James Warburton on Seven’s new program line-up: “We will dominate again in 2022”

Seven West Media

TV boss on refreshing former hits and his audacious bid for NRL rights

Seven West Media chief executive James Warburton leads from the front. But talking to Mediaweek about the Seven Network’s success in 2021 and plans for 2022 he was keen to celebrate the work of his colleagues.

“I am incredibly proud of the executive team at Seven. Particularly the programming team led by Angus Ross with Andrew Backwell and Brook Hall.

“We are going be #1 network this year on Total People, and very likely win under 50 and under 40. Any way you cut the year – calendar year, survey year, Olympics in or out and Easter in or out, we are #1.

Seven has won 18 weeks and in a 38-week survey year (taking out two Olympic Weeks), one more #1 and Seven will claim 2021 victory.

“Our opposition has become increasingly desperate to claim leadership,” added Warburton.

“With the new slate we are releasing with five additional tentpoles, plus the returning series the strength of our spine, that we will dominate again in 2022.

“To turnaround our tentpole strategy in a two-year period makes me very proud of the entire team.”

James Warburton

Warburton also wanted to acknowledge the achievements at 7plus where Gereurd Roberts and Brook Hall have been running the programming strategy. “With the involvement also of Angus we are now incredibly strong from a BVOD point of view.”

The audience growth this year came from the broadcaster whose schedule most the most Covid-impacted, stressed the TV chief.

Next year is really our first shot at getting all of our content produced. Things like Australian Idol and AGT we haven’t been able to make yet.”

Program spend: $30-40m more for 2022

Warburton noted that the extra dollars includes money spent on Commonwealth Games rights.

Regarding the return of My Kitchen Rules and Apartments Rule, Warburton noted, “I said those formats needed to be rested. As you can see from our recent successes it’s always a good thing when you give something a break after many years. You would also have seen us change what might have been 50 or 60 hour commitments, into shorter and sharper series.

“Seven had to get its mojo back and we’ve done that in terms of the content we are putting out. The return of these formats gives us an opportunity with the biggest global talent we can get. Both series will be new in every single sense.

Warburton and programming chief Ross promised the series will be produced for Seven by some of Australia’s best independent producers. No decision has been made yet about who will make either series.

“It will not be Endemol Shine Australia of course who is conflicted with MasterChef,” said Warburton.

He also noted it was a good time to be revisiting renovation given the current strength of the property market.

“Both franchises were incredibly successful for a long period of time. The creative well might have dried up a bit at Seven Studios with the formats not being refreshed. They were then probably taken down a path of drama and bitchiness versus the original recipes of pure cooking and renovation.”

Seven Upfront

Drama focus is on Summer Bay

Seven continues to be the home of Australia’s #1 drama Home and Away. “We will also have Claremont in 2022,” said Ross. “It’s a two-part miniseries on the serial killings in Western Australia.

Home and Away screens here four nights a week for 40+ weeks a year. We view that as a tentpole for us. In terms of drama, that is Seven’s key focus.

Seven Sport: “Unbelievable lineup”

The AFL season has successfully wrapped for Seven with cricket about to fire up with BBL, WBBL and then Ashes Tests. One of the quieter achievers in the schedule is Supercars.

Warburton, a former Supercars CEO, told Mediaweek: “The absolute key events are in the back end of the year. In what has been a Covid-impacted year the big stuff usually includes the Gold Coast 600, the Bathurst 1000 (this year ending the 2021 season), and the new Newcastle street race (starting the 2022 season).

“We have two night races at Sydney Motorsport Park on Seven and 7mate and then Bathurst will run into primetime with a 7pm finish which is scheduled a week before the first Ashes Test.”

Seven also has horseracing right across the summer and AFLW too. “That runs us into the Winter Olympics, the AFL season and then into July and the Commonwealth Games. An unbelievable lineup of sport.”

Warburton hasn’t changed his stance on Olympics since Mediaweek spoke last with him. When talking about the recent financial loss, he said at the time: “Why would we blow our brains out again?” Seven hasn’t totally ruled out bidding for Paris, Los Angeles and then Brisbane. Warburton said: “We’d love to be part of them, but it has to make financial sense.”

Seven and push to grab NRL

James Warburton senses an opportunity to get a piece of NRL action in years to come as Nine is yet to lock away a new rights deal. When asked about it though he said, “We are not going to comment on potential sports rights.”

Pushing Nine out of the NRL picture completely might be a tall order, but some onlookers indicate they might not be surprised if Seven picks up some rights, starting perhaps with the State of Origin series.

A partnership with Foxtel on NRL might work given the two already collaborate on cricket, Sportcars and AFL.

The Hey Hey effect

Nine said “no” to a Daryl Somers-hosted Hey Hey 50th anniversary special. But it pulled just under 2m nationally in overnights for Seven on Sunday. While it attracted many older viewers, Warburton noted there were 400,000 24-54s watching.

“We will look at doing a part two and there might be some content for 7plus too.”

Angus Ross added: “It was an amazing result for Daryl and the team and they should be really proud of generating a massive result like that on a Sunday night with very heavy traffic.”

Keeping the company safe from Covid

As to whether Seven has mandated a staff vaccination policy, Warburton said: “We have not mandated vaccinations at all. We did a survey asking the staff and 75% supported mandatory vaccination and 93% intended to or already had been vaccinated. Many of the production companies we work with demand it as do the studios we work with. You can’t go on sets etc unless you are double vaxed.”


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