Optimistic TVNZ targets the yoof, aims to improve on ‘fantastic’ 2010

Aside from a couple of very well-publicised PR disasters and a host of aggrieved agency folk who seemed mightily pissed off about the halving of their 20 percent commissions, TVNZ had a stellar year in 2010, with solid ratings, steadily increasing ad revenue and an array of impressive innovations—both for viewers and advertisers. It also welcomed new sales director Paul Maher into the fold in August and, while he thinks it will be slow and steady as she goes this year, he’s confident TVNZ can repeat—and maybe even exceed—the performance of 2010.

“It was a fantastic year for us: PUTS were up, time spent viewing was up, and our audiences were maintained—and grown in some areas”, he says. TVNZ’s news and current affairs offering is still working very well, he says and, while the “incredibly strong growth in the third quarter” looks to be continuing after Christmas, he predicts this year will be one of recovery.

The biggest news for TVNZ in 2011 is the addition of a new youth-focused, advertising-funded, social media savvy channel called U. As the government’s public broadcasting funding for the digital channels is set to run out in the 2011-2012 financial year, it was decided that the TVNZ6 frequency would be commercialised (TVNZ7 will bring “the best of both public digital channels”, although seemingly without the Ad Show on the books).

The channel (check out a reel here) will be broadcast from midday to midnight and eight hours in the schedule will be first run content and Maher says the departure of MTV from the local market and the demographic shift from C4 to FOUR left a gap in the market. He believes there are enough advertisers still wanting to talk to a younger audience.

Every night from 8.30pm to 10.30pm themed programming will cater to a different audience taste. And on Sunday nights, viewers will get to be the programmers by entering a competition via the channel’s Facebook page and website. The winner will effectively “own” the slot and choose what viewers watch.

TVNZ’s head of digital media and channels Eric Kearley says U is “the first true technology-driven integration of online social media with television in New Zealand”, something Maher says aims to tap into this younger market’s rampant desire for their ‘ten minutes of fame’.

Maher says it’s too early to say whether it’s going well or not. But he says the launch on Wednesday went very well, with around 150-200 people in attendance.

“The feedback from the market has been extremely positive, both around the need for a local youth channel and around the fact that we’re trying to build a bridge between the TV business and use of the internet,” he says.

When you look at its iPad, iPhone, PS3 and catch-up offerings, TVNZ certainly seems to be well ahead of the competition. And Maher, who has come out of international markets, says the Ondemand service is as good as he’s seen anywhere in the world. The numbers back that up, with double digit revenue growth right through the year, stream views up 25 percent year on year with a high of 1.8 million streams in one month and awareness of the Ondemand service in the high 90s.

“Ondemand is commercially viable … We all know that video played through the internet globally and locally is growing. And New Zealanders are definitely using it more.”

Ondemand offers benefits to the viewers, of course, but Maher says Ad Selector, which gives viewers the ability to choose the ad they view, also offers brands some great opportunities in the digital space.

TVWorks has also been innovating through content changes in an effort to snatch away viewers from ONE and TV2. But Maher admits he was slightly surprised that MediaWorks decided to create two mainstream focused channels.

“It takes a lot of content to fill two mainstream channels. And if you look at the ratings, PUTS are up, but I wouldn’t say that TV3 had a great year in ratings terms.”

TV2, however, is sitting pretty and celebrated a bit of a milestone late last year after achieving 100 consecutive weeks of the highest ratings among 18-39 year olds, with 19 of the top 20 programmes among 18-39 year olds on TV2.

Whether the new channel offerings from the networks will manage to squeeze any new blood out of the New Zealand advertising stone or just create more mouths to feed from the same pot remains to be seen. But putting the TVWorks demographic changes to one side, Maher says the whole market is getting tougher.

“Sky and Prime are a strong competitor now, whereas they probably weren’t five years ago. In the past 15-20 years it has become an absolute force in terms of viewing and access to premium content,” he says.

And, in a very competitive—and seemingly ever-changing market—he says the best way for TVNZ to compete is through innovation.

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