Mike Sneesby on how Stan Sport sits inside Nine’s total TV strategy


New audience data points to growing Stan Sport audience

July has been a massive month for sport on Nine’s different platforms. So far there have been big audiences for Wimbledon and the rugby international series Australia v France. There is more rugby this week and of course State of Origin rugby league too.

Sport is a key driver for Nine’s broadcast strategy and keeps new chief executive Mike Sneesby busy.

The pace hasn’t slowed for Sneesby since he settled into the CEO chair earlier in 2021, replacing Hugh Marks. After the IT meltdown on his first weekend in the role, he has been on a tour to better understand each part of the company and their teams. That exercise hasn’t been helped by lockdown in different states with head office now a mix of those who need to be in the office and others working remotely. Sneesby told us he is doing a bit of both.

The past week has included a significant executive reshuffle of the publishing division, the first major personnel change since Sneesby’s promotion.

The lockdowns in Melbourne and now a longer one in Sydney haven’t hurt the company’s audience figures. Particularly the recent sporting highlights on FTA and something Sneesby understands very well, Stan Sport. This past fortnight alone viewers to Nine and Stan Sport have been consuming State of Origin, rugby union tests and Wimbledon.

“Those recent events are a really important demonstration of Nine’s strategy in total television,” Sneesby told Mediaweek. “In particular what we are doing with sports television. Tennis and rugby in particular are two sports that fit into the total TV strategy where we acquired all rights with a distribution model that sits across subscription streaming with Stan as well as free and ad-funded on Nine and 9Now.

Being able to acquire rights for both platforms makes it a viable proposition for those platforms. This past week in particular, with both sports running, you have seen the numbers of Stan Sport accelerating.

Stan Sport audience update

The last time Stan Sport revealed subscriber numbers was in May this year and the number was 150,000. Sneesby was reluctant to reveal the exact number, apart from saying it was bigger. He did note again that the total Stan audience is 2.3m+ active accounts with 6m+ of the 8.5m Australian households having a Stan account.

Sneesby did say: “The number I am happy to give away is that the Stan Sport audience number on Wednesday night for the rugby union Australia v France was over 200,000 on top of the Nine and 9Now audience.”

The rugby union audience on 9Gem in metro markets that night was 323,000.

“That Stan audience is attracted by it being ad-free. The strategy is clearly working for both platforms and is complimentary. There is no other television business in Australia that has the breadth of assets that Nine has across Nine and Stan when it comes to the ability to distribute sport.”

Sneesby noted Nine is also setting the pace when it comes to global TV strategy. “There is no other live streaming business who is doing something similar. This strategy is unique to Nine. Free TV is giving the sport reach, with Stan being there for the subscriber who wants to see every single game, ad-free in high definition, live and on demand.”

Sneesby said Stan is not urgently seeking more sport to give it year-round activity. “When we negotiate sports rights, every sport has to make sense and be profitable in its own right. We look at each sport and what it would bring to us in terms of subscriber numbers. We don’t have a strategy that says we have to have a certain number of sports to be successful.”

Regarding the Stan Sport pricing model, where customers join Stan and then add the sport package, Sneesby said it has received a fantastic response from consumers. “The best way to measure that is that consumers are signing up because they like the model. Two thirds of Australian households have a Stan account. Stan is already immensely popular and with $10 to add sport it is a very small price for consumers. The subscription numbers indicate it is the right price for them to be paying.”

Here comes UEFA

That $10 for Stan Sport also includes the first content from the UEFA deal next month. After Optus Sport farewelled the rights with the Italy v England match on the weekend, UEFA arrives at Stan Sport next month.

Sneesby: “The past weekend has shown us what UEFA offers. Every season will bring a different wave of emotions and that is what you will see on Stan Sport.”

Stan Sport’s exclusive UEFA coverage will begin with the 2021-22 UEFA Super Cup match between 2020-21 UEFA Champions League winners Chelsea and Villarreal, winners of the 2020-21 UEFA Europa League – kicking off on Thursday, 12 August (AEST).

With Stan Sport and Nine now competing with Seven, 10 and Foxtel/Fox Sports for content, sports have never had it so good. Have rights costs gone up? “We have a good understanding of what is the right amount to pay. Even in the short time since we started Stan Sport, we have walked away from a number of different sports rights opportunities because the numbers did not stack up for us. The platform is presently working for us. If we acquire additional sport they need to fit our commercial model.”

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