More than an underdog: Andrew Szusterman on driving Three’s content calendar to success

With Three holding its eleventh consecutive week at the top for the crucial 25-54 demographic, we chatted to head of content Andrew Szusterman about how the lineup is appealing to the masses and what’s coming in the future.

Three’s 2019 offering started on a high with a hugely successful run of Married at First Sight Australia. The reality show averaged a 32.2 percent share and 175,859 viewers in the 25-54 demographic. The finale in mid-April recorded a 38 percent audience share with 211,700 viewers – the highest rating MAFS Australia episode of the season.

MAFS Australia also become the most popular show in the history of ThreeNow. Live stream views increased 45 percent year-on-year while big screen viewing platforms such as FreeView, Chromecast, Apple TV and Vodafone TV more than doubled compared to the previous season.

Szusterman says having a blockbuster show like MAFS Australia is a fitting way for Three to build success in 2019. In November the network will celebrate 30 years on New Zealand screens.

“If there was ever a time to perform like this and make waves, it’s now. We’ve all come together to achieve that goal and the fact that we’re doing it is really good.”

With the nation glued to coverage of the Christchurch mosque terror attacks in the last month, Three extended its coverage of the attacks from Newshub and The Project to bring New Zealand audiences ‘You Are Us Aroha Nui – A Concert for Christchurch’ in mid-April. The fundraising concert screened live on April 17, in collaboration with NZ On Air.

The second of two benefit concerts – the first was at Auckland’s Spark Arena – the show at Christchurch Stadium included New Zealand artists such as Lorde, Stan Walker, Sol3 Mio, Marlon Williams and Dave Dobbyn. Performing to a crowd of 20,000 attendees, Three’s television audience boosted the profile of the concert: 112,900 people tuned in to watch the concert live. On the night the concert screened, Three also had a 29 percent share of audiences nationwide.

Szusterman says hosting the concert on television was a way for Three to play its part, as well as providing a platform for the legacy list of New Zealand artists who were giving their time.

“The fact is we can give back like this in times of need and we were really keen to get on board with it.”

Three carried limited commercials during the concert and managed it through the live event, working with the promoter to hold up the production as little as possible. All of the net profits from the commercials are being donated to victim support groups, Szusterman says.

Now MAFS Australia has concluded, the brightest star of Three’s programming is the eighth season of Dancing with the Stars New Zealand. The show premiered in mid-April with a 36.1 percent share among the commercially important 25-54 demographic – up seven share points on last year’s premiere. The first show had 204,500 people tune in among the same demographic.

“We’re super happy with the numbers,” Szusterman says. “This year we’ve got a bunch of people who can dance incredibly well, they’re great celebrities of course, but it’s a bonus that they’re all really good at dancing.”

In terms of reality television, Three also has The Block NZ: Firehouse, Married at First Sight New Zealand and Love Island New Zealand coming up. In recent years, Three has become known for producing fan-favourite reality TV and Szusterman says the network is proud to provide a platform for it.

“New Zealand audiences are interested in their own, New Zealand, stories. That’s what makes us unique, we can tell those stories in a multitude of genres.

“A platform like Netflix isn’t likely to make local content for a country with four million people. Which means we’ve got to do it, and no one can do it better. If we continue to make great content for our audience, we’ll always be able to get a good share of eyeballs.”

In the documentary realm, Three will be releasing Patrick Gower: On Weed later this year. Funded by NZ On Air, the documentary will explore the pros and cons of legalising marijuana for both recreational and medicinal uses in New Zealand.

“We know there’s more than needs to be said, before New Zealanders get a chance to vote in a referendum on legalising cannabis, and so we’re continuing that debate.”

Three also has an upcoming miniseries about Jonah Lomu set to be released later this year, planned to coincide with the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The series, titled Jonah, will star aspiring Tongan actor Mosese Veailia and received $5.4 million in taxpayer funding from NZ On Air.

“Our role this year is telling great New Zealand stories,” Szusterman says. “Jonah is fitting because it’s a miniseries that celebrates one of our nation’s greatest sportsmen.”

Also coming up is German-New Zealand co-production The Gulf, 2018 Comedy Pilot Week hits Golden Boy and Mean Mums, and Guy Williams’s New Zealand Today – a faux news programme fronted by the comedian.

Szusterman says the exciting upcoming content proves what a good place Three is currently in. It’s now three years since Three rebanded away from TV3 and Szusterman says the cohesion of the Three brand is a lot better.

“We don’t want to be underdogs anymore, and that’s coming out in the way our shows are performing. We have a vision of what we want to do and multiple teams dedicated to achieving that.

“We’ve always shown flashes of that kind of brilliance but it’s really working at the moment and that’s pleasing.”

All the local content on Three’s books also provides advertisers with opportunities to insert themselves inside the programming – which has the mutual benefit of being able to push the productions to a higher level.

“I think that everything is cyclical and it comes back around again,” Szusterman says. “Advertisers are starting to see that the digital dream isn’t quite what they thought it was. We can provide opportunities within shows for local advertisers and with that we get to have conversations with advertisers about how they can add to our shows.”

Such conversations enable Three to work collaboratively with advertisers to come up with creative strategies, which Szusterman says is rewarding for clients and the broadcaster alike.

“We really value those relationships. There are things advertisers can bring to us that we can’t afford to do.”

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Caitlin Salter is a freelance writer who contributes to various publications at ICG Media.

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