Horse's Mouth: Kevin Kenrick

  • Media
  • May 1, 2013
  • Ben Fahy
Horse's Mouth: Kevin Kenrick

Kevin Kenrick has been at the head of TVNZ’s table for around a year now. So what has he learned and what does he see in TV’s tea leaves?

  • Kenrick is keen to take some questions from the floor, whether they're related to TVNZ or the changing TV industry. So if you've got a question, send it in an email to editor@stoppress.co.nz and we'll line him up for a probing. 

On the mission statement: "We went through a period late last year where we asked ‘what’s the business we’re in, what are the things we do really well, what are the things that we need to do better, and where to from here?’ And we came to the conclusion that this is basically a content business. Our focus is all about engaging the hearts and minds of viewers with the most-watched content. If you don't engage the audience then we don't have a business. Video content is the most watched format and the fastest growing, it’s where the future is. So from an advertising point of view if we have got broader reach than any other media option then that gives us the ability to provide competitive advantage to advertisers."

On performance: "I'm permanently dissatisfied with the status quo. I've come into a business that I think is doing a lot of things really well. And I've been able to inherit a lot of that. But what I get paid to do is to add some value. I think we have replicated a leadership position in entertainment content from TV into online. We haven’t done that as well from a news perspective. We’ve been more focused on TV news than we have with online news. And yet I think as consumers more and more gravitate towards the video format of content they are moving towards an area of capability that we have. And so it just feels to me like a huge opportunity, it’s in the sweet spot of what we do, it’s what consumers are looking for and we just need to get on with it really."

On TVNZ’s commercial focus: "We’re very clear internally about the shareholder thing, and the government is really clear. And yet I think that New Zealanders, because of government ownership, all feel a level of ownership around TVNZ. The thing we spend a bit of time on is how we need to perform so that New Zealanders will feel really proud of that ownership; proud of what we do, but just as importantly how we go about doing it. And I think the more consistent we are on that, the more we listen to our viewers, and let’s face it, our owners, the closer we’re going to be to actually nailing that …You’ve got to align your business with the consumer behaviour of the day and of tomorrow. And for us we need to provide the content that people most want to see in the places they want to see it. We then need to model our business in order to be commercially viable in that world. But you can’t go the other way and say this works commercially and ignore what’s happening in terms of the evolution of consumer behaviour."

On TVNZ bashing: "People give a damn about what we do and people are very keen to voice those opinions—both positively and negatively. So you never die wondering, and you know whether people like what you're doing or not. And I think it’s a great thing they care, and that they're prepared to say so. We don't live in a vacuum."

On Seven Sharp: "I'm thrilled with how it’s going. It’s a big step for us. We looked at what was happening with the viewers and they really felt there wasn’t a huge difference between the style of current affairs show that was available at seven o'clock and the format of the news they were seeing at six o'clock. So the net effect was they were watching 90 minutes of very similar style and format TV. Both us and MediaWorks were seeing a significant drop off in audience at seven o'clock. So even though we were the market leader for that format, that’s not what the viewers were after, so we recreated it. And to be seven or eight weeks into it and have a show that’s come from absolutely nothing to regularly outperforming what was the previous standard and knowing it’s still early days, yeah, we feel pretty good about it. We don't think it’s the finished article, we’re going to evolve this show based on viewer feedback and it will just get better. What was surprising was the amount of attention that change got. There were some really big news stories at the time, like the collapse of Mainzeal. And yet the major newspaper of the country devoted more time to a blow by blow depiction of what was happening on Seven Sharp, which felt a bit out of whack for me."

On the vocal minority: "I think the most vocal critics of Seven Sharp all look the same. Typically they're over 60, they've either worked in TV or in press and they are lamenting the shift from what they'd see as traditional current affairs. They're entitled to that view, but I'm not sure there’s enough of them watching enough TV to really be a key influence on what we should be doing. Current affairs is a really fundamental building block of our content. And we’re going to have a range of different styles of that, so from Sunday and Q&A at one end of the spectrum, to Seven Sharp at the other and 20/20 sitting somewhere in between."

On needs: "News and current affairs will always be a part of what we do because it meets a basic human need. If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of need, the whole thing at the bottom is all about safety and security. So if I don't know what’s happening in my world, then I feel less safe and less secure and that goes right through to the top of that hierarchy around self-actualisation, where people want to be a little bit smarter because they're more informed and they're more up with the play than others. The need is absolutely true today and will be for as much as we can predict into the future. And yet the style and the format of how the need is met will continue to evolve and change. So I don't think any external critic can hold back the tide of changing consumer behaviour. The internet isn’t about to go away anytime soon. And the introduction of that has massively changed the way that people consume news and what their expectations are. We need to be moving consistent with that.”

On the competition: "I don't compare us to other traditional TV broadcasters because we don't aspire to be a traditional TV broadcaster. I think we are in a competition for viewer attention and engagement. And so the competition for that would be other players like YouTube. There’s any number of different sources that people can get information or entertainment from and one of them is your traditional TV broadcaster. It’s not to say that we don't see ourselves doing a huge amount of TV, but it’s about taking a step back from that and saying ‘why has TV has been so successful and compelling?’ It’s because of the video format of the content. And video content is now available in a whole raft of other places that it previously wasn’t. So if we viewed ourselves as being the TV players, it would be a very self-limiting way to think about the business. If we viewed ourselves as engaging audiences with video content, then we’re in a growth industry and there’s a huge amount of opportunities in front of us."

On online: "We’re attracted to TV and online for three basic reasons. One is we see consumers gravitating more and more towards the video format of content. Secondly, it’s something that we have some skill and capability at, so we think we can do reasonably well. And the third thing is that those two media options provide the best bang for buck for advertisers. So for us we take those three things and go ‘wow, this looks like this the sweet spot for us’, we really think we can make a great business by doing a great job in this area.”

On ratings: “I think the current measurement systems are struggling to keep pace with consumer behaviour. We have a measurement system for TV ratings, which is different to what we have with online video streams. From an advertising point of view people want to make connections with an audience, irrespective of what device or media format it might be. I think there’s a quantity and there’s a quality dimension to that. So what you tend to get is a research-based model that talks to a few people and extrapolates that. And sure, there’s statistical significance. Then on the other side you have an absolute measure of the individual behaviour, but it’s of the things that can be measured. And so just because you can measure it easily doesn’t mean to say it’s the most insightful metric. And I think between the two there’s a big gap that the industry is grappling with."

On marketing: “Some things you learn to keep doing, and others you learn not to do again. But having spent a bunch of time in the role of a marketer I think I can really understand and empathise with what it is marketers are trying to do. The best marketers are the ones who focus the most on their consumers, so I think that as an organisation TVNZ needs to do that. We need to focus on our viewers, and we need to be where they want us to be. We’ve also got good people in the organisation who can work with marketers to enable them to take advantage of those audiences to tell their stories in a compelling way and build their brand. And thinking about it like a marketer rather than like a media company is really important. Never in my time as a marketer was I excited about a media schedule. I was really excited about making a connection with an audience and driving sales. And provided we understand that and support that, and actually help make that happen, then we’re going to be able to contribute to advertisers."

On branded content: "Different types of content give you different opportunities. For news and current affairs, one of the critical things is the independence and the impartiality of that editorial content. There’ll be certain boundaries that we must respect in terms of integration with commercial advertisers to protect the purity of the news content. But when you look at local production, that gives us the greatest opportunity for integration because we’re making it here in New Zealand, so we can work with the producers and advertisers to try to fit those in together. New Zealand’s Got Talent was a good example of that. With the international content, you can get some fantastically successful, high rating shows, but our degrees of freedom in terms of what we can integrate with them is more limited because it comes to us as a finished article. Increasingly advertisers are looking for authentic engagement. And any time it looks a bit forced, or a little bit uncomfortable, the viewer sees that. So it’s about really understanding what those brands stand for and who is watching that content and seeing where the overlap is. The concept makes a lot of sense, but you almost need to earn the right to integrate, as opposed to just saying ‘well, I'm gonna pay the fee and I'm going to force this in here somehow’."

On advertising: "Consumers understand very clearly that some of what they watch is free for them because it has advertising in it. And typically people say ‘it’s okay if the advertising is relevant to me, and to the show that I'm watching; it’s okay if you're not shouting and yelling at me and kind of assaulting my senses; it’s okay if the volume of those ads versus the volume of the entertainment show that I'm watching feels in balance.’ But if you break any of those rules then people go ‘hang on a minute, that no longer stacks up’. A good example is social media, which was developed for the people by the people, and then some time down the track it started introducing advertising. And so therefore you get a bit of an organ donor reject reaction around it. But I think the critical thing is that done very well people accept it and in some cases go beyond that to really enjoying it. And the trick with great advertising is to produce something that is sufficiently compelling that the viewer wants to see it again. If you do that then people would look forward to the advertising as opposed to seeing it as an interruption."

On badvertising: "It’s in our best interests for the advertising on our online sites and TV to be absolutely fantastic. We’ve really got a common goal there and it’s something we’re very keen to actively work with advertisers around. It’s less about trying to displace other agencies versus being part of a more collaborative approach. The real bold and confident advertisers bring us in early with their creative agency, and their media agency, and their internal team. And they're very clear about who plays what role, so that you don't get into silly demarcation disputes and it becomes all about the best ideas that are going to help us achieve great things."

On Igloo: "We can talk about Igloo, but not about the numbers, the reason being that we are the minority shareholder in this. Sky’s got disclosure obligations, and so we follow their lead around any kind of mention of numbers [it did have to report to the Commerce Committee, however, and said it could take six to eight years for Igloo to break even]. The way it came about was a recognition that Sky’s done really well in terms of market penetration in paid TV, but they are reaching a point where there’s not a significant number of households that are either willing or able to pay on average 75 bucks a month for pay TV. But there’s a group in the middle who want more content than you can get on free to air TV, and don't want to pay as much as what they pay on Sky … It’s still really early days. But I believe there is absolutely that market opportunity and Igloo’s all about putting something out there, getting responses to that and then saying ‘okay, do we need to tailor or change that to make it more effective? And we’ve got a team of people that are really turning their minds to that right now."

On his TV poison: "With [three] teenage kids at home you watch what you're allowed to really. I'm a bit of a news junkie. I love to know what’s happening. So I'll graze news right through the day online and I'll pick up news on TV, and I'll record some of the current affairs type shows. I do enjoy sport. I can’t say that I've been a big watcher of Shortland Street, Coronation Street, or any other streets. I enjoy The Mentalist as a programme and I was fascinated by New Zealand’s Got Talent and the level of engagement and participation. I think Agent Anna was a great show too, and it’s one that we’d love to see continue."

On technology: "There was a period where we needed to have the enablers in place in terms of the technology to be able to feed the different screens and the ability to push content out to different devices. And whilst you'd never put a tick in the box and say that’s completely done, that’s not where the big growth opportunity is. It’s the content that’s available on those screens. If you look at what’s happening for us in Ondemand, in recent months we’ve extended out to smart TVs and Apple devices. We will in the next few weeks extend out to Android devices, but we’ve also put a whole bunch more content in there. So we’ve had some shows that have premiered Ondemand before they've been in TV, and some that have only been in the online environment. The net effect of all of this is that [March] was the highest video stream month we’ve ever had. We’ve ticked over three million video streams in the month, on average around about a hundred thousand per day. So we’ll keep on looking at what other devices and platforms we should be on, but we think the big shift from here is going to be about the content that’s available … The investment that is made in content by local production companies, by media players like us, and by studios off-shore is immense. I think there’s a level of preciousness around the protection of those rights, which I think is really understandable. So given we see ourselves in the content game, we’ve got to support the players who contribute that, otherwise the whole thing falls over."

On curation: "The internet’s greatest strength is that you can get anything and everything you want. It’s also it’s greatest weakness. There are times when people are prepared to invest the time and energy to specifically navigate and find their way through and get whatever it is they want. And it could be quite a specialist need that they're meeting. There are other times when people just want to relax and be entertained. They don't want to have to think too hard about it, and I think that’s where channel brands have a real role to play. If I know TV2 is going to be all about fun and good times, escapism, and entertainment, then when I'm looking for that I can just go there, I can press the button and I can be pretty confident I'm going to get something that’s going to do it for me."

  • This interview originally featured in the May/June edition of NZ Marketing.  

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