1, 2, 3, 4, MediaWorks declares a demographics war

MediaWorks TV launched its new season line-up in Wellington this morning. And the Auckland launch is scheduled for tomorrow. But there’s sure to be slightly more interest in some the programming decisions than there usually is after it announced today that its two major channels are set for a rejig, with C4 being re-launched as a mainstream entertainment channel known as FOUR and TV3 moving directly into TV One’s demographic territory.

We’ve heard a few mutterings from the MediaWorks camp that something big was afoot. And it’s a strategic shift that appears to bear the mark of newish TVWorks chief executive Jason Paris, who, after his experience with TVNZ, was presumably able to inform his new employers just how much advertising money it may have been leaving on the table as a result of targeting the younger demographics.

“We have done some careful analysis of how our combined two channels can attract the strongest audiences, and it has become clear that these two target audiences are where the biggest potential lies,” says Paris. “It’s no surprise this is also where the largest revenue opportunities lie for us as a business. Advertisers want to be where the most appealing audiences are.  We intend to deliver those audiences in strong numbers to our clients, across both channels.”

Media guru/juggernaut Michael Carney believes the decision to shift the focus of both channels and start competing directly with One and TV2 comes down to ad dollars. Basically, TVNZ’s demographics were more valuable to advertisers (he estimates 70 percent of the buying dollars are between the ages of 18-54). And, despite Paris saying in the statement that “this is a decision about where the biggest audience opportunity exists,” Carney says it “really is about going after where the money is, not where the audiences are”.

TV4/4/C4 has always been seen as a bit of a poor cousin. As Carney says, “it had limited resource and no effort spent on it”. So he thinks the biggest news in this shake up is that FOUR (television networks are surely the biggest fans of arbitrary capitalisation) will be adjusting its target audience to 18-49, up from its current 15-39 target. To do this, it will become broader and more mature in its appeal and this change will be commencing early in 2011. TV3’s demographic adjustment from 18-49 to 25-54 will be a longer term strategy.

“They’re basically grown up now,” Carney says. “It’s about moving some more mainstream programming to FOUR and making TV3 slightly older,” he says.

Carney doesn’t believe the decision to shift targets has anything to do with youngsters watching less TV. If anything, he says it’s because of fickle marketers who are targeting that audience and have found a new religion in the form of social media and are spending more money online to reach them.

Historically, TV3 has been quite happy to trumpet its ratings wins over TVNZ in the 18-49 category, so can a network just decide to change its demographic target? Carney thinks so. In fact, he says plenty of oldies already watch TV3, most viewers are happy to switch between channels if something tickles their fancy and, by moving shows like the Simpsons to FOUR and possibly even considering adding some more English programming to the TV3 mix, maturing the audience should be achievable. But the devil, he says, will be in the detail and that will only become apparent once the smoke clears and the mirrors are put away.

As for the content, FOUR will be pimped out with Joel McHale’s new comedy, Community, the highly-anticipated drama The Gates and Top Chef: Just Desserts, a spin-off of the Emmy-winning Top Chef series. Added to that, America’s Next Top Model and The Simpson’s will be shifting across from TV3.

New additions in 2011 to the TV3 family include the remake of Hawaii Five-0, The Defenders, a comedic-drama starring Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell, The Graham Norton Show, James May’s Man Lab and local drama The Almighty Johnsons, which was created by the team behind Outrageous Fortune.

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