‘It unashamedly knows what it’s there to do’: Maria Mahony on Bravo’s first year on air

Bravo is essentially the Cartoon Network for adults. It’s not necessarily the most thought-provoking content but viewers know exactly what they’re going to get when they switch on the channel. The characters, the settings and the storylines might change, but the general gist of what’s on offer remains the same throughout the day.

While it’s easy to criticise this as tantamount to mindless television, it’s also what makes Bravo unique in the television lineup.         

“Bravo unflinchingly knows what its role is and what it’s doing … and the content unashamedly knows what it’s there to do,” says Maria Mahony, who took over as general manager of the channel in July last year.    

Bravo’s approach makes the channel particularly well suited to the lean-back viewing experience that continues to be a major strength of free-to-air television. There are still times when viewers don’t want to spend an average of 18 minutes looking for something to watch.

This is backed by Nielsen ratings data from April, which shows that while free-to-air viewing overall dropped by five percent year on year, Bravo grew by 19 percent over the same period.

“In 2017, Bravo has already outperformed Four at the same time last year by 53 percent among 25- to 54-year-olds across the day and by seven percent during peak times,” says Mahony.  

However, it’s worth pointing out that this growth comes off a relatively low base given that Four didn’t ever deliver sufficient audience numbers to make it a strong free-to-air competitor.

The real test for Bravo will come when the channel’s current performance can be compared to figures from a year prior.     

“Once we hit July, we can compare like for like,” says Mahony.

That said, the channel does seem to be moving in the right direction, with figures provided by Mahony showing that it’s growing steadily growing among 25- to 54-year-olds during peak viewing times.  

“Among 25- to 54-year-olds, ratings are up by 22 percent and share is up by 30 percent and Bravo is consistently the number four free-to-air station in peak.”

Over the last six months, MediaWorks has been pushing itself as “the 25-54 audience company” in a bid to appeal to advertisers.

And what’s interesting is that of all the nation’s free-to-air TV stations, Bravo has the highest concentration of this demographic in its audience, with 63 percent of its viewers aged between 25 and 54.

Mahony adds that there’s also a perception in the industry that only women watch the channel, but this isn’t entirely accurate.   

She says that 33 percent of its audience is male, compared to 38 percent on TVNZ 1, 33 percent of TVNZ 2 and 40 percent on Three.

“I find it incredible that we are actually in line with the other three main free-to-air channels,” she says.

To help dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding the channel, Bravo is currently running a short quiz about the channel that offers entrants the chance of winning a trip to New York City.

The quick growth of the channel is in part attributable to the hype generated by the Real Housewives of Auckland.

“The show was incredibly important to launch as a channel,” she says. “It created amazing awareness and it introduced all of New Zealand to the channel.”

It gave New Zealanders a reason to tune in and essentially served as the gateway show to the other somewhat annoyingly addictive content on Bravo.

Despite the success of the first season, Mahony says Bravo has no plans at this stage to launch a second season.

However, she adds that Bravo is always looking for new angles on content that could potentially be produced in the local market. But it isn’t just enough to make something local for the sake of having a local show.    

“We are constantly looking into ways of doing it,” she says.   

“With local content, it’s incredibly important that we do it in the right way. Because of everything else on Bravo, we have to make sure it’s of a particular standard. We just need to make sure it meets the standards for the brand internationally.”

Even though the channel is based on unscripted television, this isn’t quite as simple as putting a few people in front of a camera and having them hang out. Talent is always carefully selected, the shows are highly produced, and an enormous amount of planning goes into ensuring that at least some type of narrative unfolds over the season.  

Investing in something that doesn’t fit the specifications of the overall programming lineup of the channel will simply break the promise of the channel – which is, of course, to serve up a healthy dose of drama every time viewers decide that it’s time to zone out on the sofa.

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