Scout's honour? MediaWorks' Glen Kyne on the business behind its new celebrity site--UPDATED

  • Media
  • September 15, 2015
  • Ben Fahy & Holly Bagge
Scout's honour? MediaWorks' Glen Kyne on the business behind its new celebrity site--UPDATED

There’s been plenty of ink and a fair bit of fury dedicated to yesterday’s launch of scout.co.nz, MediaWorks’ first digital-only brand and joint venture with gossipmonger Rachel Glucina. Most of that seemed to be of the ‘please God, tell me it isn't so, we are all doomed' variety. And while many believe the media's focus on celebrity and entertainment—and the takedown culture often associated with it—is bad for society, Glen Kyne, director of integrated content at MediaWorks, is right when he says it's also bloody popular. So how is the site going to make money? And how did it perform on its first day? 

At present, the display ads on the site are promoting the upcoming season of The Block NZ and other MediaWorks assets (there's also an ad for the movie Everest). Cross promotion is a big part of its remit, he says, but display advertising is not the main focus. Instead, he says it will be concentrating on native advertising and integrating brands into Scout TV.

He says this is the first time MediaWorks has really done native advertising properly. Its integration team has plenty of experience working brands into TV shows, although he says there are often restrictions with licensed formats like The Block. And its radio arm does it every day, he says, and has been doing it for years. So it’s not a huge stretch to bring that discipline online and “work with brands that want to tell their story” in a way that makes sense to Scout's audience.

Unlike Buzzfeed, which ensures it keeps its editorial and advertising teams separate, he says Glucina and her editorial team will create the content for brands. And while there seems to be plenty of enthusiasm for the native advertising model among clients, he says it has a big job to do to educate the market on how to bring it to life. That will be a job for‎ national media strategist Jacqui Hopkins, who previously worked with Glucina at the Herald. 

The other area of most excitement is Scout TV, he says. He believes MediaWorks has done well finding talent, creating stars and building content brands. And it is now hoping to do original content in short form, both editorial and purely brand funded (video ad inventory is in hot demand among many publishers, so it gives it more to sell, although stormy waters may lay ahead). 

Kyne wouldn’t discuss commercial partners aside from saying there will be some shortly and it’s "working on a few things at the moment". The first short form series is called Bella Finds a Fella, in which Paul Henry’s daughter tries to do what it says on the tin. That doesn’t have a sponsor yet, he says, and, in a revealing description, he says it’s “keeping it clean at the moment” and waiting to see how that kind of content performs.

Not surprisingly, he says there’s an element of clients waiting to see what the site’s going to do before they commit. And it is doing the same and looking to see which stories perform best before trying to commercialise them.

He says the site performed phenomenally well on its first day, with, as of 5pm yesterday, 85,000 page views, over 30,000 unique browsers and an average site duration of two minutes 15 seconds. The most read story was the 25 most influential Kiwis under 25 list, which received 16,500 page views, the overall split was 57 percent female, 43 percent male and 50 percent of the audience came from mobile. 

Judging by the social media response, there were plenty of tyre kickers included in that figure who were hunting around to see what kind of content was being published. And then judging it. So it will be interesting to see if that audience can be maintained. He says it doesn’t want to knock anyone off, but its ambition is to be the number one entertainment brand in the country and it's important that it grows that audience quickly. It’s a pretty crowded marketplace, however, with plenty of local publishers and TV networks peddling the celebrity crack and a whole host of overseas options. So does it have the resources to compete and keep people coming back? He says it currently has a team of eight, although that’s growing. And "the more successful the site, the more we’ll grow," he says. 

He says MediaWorks has put a lot of effort into the launch and a lot of energy into cross promoting it across other assets (including through Scout widgets on other MediaWorks sites). It is also planning on launching an app in November. But he wouldn’t be drawn on how much it’s spending on the campaign, which also includes some outdoor advertising.

He says it has been very particular about the clients it has approached but he believes it can add a lot of value to them. And with the integrated sales department, which some senior media sources we've talked to have questioned given radio is largely sold direct and TV is largely sold through agencies, he says it will be making sure Scout is being offered up as a solution to any client briefs that come through the door.

So is Scout just giving people what they want? Or is it a scourge on society? Some believe "snackable, shareable content", as chief executive Mark Weldon described it, is, to use an overused phrase, dead. And many of the arguments about the launch focused on the inanity and shallowness of the content. But as Bauer's Paul Dykzeul said in a recent interview, you shouldn't judge what people want to read or watch. The reality is that humans do enjoy this type of content, even though Kyne says they might not like to admit it. And, for better or worse, that’s reflected in the huge traffic sites like The Daily Mail, Page 6 and TMZ get. 

“They are behemoths,” Kyne says. 

He says the beauty of content like this is that there’s always arguments about its worth. And he believes it's one of those topics that is split down the middle. That heated discussion worked well on launch day, he says, with plenty of chatter about Scout on social media. And in the world of celebrity, it’s “talkability”, not the sentiment behind that talk that seems to matter most (some discussion today centred around the name and whether regulations prohibit the use of the name scout. But a MediaWorks spokesperson says: "Scout is a brand name for one of our products. It is also a verb. There are a number of other organisations in NZ using Scout or a derivative of that word in similar circumstances. We consider our use of Scout in our product name to be legal and there should be no confusion with the brand of Scouts Association of NZ.”)

Brands can be sometimes be tarred with the brush of a site that it advertises on, as seen by the rather visceral response to advertisers associated with Whale Oil after Dirty Politics was released. But while context can be important, scale also matters and nowhere is that better illustrated than with the news. It gets a huge audience, and there is huge demand for advertising space, even though it's unlikely a bank or a retailer would want its brand to be attached to a refugee crisis. It's a simple equation: lots of eyeballs generally equals lots of advertising (although only a few brave advertisers have taken that idea to its logical conclusion and started advertising their wares on much cheaper porn sites). And that's what Scout and many other media properties are all about. 

In Kyne's opinion, part of running a big media business is having an array of different products suited for different audiences. But when you trade on your credibility as a news source, too much of the lowest common denominator can have a negative impact and MediaWorks' news and current affairs department has had something of an annus horribilis, with TVNZ now smoking it in the ratings. TV3’s overall brand was badly affected by the Campbell Live saga. Story has launched well and is rating at about the same level as its predecessor, but add in the fact that the company put a lot of its eggs into the reality basket, and the perception at present is that MediaWorks doesn’t value news. The hiring of Glucina didn’t help that and, as some have already pointed out, the fact that the enemy would be in MediaWorks' midst didn’t go down well with the newsroom. 

RNZ Mediawatch host Colin Peacock says he hasn't seen the site make a massive impact on launch and he found the launch story of Mike Hosking vacuuming his car a bit odd. He says Scout made him think of the earlier tabloid website, NZ Tabloid.

“Jonathan Marshall was a part of that … it had sneak photographs of Mike Hosking doing not very remarkable things and that went down badly as it was not long after he’d gone to court over the pictures of his [Hosking’s] family and that became a landmark privacy case. So it flared up promising all sorts of salacious celebrity gossip and didn’t last long and it didn’t get shared and talked about very much, though it was before social media was big.”

That story seemed to be designed to take Mike Hosking down by pointing to his wealth, cars and photos of him not looking extremely athletic, jogging down the pavement, he says. “It also quoted Duncan Garner's put downs [of Hosking] so it seemed to be a bit of an in-house thing giving oxygen to one of MediaWorks’ own radio hosts and putting down someone who is prominent in a rival media group." 

He wondered whether the site had the resource to feed the hungry beast and pointed to a story in NBR about how they were trying to get unpaid interns

"That might not be all that significant but it strikes me as an odd thing to do at this point just after launch. It doesn’t seem a hugely well resourced or well-oiled machine at start up ... For a site like that people will log on several hours apart and see the same stuff and if there’s only a small team of people, how will that go? It will be interesting to see the volume of stories in the months to come.”

Glucina stated in a great Sunday Star Times piece that she was independent and said she didn't think anyone would take the site seriously "if it was a PR platform for MediaWorks". But Peacock begs to differ, saying a current piece on the site on Judith Collins seems like a piece of PR work.

“Collins is someone currently in a medium to long term political rehabilitation who’s been in newspapers and articles where she has tried to talk about her softer side and the different experience she had losing her place in cabinet before the election,” he says. “That seemed to play into the hands of PR relations drive. There’s no news value in it at all. And it’s known in the past that Glucina herself has spoken of being in touch with Collins and being a contact of hers so it looks like a PR or political spin.”

However, he says the fact MediaWorks employees like David Farrier and Hilary Barry have put out tweets disparaging the site might mean something. “Perhaps there’s no party line that everyone follows, so perhaps there is some independence from it.”

He says he thinks the launch of the site and the use of Glucina, who was censured by the Press Council in her role in the ‘ponytail gate’ story for the NZ Herald and her treatment of Amanda Bailey, will cause some damage to the TV3 brand. And he has doubts about New Zealand’s appetite for tabloid style sensational news.

"To me the mixed stuff on Scout on its first two days could easily be a mix of stuff you would see on the Sunday News, which is not a successful newspaper,” he says. “Decades ago actual tabloid newspapers specialising in tabloid were successful in New Zealand, way back in the day. I think those days are way gone and the traditional sort of British red top tabloids like Sun and Mirror have never been successful here … I don’t think people will go to a designated site, I don’t think the appetite [in New Zealand] is strong enough.”

He says in terms of the site’s appeal to younger people, he can’t imagine a younger person would be interested in Mike Hosking. “I wouldn’t call it a take down but a story that pokes fun at Mike Hosking and raises issues like what he's paid, I can't imagine that being of interest. Maybe things like Shortland Street people, things like that might be more successful.”

The New Zealand version of Grand Designs with Kevin McCloud, which ANZ has got behind, might show how independent the site is, says Peacock. “MediaWorks did a content deal with ANZ that is going to sponsor [the show] and when that starts up the imperative will be for that to be as exposed as much as possible so it’s a success on TV3, so the partnership with ANZ gets exposed,” he says. "Anyone who appears on the programme you can assume will be on RadioLive and Paul Henry and it will be interesting to see if Scout gets pulled into that as well and if they do stories about the people appearing in this programme [Grand Designs]. It will show how much Scout is integrated into the MediaWorks commercial matrix.”

(Update)

MediaWorks has launched some extra creative including its 'Scout in Sixty', a daily rundown of the top stories on the site.

It's also released street posters:

Credits for promos:

Head of brand and marketing – Katie Mills

Marketing project manager – Lee Gilmour

Graphic designer – Juita Tambunan

TV creative director  - Anthony Farac

TV creative producer – Sarah Mudgway

On air promotions graphic designer – Shannon Lanktree

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