s a big part of radio, the ACC and our other online videos, so we thought this is actually a good space for us.”
The emphasis on local content has also seen NZ On Air lending its support to the initiative, with $100,000 being allocated to The Civilian in the latest round of funding.
“NZ On Air has funded specific shows,” says Maxwell. “They haven’t funded the building of our platform or any of the technology side of it, they’ve purely funded some of the content under their digital funding round.”
In keeping with NZME's strategy of giving its creative talent the freedom to experiment with various projects, Maxwell says there aren’t any rules around the type of content that Heath and Wells commission or produce.
“There are no strict guidelines. The beauty of digital is that we can try things and see if they work. There might be a few surprises that we think are just okay that turn out to be absolute showstoppers and develop cult followings.”
And Buchanan believes the audience will play a significant role in terms of determining what is maintained and what is jettisoned.
“The awesome thing about the internet of course is that consumers are brutal,” says Buchanan. “If they love it, they’ll say ‘That’s awesome’. And if it’s shit, they’ll say that very quickly as well.”
Maxwell, Buchanan and Heath stress the new property is not intended to be emulate Netflix or YouTube.
“We’re not wanting to compete with a gazillion hours of content,” says Maxwell. “We just want New Zealand-only content, and that’s our point of difference.”
Also, rather than having the content disappear in the sea of videos on YouTube, Heath argues value of the platform lies in the fact that NZME can use its media muscle to connect audiences with the content produced for WatchMe.
“We find good people and then give them access to all the assets that NZME has,” the Hauraki broadcaster says. “So you can have people appearing on radio, promoting what they produced. And we’ll also run ads on radio pushing people toward it.”
As well as pulling consumers to its new property, this approach will also give upcoming talent the exposure they need to develop their careers, says Buchanan.
“The comedy we have in this country is outstanding, but the challenge has been that there haven’t been many platforms beyond the traditional broadcast to get it out,” he says. “Without WatchMe, what happens to talent like that in New Zealand? Where do they go? How can they possibly develop ideas in their craft and their talent?”
Shows on WatchMe:
Late Night Big Breakfast
The Water Cooler
Critic the Pig