Nine Entertainment Co’s Hugh Marks on Fairfax merger plans & Nine audience growth

‘We have a good message that we have had a good year and we will have an even better year next year.’

At the Nine 2019 Upfront last week, Nine CEO Hugh Marks spoke on Mediaweek’s Your Money segment.

Don’t miss the leaders of the Australian media sector every week on the new Your Money channel at 2.30pm Thursdays.

“We have a good message that we have had a good year and we will have an even better year next year. We have had consistency,” said Marks.

“The one thing about media at the moment is that it is changing at a rapid pace. As a business we need to keep innovating to stay ahead of the game.”

Here are the highlights from our discussion:

What are you telling the market about the Nine-Fairfax merger?

It is still subject to ACCC process and the shareholder vote, which will come over the next couple of months.

It is a great opportunity now to tell advertisers what the new business will look like and what it means for you.

How concerned have you been about share price movements?

It is a little frustrating. I feel it as much as anybody does. I would love the share price be higher. That is my job – to increase shareholder value. We still have to be focused on what is the business, where we believe we can build real long-term value and what are the things we need to do there. We need to be consistent with that strategy because if you bounce around too much all the time you can’t get those results. Long-term strategic plans are so important.

You seem to be getting lots of advice about the merger.

Advice is useful and I listen to everything I get told. The best thing I can do is listen and absorb what I think is useful and [disregard] what is not. At the same time stick to my plan and make sure the team is making the right decisions. We talk a lot internally and I certainly take a lot of advice from my senior team, who are really excellent.

Nine TV schedule largely unchanged for 2019.

That is a good sign. We have made a lot of gains across this year which means we can go into next year with a stable schedule that we can build on. We have more local content that will deliver better audience results and better results for marketers, which is what today is all about.

One of your announcements today was Nine’s new do-it-yourself advertising service.

[Companies like Google and Facebook] are very good on the technology side and we had to step up our game. We are good at content and have got better over the past few years. Next year we will be even better again. We have to innovate to make it easier to deal with Nine to provide the certainty that when you buy Nine to get ratings, you actually get those ratings. All of those things are so important in the modern landscape.

Is there a big market of potential smaller advertisers you are perhaps not tapping yet?

We are about making it easier for all clients. If we can make the process of booking advertising easier, then it decreases the cost of actually doing it. Is there a big market we are not tapping? I don’t know. That remains to be seen. But opening up Nine to a broader range of clients can only be a good thing.

You have been patient with a new franchise like Family Food Fight that didn’t have a spectacular first season.

That is fair comment. In past years we may not have gone for a series 2. We looked at the show and what we thought was good about it and what we could improve. We made some pretty simple changes to the format. The concept of bringing family recipes to television was always appealing. In this day and age, if you have something that works and you feel it can be made better, then you are better reinvesting in it than chopping and changing [programming] too quickly.

What is the attraction of bringing back SeaChange?

It offers at its core what is still a very contemporary issue – making the escape to a quiet life. There are other shows we are also looking at. Drama will make a resurgence in the next few years and it is certainly working very well on the on-demand platforms like 9Now.

For a lot of viewers SeaChange will be a new product and we are very excited to bring it back.

Has your growing multiplatform audience been building revenues as quickly?

Revenue is lagging with the growth in audience a bit. In the first quarter 9Now was up over 60% in terms of audience, revenue was up 50%+ and it is an area that continues to grow quickly for us. It is a really important complement to our linear FTA business.

The digital publishing business is also growing – we have more platforms and more brands.

How much will you integrate the Fairfax brands into the existing Nine digital publishing platform?

All those [Fairfax] brands stand well with their own reputation and own audience. That diversity is important to what our business will look like in the future. You can reach different audiences with different brands on different platforms. There have been 150 years of investment in the Fairfax brands and we will be doing our best to reinvest and grow those brands.


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