“In the last six months, we’ve been performing beyond expectations,” Edward Kindred, controller/programmer at TVNZ 2 and Duke, says as he reflects on Duke’s first three years on our screens.
The channel launched as a solution to the female-skewed channels already in TVNZ’s channel mix, with Duke providing relief in the form of a male-skewed option.
Today, “it’s absolutely doing that,” Kindred says, adding its rounded-out TVNZ’s offering to advertisers.
Looking at its average monthly reach for February, 653,000 25- to 54-year-olds tuned into the channel with over 319,000 of those being males.
And looking at the country as a whole, 70 percent of New Zealanders are aware of Duke.
Duke’s launch video
As a place of experiment
When StopPress spoke to Kindred two years ago, Duke was described as an "experiment lab" for new forms of content. Today, that idea is still true, however, Kindred says it’s now had three years of learnings so it’s now able to build on those.
He says now, it’s less about figuring out what works for Duke and more about utilizing the channel for TVNZ 1 and TVNZ 2, giving the example of testing "riskier" content to see if it sticks and would be a viable option for Duke's peers.
“The way Duke works as an experimental piece has changed – we are a feeder to test content for ideas or 1 and 2.”
In the past, Duke has also worked to support TVNZ 1 and 2 by playing their shows in an effort to raise their profile. However, with Duke’s audience differing from those tuning into TVNZ 1 and 2, the shows didn’t rate and therefore the cross-pollination didn’t work for either channel.
“Everything we do is a learning,” Kindred says. “We’ve had failures and learnings.”
One specific experiment Kindred speaks of is The Simpsons. It airs six nights a week at night at 7.30pm, a primetime spot that’s very competitive. Adding to the significance of the decision to air The Simpsons was the multi-year commitment it made with Fox.
It was a big bet Kindred says, but it was one that paid off — so much so, he calls it a “standout moment” for the Duke.
The programme is now the most popular among the AP 25-54 years olds tuning into the channel.
The episodic nature of The Simpsons demonstrates another learning of the channel, which is serial dramas aren’t as successful for it.
Kindred says when Duke launched there was a number of dramas, such as Arrow and The Flash, however, they didn’t resonate with Duke’s audience and they were dropped.
Since then, the channel has moved away from drama, with a few exceptions such as The Orville.
In their place, the channel has expanded its content around comedy and found a unique proposition with British panel comedy shows like Taskmaster and 8 Out of 10 Cats.
Not only a unique offer for the channel, these lighter programmes make Duke an easily accessible channel as Kindred says audiences don’t need to catch up on a storyline in order to tune in.
“There are no barriers to entry — if you are bored, you can tune in and get straight into it.
A strong game plan
Beyond comedy and films, Duke has also found a sweet-spot for itself in sports tournaments, a prime example being last year’s Commonwealth Games. With TVNZ having the broadcast rights to the Games, it utilized its mix of channels to provide a different viewing experience with Duke became a dedicated-games channel.
For the duration the games, it aired live and delayed coverage of the games which allowed audiences to watch events in their entirety. Meanwhile, TVNZ 1 was used to deliver the big moments of interest to New Zealand.
TVNZ 1+1 was also redirected to a pop-up Games Extra channel, while Games Online — an online-only channel — streamed live and delayed event sessions.
Kindred says TVNZ has learned that having one channel for a multi-sport event is no longer good enough because audiences want to watch different things — so it’s working to cater to that.
What lies on the horizon?
Looking into the future, more sports are on the horizon and Kindred names Wimbledon as one of these.
He says the tournament will be entirely on Duke this year.
And it’s not just sport that has Kindred excited. He says while there will always be ups and downs, the channel is in its stride.
“We will hit ups and downs but there’s a clear path to see Duke continue to grow as people discover it exists.”