StopPress Podcast #9: Cameron Death, WatchMe

  • Podcast
  • July 20, 2017
  • Erin McKenzie
StopPress Podcast #9: Cameron Death, WatchMe

It's an ever evolving media world and NZME has been doing just that with the creation of WatchMe to deliver short-form video. Two years on, we sit down with the head of video, Cameron Death, to see how the strategy has changed and where it's going with the future.

We have seen NZME evolve so much in recent years, be it with print, radio, or commercial opportunities. There has been so much going on, and in the last few years, that's also included video, so why was it important for NZME to expand into video?

I think that we're really addressing two needs. One is our audience need, and our audience just has this voracious appetite to see stories told via video, but then also advertisers' needs who are looking for new ways for us to give them media opportunities that are even more high impact than some traditional opportunities. When you marry those two things together, it's been a great business. And as a media company, as a content creator, we're sort of uniquely positioned to create new video content around news, around sports, around entertainment, so sort of all of those things coming together and then really resourcing it to create a great pipeline of content as well.

So, Cameron, what's your role been in introducing video to the company?

I started working on WatchMe which, at that point, was our online video-on-demand destination for young men. We then sort of looked around the company, and there were a tonne of really great efforts, kind of disparate efforts, going around video, some in our radio, some in our news division. What we're able to do is bring those all together under one umbrella, which is now my team, which we call Vision. NZME Vision is really the video production arm of the company. We produce content for news, for sports, for entertainment, for our own marketing needs, and then also we have a commercial arm as well, so it's been a process of kind of bringing that all together as one unit versus kind of those disparate units that it was over the last 18 months.

Now, you mentioned in there WatchMe, which, if I'm correct, started in 2015?

Correct.

And it was a home to a collection of comedy shows.

Yep.

How has the strategy with that evolved since then?

It's been really exciting. When we launched it, we purposefully launched it with young men in mind, and we created really great original content for that audience, and it took off, and it did really, really, really well. Late last year, we looked at the strategy overall and said: "If it's resonating well with young men, surely we can now also resonate with other audiences as well." So earlier this year, we announced kind of the next version of WatchMe, which, building on its strength with young men, was now broadly men and women, and not just comedy, but stretching out to be entertainment generally.

We've now launched WatchMe News, WatchMe Sport, WatchMe Entertainment, and on the entertainment side, those shows have now really stretched out to be appealing to a much broader audience, so it's been a really exciting evolution of what started as a great product for young males, and now broadly for New Zealanders.

How many people are watching WatchMe?

We have seen growth every month since we launched, and so we're seeing a large number of people watching both within WatchMe as a destination, but we're also letting them watch it socially. We're letting them watch it on, say, our radio brand sites, so they're discovering it in all of those different places, and we're seeing great growth on a month-to-month basis.

Lately, in StopPress we have had some of the video running within our stories in the ad slots, and I've been going about doing my work and then getting sidetracked by all the WatchMe videos.

That's good. It's helping out.

We like getting people sidetracked, and I think that what we've done, it's still short-form content, so it does give you that little break between a meeting where you can log on, you know you can get something fresh and interesting and uniquely Kiwi that's not just a re-run of something that you might have missed on TV that you didn't want to watch in the first place, so we're pretty proud of the effort.

You mentioned short-form content. Why is that such a key player these days?

I think people expect short-form content online, and we're delivering that to them. It's small, snackable, interesting content they can watch on their phones and they can watch on their desktop. But what we're also seeing is, people are willing to sit through longer-form now, and I think that's a really interesting evolution. It's not just the 90-second clip now, but people are willing to sit through 15, 20 minutes of really compelling content, and so for us as sort of a network, it's about giving consumers choice and letting them, if they want to watch it short-form, that's great. If we want to stitch it together and give it to them as 22 minutes, give them that choice as well, so it's been an interesting change in viewing habits that we're seeing as well.

So you guys are starting to dabble your toes into that long-form space?

We are. We are. WatchMe, by design, is still designed to be long-form, but we recognise viewers are wanting to binge watch more than just one clip at a time, so we'll either give them all the episodes at once, or we'll, in time, string episodes together and make long-form content as well.

Whenever people say "binge watch", it just makes me cringe at my own TV watching habits and feel really bad about myself. I'm glad I'm not the only one.

I think Netflix has now taught consumers that it's okay to ask for the entire season at once, and when we work so hard to bring one viewer in to watch one episode, instead of leaving them hanging for more and hoping they come back a week later, why not give them the chance to watch all of those episodes as well? For marketers, that's just another opportunity for reach and frequency that they can get via the media surrounding those shows.

So how is NZME bringing advertisers into this content you're creating?

On the WatchMe side, it's been really interesting. We've got great media opportunities all around it. We've had really interesting success working with advertisers on some integration deals as well, so sort of standard product placement opportunities in addition to media. I think where I aspire to get us to is really worrying about how we create content that was born of what that brand was looking to do, so I want to take the same creative process we used to get great shows made today, but I want to sit together with the brand, sit together with the agency, to create something that wouldn't have existed if we didn't have those insights about the brand. I think, when all of that comes together, and you can service the brand, but still create great content, that's kind of the next evolution for us, so we're in discussions with a number of agencies and brands about doing right now, and I hope to be able to announce one of those shortly.

Awesome. We certainly look forward to that. Before we sat down to do this podcast, you were telling me that your team of three is now, what-

Much larger.

Much larger.

Yeah.

How does the team at NZME look now that you guys have video?

That's a great question. We've added some really unique roles within the team over the past 12 months. For example, I've created a new role, which is an audience development manager, and his job is to work with the content creators and all of our digital producers to work out how we get the most audience and the right audience against every piece of video content we create, so that's a role that never existed before. I built up a commercial team, so we've got folks who are traditional sellers, or on the agency side, or the production side, who are now working with our sales team to create TVCs for some of the biggest brands in New Zealand, so that's a role that didn't exist before. Then we've just got really great creatives, so amazing producers, amazing shooters, an amazing news team we've built up. It's really expanded to be really everything you would expect to see in a studio with a network, all in one little team here at NZME.

You're also using your existing talent in different ways. I mean, you leveraged ZM's Fletch, Vaughan, and Megan with the Intern series, and you're basing their Tinder Nightmare series off one of their segments.

You've got to start watching Tinder Nightmares, if you haven't watched it.

I definitely will. What was the rationale behind creating a ZM-based series?

One of the great things about working at a company like NZME is, we're the home of some of New Zealand's most amazing talent. In that case, when you've got people like Fletch, Vaughan and Megan on ZM, we want to create something that was right for their brand. But it was also new and fresh for our viewers as well, so it was a natural synergy that you can only do in a company that has so much talent and so much content prowess within its walls every day. I want to do more of that and find new ways that we can really leverage the amazing talent in-house to create video content around them, and I think we'll be seeing some more of that come in the rest of the year.

Has that, then, bolstered the ZM brand and its listeners?

I think its listeners have really responded well to it. For the Intern, for example, we're just about to release season two of that, if that's any indication of how well it's gone, I think it's definitely been a success, and I think we'll look to other brands internally as well to partner with them in the coming months.

As well as entertainment, you have NZ Herald Focus which, on a side note, won the Best Launch of a Brand or Product to Create an Audience Segment in the International News Media Association World Congress earlier this year.

That's a mouthful.

I'm proud of myself for getting that out.

Is there a preference people have between entertainment video or the informative and factual content?

I think it's different audiences for both of those types of content. So when we look at the assets that we have, say, the reach of The New Zealand Herald and the digital footprint of The New Zealand Herald, those readers and viewers are going there for more informative and factual content, and so Focus—which has gone from one segment a day to often producing 20 different segments of news a day—is really meeting that demand for people to be kept informed and kept up to date on local, national and international news. But at the same time, once they've got their fill of that, we want to give them an entertainment option like WatchMe that lets them be a little more distracted, a little bit more escapist on some of the hard news that's provided. Like we talked about up front, the sort of insatiable appetite from viewers is showing in the ratings that are coming from both Focus and WatchMe as those continue to trend upwards month-on-month.

  • Read more about NZ Herald Focus' strategy and award-win here.

What other areas are you investing or experimenting with in video?

Within my team, I've got five different divisions. We've got the WatchMe team, which we talked about, and we'll see that expand out broadly to a much bigger audience over time. The Focus team just goes from strength to strength and will also be focusing on some additional live coverage and breaking news coverage towards the end of the year. I have a team that basically does what we call new video initiatives, and that's where we're able to work with other divisions in the company to pilot new ideas and shows and test them out, so we have amazing travel writers that we're working with on a pilot for a travel show right now. We've got such incredible sports talent across Radio Sport and ZB and The Herald that we're looking at new ways that we can go beyond just reporting sports content and make a more entertaining look at sports.

The real, sort of in a traditional TV network sense, the development activity, that's all happening within that new video initiatives, and then we're also innovating on the marketing side, where we're helping our own brands market via video, and then on the TVC side and the commercial side as well. Brands are looking for a partner like NZME to sort of usher them into this digital world, and we're seeing a lot of success with, again, some of the leading brands in New Zealand in terms of being their video creation arm... in partnership with their agencies.

You guys have so much going on, and like I said earlier, there's such an evolution going on here. Have you guys had to work hard to change a perception that people had about NZME? Some viewers might just not have heard of The Herald, so are you actively out there, changing how people view NZME and what it can do?

I think all of us, as NZME employees, are telling that story of what NZME is on a day-to-day basis. I'm lucky enough that we get to sit with agencies and brands and tell them the power of that audience story and the brands that we bring to it, and I think our viewers and our readers are discovering it themselves as they kind of traverse all of our different properties and sort of stitching together: "Wow, that's a company that can give me my sports information as much as my news, as much as my entertainment." It's an evolving space, but we're so lucky to have some of the most powerful brands in New Zealand in our home. They're telling that story, and creating a relationship with those readers, with those viewers it's easier when you've got those great brands in your back pocket. And it means they trust you, and they'll let you take them places where somebody who didn't have that credibility wouldn't necessarily have the permission to play.

Cool, so I have managed to tick off all the questions that I had for you. Is there anything else that you wanted to add about what you guys are up to and what's to come?

There's a lot of exciting stuff coming. We're working closely with New Zealand on Air, so New Zealand on Air has made some incredible forward movement over the past 12 months to really acknowledge the shifting viewing habits of New Zealanders and acknowledging that people are consuming news and entertainment in ways that aren't just traditional linear television, so their New Zealand Media Fund that they announced and launched earlier this year is somewhere where we're spending a lot of time looking at how we can come to play there, because it's a great way to tell stories that wouldn't otherwise get told, and we're very lucky in New Zealand to have that as a funding arm. So we're really excited for that, and hopefully, by the time the podcast comes out, there'll be some exciting news that we can share there.

I think we're also going to keep looking at new ways to distribute our content as well, so although we have incredible reach within our own properties, would love to find new partners that we can work with to help extend that content out even further, and I think you'll see some of that coming in the coming months as well. Then I think for your audience, too, it's challenging us and inviting us in to have those conversations really early on from a production standpoint and a creative standpoint and letting us put those resources against brands' and agencies' briefs is something I am personally really passionate about and is a big part of my background, so I'm hopeful in the next three to four months we'll be in more and different agency and brand conversations that will really help us move that industry along as well. Those are three of the things I'm excited about.

Awesome. Well, we'll definitely have to touch base with you again in the future, and in the meantime, I'm going to go and distract myself with some of that WatchMe content.

Excellent thanks.

Thanks.

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