Michael Stephenson: Balancing existing and emerging markets as Nine looks to the future

Michael Stephenson Nine Olympic Games

Plus: Paris 2024 and what brands can get out of “the biggest digital media event we’ve ever seen in this country”

Local small businesses using AI to create ads for 9Now, multiplying the return on retail media investment using data, and the starting gun going off on the race to the Brisbane Olympics: it could only be Nine’s 2024 Upfront. 

And that’s before you even start on the content slate.

To chat about what the 2024 Upfront means for advertisers, Mediaweek sat down with Nine’s chief sales officer, Michael Stephenson, in the Olympic and Paralympics installation that looks out over the Sydney skyline.

See Also: First look: Inside Nine’s Olympic Games and Paralympics installation high above Sydney

“I’m excited, we’ve got a really clear vision supported by a really clear strategy and what I believe are the best media assets in the country,” Stephenson said.

Michael Stephenson Nine upfront

Michael Stephenson presents at the Nine Upfront

The challenge for Nine from a commercial perspective, according to Stephenson, is asking how to create new products for advertisers that both support their desires and align with Nine’s strategy.

“In the announcements that you’ve just seen, we’re very clearly entrenched in new and emerging markets. I believe that is the future of our business – protect the proven businesses, and accelerate into new markets by creating new opportunities for brands. That’s what gets me up every morning, and I’m very fortunate to work at Nine because we are a local Australian media company. We’ve got the support of both Mike [Sneesby] and the rest of the business to be able to create these products.”

At last year’s Upfront, Nine drove home the message that Australia Belongs Here. This year, the team let the Upfront audience know that they are Australia’s Media Company.

“We’ve done a lot of work in the last couple of years around defining what our purpose is, what our vision is, and aligning the company strategy behind those two things,” Stephenson said. “We’re on a journey to do that, we’re by no means at the end of that – we’re just partway through it and we keep reevaluating all the time.”

Nine Upfront 2024

RTLX and Nine Ad Manager

Two of the biggest announcements for advertisers this year came in the form of the launch of RTLX and Nine Ad Manager

RTLX will give Nine’s retail partners access to their content to create consumer experiences on their platforms, as well as giving them access to Nine’s development teams to leverage existing data and advertising products. Nine Ad Manager is a self-serve platform that uses AI to give small to medium-sized businesses the ability to buy video advertising on 9Now, and target it down to postcode level.

Stephenson makes the point that with these two new products, Nine is supporting advertisers from every sized business, from the local independent corner shop all the way to major supermarkets. 

“There are 2.4 million SMEs, they spend $1.5 billion on social video advertising – I believe that Nine Ad Manager is either complementary or maybe substitutional. We have a premium product where you can’t skip advertising, it’s got a gold standard measurement. We have scale, we have great data and targeting, and now you can buy it easily. I really do think that is going to be a game changer for small to medium businesses. 

“RTLX is really focused on medium to large advertisers who currently have relationships with supermarkets or any other retail outlet, whereby we can be complimentary,” Stephenson continues.

“How can we work with our retail media partners to create a full-funnel experience for them? We use our content and that data to enhance the products that they’re able to talk to their customers about. We can be a part of that conversation to add value by creating new products based on their needs, utilising our first-party data to drive more efficiency, and creating new models and breaking down all the old rules that have existed.”

2024 Nine Upfront

Taking on the Olympics

The jewel in the crown of Nine’s 2024 Upfront was the broadcast rights to the Olympic Games through to Brisbane 2032, and the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games. Stephenson said that “We’re very proud” to be the media partner of the Games.

“The unique set of rights that we have, because of the unique set of assets that we have, creates this unbelievable opportunity for brands. To be a part of that is really exciting. 

“Strategically, every couple of years leading all the way to Brisbane in 2032, we have the opportunity to redefine how people consume content. I do think Paris ’24 will be the biggest digital media event we’ve ever seen in this country, and it allows consumers to test and explore our digital ecosystem – in particular 9Now and Stan. I think that will change consumer behaviour.”

Those opportunities to redefine content consumption will all be driving towards a home Olympics, with the best athletes in the world heading to Brisbane for the 2032 Games. Even though 2023 is a while away, Stephenson said that everything the Nine team are doing now is laying the foundations for the event – “strategically, it gives us a North Star.”

“What is what is our short, medium, and long-term plan? If we have a vision to become Australia’s media company, what does that look like by the time we get to the Olympics in Brisbane? That is part of the journey that we’re on.

What we do know is that we will need to continue to protect the proven media assets that we have. They will accelerate and transition to digital growth and increased consumption of content on digital platforms. The Olympics would give us the impetus and the opportunity to create new products for consumers and brands using a platform that, quite frankly, doesn’t have a peer.”

Michael Stephenson

Michael Stephenson

Finally, Mediaweek asked Stephenson to cast his mind forward to this time next year – the Paris 2024 Olympics have wrapped up and viewers are about to settle in to watch the Paralympics Closing Ceremony. What does he think the industry will look like?

“For Nine, I think we will have used the Paris ’24 Olympic Games as a springboard to accelerate towards a more digital future,” Stephenson said.

“As an industry, I really hope that both agencies and advertisers embrace the new measurement for both television and radio – VOZ, VOZ streaming, and Radio360 – to appreciate that the combination of linear audiences, streaming audiences, and on-demand audiences is the future of media. That is the vehicle that will get us from a traditional world to an entirely digital world.”

Top Image: Michael Stephenson

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