MediaWorks doubles down on local versions of international formats, sings from the rooftops about its reach

If you’re in show business, it pays to put on a show and MediaWorks, a company with a new board, a new chief executive, a new sense of confidence after negotiating its way through the receivership and plenty of big new shows to crow about, put one on last night for its new season launch at Shed 10 in Auckland. So should it be exuding this much optimism? 

Hosted by Mike Puru and Sam Hayes, the night kicked off with a musical ditty that should have sucked, but didn’t. Catchily titled ‘3,759,247’, it was based on MediaWorks’ total cumulative weekly reach of 3.8 million and, without much time to create it, the Jono and Ben at Ten crew and a number of MediaWorks stars did a great job of laughing at their own expense (acknowledging the stunts for radio survey, for example) and poking fun at the industry many of those in attendance worked in. And the talent was regularly wheeled out from there to announce some of its new and returning shows, many of them locally produced versions of international formats. 

A relaxed looking MediaWorks Group chief executive Mark Weldon took to the stage first and said the two most common questions he’s been asked since he took the role have been: 1) are you nuts? and 2) what’s the future of TV? He said the only media job he was keen to take was with MediaWorks, because in his years working with New Zealand businesses, he grew to respect the talent, grittiness and determination of the people who worked there throughout a series of tumultuous events. And he is very confident the future of TV was secure, because as entertainment options splinter, he believes the centre gets bigger, no other medium has the ability to create brands like Damo from The Block in such a short space of time and our view of the world is local. That’s why it has made such a big investment in local content, with MediaWorks TV chief executive Paul Maher saying its investment has increased by close to 300 percent on last year (overall investment in content is down after its acquisition strategy changed and it got out of the studio output deals). 

  • Check out an in-depth interview with Paul Maher and group head of revenue Liz Fraser here. And Weldon’s speech here

Among the highlights for next season are the switching of Masterchef NZ from TVNZ to TV3, a New Zealand version of The Bachelor that should be good for the network, but some might argue is bad for humanity, and, as we wrote earlier this week, Grand Designs NZ (it will be hosted by quintessential architect and urbanist Chris Moller and, in addition to production partners ANZ, it will also be supported by LandRover).

The Great Food Race, which was a highlight of last year’s launch, ended up being a bit of a ratings stinker. So having a proven format like MasterChef, “one of the world’s biggest formats,” is a safer bet, says Maher, and he says it will do it in its own special TV3 way and believes it has much greater capacity to activate the show and the sponsorships through the other media brands in the group.

“It will be much better than what those other guys did,” he says. 

While it was a TV launch, there was a big focus on the power of the MediaWorks network to reach Kiwis—occasionally in musical form—and on its ability to integrate brands into its content. Last year, Liz Fraser, who was at the time director of sales and marketing but has recently taken the role of group head of revenue, said it was definitely a realistic goal for TV3 to become number one in its target 25-54 demographic and she said it hoped to get there in a couple of years. She was hopeful it might even be sooner than that but that hasn’t happened this year, with TV3’s overall audience declining slightly and Four’s going up. Following on from the great ratings decline of 2013, she says it did have to offer some make-ups to some clients when guaranteed audiences weren’t reached. But, once again, there’s no shortage of optimism for next year. And that came through pretty clearly at the event. 

Hillary Barry and Mike McRoberts discussed the upcoming 25 year anniversary of 3 News and introduced the drama series Gallipoli, a co-production with Channel Nine and Endemol. And Westside Story (the prequel to Outrageous Fortune), which is currently in production, is also set to run next year. 

The Block NZ, which is down on average audience per episode from last year but up on overall reach due to running an extra episode, will also return with the fans and faves format, and the stars of this season were there to give some advice (Ben: stop having sex if you’re applying to be on the show) and their views on what the experience has been like (Damo, who, as Duncan Greive wrote in his brilliant summary of the event, gave one of the only honest calls of the night: “It’s a living nightmare”). 

The X Factor NZ is also returning after a one year break, and husband and wife pop stars Willy Moon and Natalia Kills were announced as the last two judges. They will join Stan Walker and Melanie Blatt. 

The local comedy line-up is also back for more, helped along by some NZ on Air funding, with the team from 7 Days, including Jeremy “budget Clooney” Corbett (McRoberts is the surely the mid-budget Clooney), doing some showing off about their ratings in typical ribald fashion. TV3 also has a new sketch comedy series, Funny Girls. 

Paul Henry’s cross-platform media mongrel was announced a few weeks back, and the host was typically manic, entertaining, sweary and egotistical, running around on stage and trying to illustrate what the experience of having him everywhere will be like for news consumers next year when the show broadcasts across TV, radio and online. Not surprisingly, he said the executives were shitting themselves and he thought it would be fucking brilliant. 

Group Entertainment content director, Andrew Szusterman says the announcements are the first tangible realisation of the company’s new content strategy and “properties like The Bachelor, MasterChef, The X Factor, Jono and Ben and The Block will live across our platforms”. As an example, The Bachelor NZ is kicking off on Monday morning with More FM leading the nationwide search for bachelorettes.

MediaWorks pulled out of its full studio output deals last year and, when it was without a Fox deal, it left some big holes in Four’s schedule that led to a ratings decline. Since then, it has increased its ratings and has averaged a 5.5 share over the past year (and that’s gone up 6.1 over the past few weeks).

In addition to the returning entertainment content, Four will screen its first local primetime shows: series three of The GC, and the The Xtra Factor, which goes behind the scenes of The X Factor NZ.

It also lost Home & Away to TVNZ, which Maher says was the biggest loss from the receivership. That had a big impact on its news audiences. But Maher says they have now stabilised, in part due to the growing audience for The Block as the season has gone on. It is set to run the Aussie version of Big Brother in the 5.30 slot and he says it had a great response from the production community after it requested submissions for a locally-made soap that will most likely fill that gap.  

MediaWorks has also re-signed the Fox deal that gives it the likes of The Simpsons, The Goldbergs and Family Guy and signed a new year-long NBCUniversal partnership that gives it Katherine Heigl’s new series State of Affairs and the reboot of the Heroes drama franchise, Heroes Reborn. The Blacklist is also returning for a third season. 

  • Check out all the various new and returning shows for TV3 here and Four here

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