Mediaweek meets The Programmers – Foxtel’s Brian Walsh Part 2

‘We never look at overnight ratings figures’

Continuing our series with the people that control what goes to air on Australian TVs, Mediaweek’s James Manning speaks with Foxtel’s executive director of TV, Brian Walsh.

This is the second part of a two-part interview. Read part one here

How Foxtel measures success

We never look at overnight ratings figures. It is all about how the consolidated ratings look. We haven’t had a drama show that has underperformed for some time.

It has been gratifying that the stories we make are also finding audiences internationally, which is great for us commercially. That allows us to reinvest in even more Australian drama.

Stronger Foxtel channel lineup

We recognise that, increasingly, Australians are moving to an on-demand environment. Therefore linear channel viewing, while it will remain, will be less important.

That means it is time for a comprehensive review of the channels we carry. That will cause some distress and discomfort for consumers. The fact of the matter is it is a much more attractive proposition to have fewer channels that have a richer offering with a stronger lineup and fewer repeats.

We then have to let go of those channels that don’t meet our performance criteria.

This is the era of super channels. The audiences are so fragmented and there is so much choice available now that you want to have very robust, strong channels that are real destinations that people will a) recognise and b) go to.

That is our objective now with showcase, FOX8 and a number of our channels.

We have had discussions with our commercial channel partners, telling them we are reviewing our channel lineup and we want to have fewer, bigger and better channels. That is the future – fewer, bigger, better channels and a much deeper library available for people to watch VOD.

Move to video on demand (VOD)

By 2020 we firmly believe linear viewing will decrease, VOD viewing will increase and correspondingly the number of linear channels will decrease.

It is a matter of identifying what those super channels are going to be. They will be the brands that get all the marketing and promotion.

We see Foxtel as being a house of brands – great brands that are globally recognised and local brands that we nurture and market very strongly, showcase being one of those.

If we look at the total channel lineup, include all the +2 channels and the audio channels, Foxtel would certainly have had well in excess of 200.

If you consider all that, plus what customers have through Netflix and Amazon, and the opportunities they have to watch on demand via iview and SBS On Demand, there has never been more choice for people.

You need to make Foxtel an easier navigation. You can do that more effectively with fewer channels that are stronger and a VOD environment that has multiple programming across many genres.

What channels could be dropped?

It’s inevitable that the plus 2s will probably disappear as we consolidate.

[Foxtel’s head of channel and operations Stephen Baldwin also joined our discussion with Brian Walsh. Baldwin’s remit includes the factual channels, lifestyle, entertainment, arts and music. More recently he has also taken over the on-demand portfolio.]

Growth of the Lifestyle brand

SB: We have had great success with our Lifestyle local productions. We would always love to do more but it will always be reliant on budgets. We do have a large number of returning series that are successful, which is fantastic. It also means that it uses a lot of the budget, which makes it difficult to commission a whole bunch of new shows, which we would like to do.

We are constantly monitoring the performance of those shows and we will make decisions to potentially let some of those shows go so we can bring new programs into the schedule.

 

BW: We have acknowledged that Seven, Nine and Ten have a strategy built around live news, sports and competition reality. For that reason I don’t think competition reality is an area we need to compete in.

When looking at Lifestyle we have had an internal debate over The Great Australian Bake Off. We have asked the question, is it more competition reality or lifestyle?

SB: My feeling about Great Australian Bake Off is that it is different from any other competition reality. It has a definite feel-good element to it and it is respectful to the contestants and they are to each other. It also celebrates cooking skill in a very joyful way, which is important for lifestyle.

Lifestyle channel’s hit rate

BW: People enjoy coming to the Lifestyle channel and we are very protective of the brand. We have had a couple of battles, one with a radio network and the other with a potential competitor in this marketplace over the use of the name Lifestyle. A third-party content provider was intending to launch channels that feature lifestyle content and we are in discussion about the usage of the word lifestyle.

We also had a good-natured discussion with Russell Tate at Macquarie Radio when they were rebranding 2UE and their Magic stations. The word Talking was added to Talking Lifestyle’s name very late.

We firmly believe we are entitled to continue owning that brand.

The brand can grow beyond what we are doing on television. Lifestyle.com.au is a project that Stephen is very focused on, and given our common shareholding with News Corporation, there is enormous scope to build on the lifestyle area of the business. Expect to hear a lot more about synergies with News Corp.

Future content plans

BW: There is a lot of noise around Picnic At Hanging Rock and that will continue to be a focus.

We are finalising a major output deal with 21st Century Fox that will deliver some of their signature network product first run in this market. As part of that deal is an exclusive agreement with FX in this market. Traditionally the programs on FX have been spread across a number of outlets in Australia with Network Ten having a number of programs. The new deal makes Foxtel the exclusive home of FX originals.

We will now be able to say we are the home of HBO originals and FX originals. Add to that the Foxtel originals and we have a very strong drama proposition.

Photo: Great Australian Bake Off

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