7News.com.au head of news Brett McKeehan: Audience growth & importance of local


Seven’s head of digital news goes all in on audience, but ‘you can’t just be guided by the numbers’

Brett McKeehan has been leading 7News.com.au as executive producer/head of digital news for just over 12 months. To take the role made a significant career change, joining the Seven West Media online news platform from Hong Kong where he had worked for seven years with CNN and before that South China Morning Post.

Prior to that McKeehan (above) spent much of his media career with News Corp in a number of roles, chiefly on The Daily Telegraph. Other roles included time at the Townsville Bulletin and a stint in London at The Sun and News of the World.

McKeehan described 7News.com.au as still being in its infancy despite the brand going out on its own four years ago after the end of the JV with Yahoo!

“I realised 7News.com.au would have a different audience to the one we catered to at CNN,” McKeehan told Mediaweek.

“It was refreshing in fact to come back to Australia and join a massive domestic player like Seven. 7News.com.au has always been very strong in generating a big, unique audience. What I really wanted to do in my first 12 months was build up loyalty with more repeat visits every month. It was key to get to know our audience better and understand their content preferences.”

To help that, McKeehan dug into the website statistics. “I am just obsessed with data,” he explained. He’s even about to start a Masters of Data Science at UTS. “I’m going all in,” he grinned.

“I worked at turning the statistics into an actionable strategy. For example, we know around 58% of our audience is female, our core readership is between 19 and 34. That is a different demographic to broadcast and it’s what made my first 12 months so much fun. We wanted to pivot and focus on what we did best.

“That was making sure our content revolved around breaking news, consumer affairs, lifestyle, cost of living, AFL and key sports moments. We worked hard at being efficient and presented content that gave us the best chance of a positive response from our readership.”

The 7News.com.au and the TV 7News team are completely separate entities, McKeehan stressed when asked about shared resources.

“We are just coming off our best year ever after our audience increased 25% YOY. According to Google Analytics, we passed one billion page views in a year for the first time. That’s a big achievement for our digital team who have a real hunger for audience growth.”


7News.com.au newsroom

McKeehan said the digital news platform runs its newsroom for 18 hours a day, seven days a week. “We start filing at 5am every day and between 7-8am we hit our first audience peak. Later in the day when people are at home we really go hard too. That is when we start to see different distribution mechanisms. Our Facebook audience is key in the evening.”

One important element at 7News.com.au is something that brand overall is known for. “Video is pivotal,” said McKeehan. “We are very aware we are part of the #1 network in the country. Building strong relationships with 7News broadcast and the tentpole shows in sport and the content on 7Plus is critical to what we do. It is key for our video plans that help build our audience.

“The reader experience is part of the Seven experience – we are part of a wider digital ecosystem and 7News.com.au represents an entry point into that ecosystem for a key demographic that is very different from the broadcast demographic.

“We celebrate our differences and of course respect the brand. We get to be a bit more cheeky, irreverent…but we also need to be relevant which means a close connection with broadcast is key.”

Importance of local

“State-based news is very important and we have a different home page for each state,” said McKeehan. “We tailor the news for those markets and we have specific digital content teams in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia meaning the home page will look a little different in every state.

“We have an exceptional entertainment and lifestyle team which has grown significantly over the past year and consumer affairs is part of that too. Politics and finance are critical at different times.

“The great thing about digital is that there are always data points for us to react to.”

Although it only happened around the time McKeehan joined the business, we asked him about Seven’s acquisition of Prime, he explained, “It was a huge opportunity for us. We have much stand-alone video content and we plan to host as much regional video content as we can. What I want to see is key Prime markets represented with their own pages with key television packages available. That means someone in Orange could search 7News.com.au and see all their local stories in a dedicated place on the site. That will be coming sooner rather than later.”

Monestising 7News.com.au

McKeehan said sharing sponsored content represents an incredible growth area. “We have been running a pilot program over the past few months with commercial content and it has been very well received by audience and commercial partners.

“Our lifestyle team managing editor Katherine Davison manages to tick the box regarding commercial opportunities but also offers compelling content. We will be doubling down in that space across 2023.”

Online news competition

“We are in a very congested marketplace and we realise news.com.au is the leader in terms of audience size. That sets a benchmark for everyone else.” While acknowledging the major Australian players in the market, McKeehan also pointed to YouTube which while also being a competitor, “offers major monetisation opportunities, especially for international audiences watching our video content.”

It’s not all about numbers

While admitting earlier he was obsessed by data, McKeehan told Mediaweek, “You can’t just be guided by numbers. Experience counts for a lot and instinct is important.

Another key member of the team is 7News.com.au editor Francis Sheen. He called the longtime well-respected magazine and TV allrounder, “Very experienced and incredibly instinctive. There is not much that happens that she hasn’t seen. She knows how to lean into our audience.”

Of the team overall, McKeehan commented: “You have to be able to tell stories that matter and we do that because we are journalists first.

“The young reporting team at 7News.com.au team hasn’t changed much across my first year and I appreciate their energy and enthusiasm and their passion. I’m 46 and I know it is critical to rely on the ideas from a group of reporters that represent the demographic we are trying to reach. We wouldn’t have 25% audience growth without them.”


To Top