NEC boss David Gyngell on streaming, NRL deal and special event drama

NEC’s David Gyngell on his spending habits and the plans for new panel shows

By James Manning

After Nine Entertainment Co announced its results last week, Mediaweek spoke with chief executive officer David Gyngell about some of the challenges facing the broadcaster.

Live streaming

As to whether Seven would have an advantage in being the first to stream their Seven, 7TWO and 7mate channels, Gyngell said a firm “no”. He said it was a given that it was something all broadcasters had to do, but said there was still work to be done by all broadcasters to secure streaming rights for all their content. “We are already there…we have been doing it for a year. I want to see what Seven’s offering is on the first of December.” Gyngell was also sceptical about whether OzTAM would be able to measure the audiences for streaming TV channels from December 1. “We are all going to have to stream content in various places. I’m not saying that Seven won’t be ready with a good offering, but whether it will be everything they have got I am not sure. That would surprise me.

“We are in the throes of similar things, but I don’t think it is important enough to people to make a big deal out of it. HbbTV was going to change the world too, wasn’t it? The world hasn’t changed.

Sky News sale to News Corp

“We have been in ongoing discussions, productive discussions. They know the value of Sky News, we think we know the value of Sky News.” As to whether News Corp and NEC were getting closer to a figure, Gyngell noted, “We are in a lovely warm relationship with News at the moment. [Laughs] They know what they are prepared to pay and we know what they are prepared to accept.”

That controversial NRL deal

“I am tough on sports rights, but I am the one who keeps buying them. Whether it’s a good deal or a bad deal, the NRL is a deal we have to do. We are not good enough to come up with shows that rate as well as Rugby League. There are very few places that are. There are some good programs though and I’m not saying companies can’t do well without sports rights. TEN has done a very good job with MasterChef doing 900,000 viewers against State of Origin and The Bachelor doing 900,000 against Souths playing the Broncos.

“Sports bring a lot of advertising with them. We want sport because we don’t have great, original ideas all the time and we have news and current affairs because people keep coming back to that.”

Would NEC like an AFL game?

“My AFL guys would like it. The economics of where our audience is, we do own the NSW mid-North coast, are more favourable to us than the AFL would be. Adelaide and Perth are markets we have grown into recently. But we really can’t own everything and having one less game of rugby league and one more AFL game [might not make a difference]. The quality of the AFL games on offer doesn’t look that attractive to me. We aren’t seeking a game of AFL – we have rights to sell [NRL] and Foxtel has rights to sell [AFL] but I doubt very much will change from what we both have now.”

Nine’s content focus

“In addition to live sport and news and current affairs it is drama and soon panel shows. Telemovies are very expensive, but the two big successes this year have been House Of Hancock and Milat. The promos for Not The Boy Next Door on Seven look great. I hope that does well for them because it is good for Australian television.

“We have a couple more telemovies coming for next year but they are damn expensive. They cost you north of $1m an episode and you have to create value out of them. You can do some, but there are only so many great stories you can tell.

“There will be more panel-type shows. The ABC is doing very well and sometimes deserves to get more respect from the broader market. Q&A gets a lot of furore, but I’d like a Q&A-type show on Nine that works.”

Asked if Karl Stefanovic would be piloting a program similar to Q&A, Gyngell replied: “Karl will do a broader, less brainy version. And that’s not a reflection on Karl [laughs], it’s a reflection on Channel Nine maybe. I don’t expect to get the ABC audience. In two years’ time you will see shows like that across all the networks.”

SVOD causing sleepless nights

“We continue to be surprised by the growth of this category. It is a bigger category than I thought it was going to be and Stan is running ahead of where we thought it was going to be. Are we keeping in touch? Probably just. We are up against the hottest brand in the world right now, Netflix. We have the deepest library, the largest library and we have launched the most original shows. Every day we virtually put up a new show to Stan.

I am really pleased and proud of the offering the team has put together and the managing director Mike Sneesby is doing an outstanding job. We are in the right position in what is going to be a tough category. We are very pleased with Fairfax and they have been fantastic partners and they have really delivered with cross promotion and marketing.

“What rings the till on a daily basis is the only mathematics we should be concerned about. Netflix will continue to invest in its own programming and we will have our first local programming in October/November and another drama at Easter next year. We are commissioning new locally produced shows every three months. The difference between Stan and the competitors is Stan will have a much more Australian tone to it. There is an economic value coming back to Nine through Stan advertising with us and joint commissions of programming where appropriate.

This is the space to watch and it will cause us a lot of sleepless nights in free to air until we get a good understanding of it.

“Pay TV and FTA are same same but very different. The appetite is the same for certain shows with news, current affairs and sport the backbone, but there will be no interest in that from streaming services.”

News and current affairs

“There is no better content than news and current affairs. Sports are very expensive and they go up 40-50% and we buy them because we have to. You’re in trouble if you don’t have them. In this country we are far beyond our competitors in doing a good job in news and current affairs. We have about 1,200 full-time staff and about 900 of them work in news and current affairs. It is the backbone of our organisation. We will continue to put a lot of investment in.

“We will be even more committed to news and current affairs in two years than we are now. We said strategically five years ago we wanted to be #1 and we are there. We are proud to be there but not complacent about it.

Gyngell said he wouldn’t be surprised if Seven was thinking about bringing back Today Tonight. “ACA has had an amazing year and is the one growth story of network television. At the same time Home and Away generates Seven $35m a year worth of overseas sales. It is an iconic program in Australian culture.”

Gyngell said he thought the team at Seven would be looking at reviving the Home and Away story lines before they thought about moving it. He noted the move of Neighbours to ELEVEN and the circa 200,000 viewers it now has.

“The newsroom will be pushing for Today Tonight, but I think Tim [Worner] will take some budging on that one.”

Night cricket and four-day tests

The third test between Australia and New Zealand in Adelaide later this year will start at 2pm daily, with stumps around 9pm or later. “It will be huge. It depends on how the ball will work. New Zealand has been very supportive. India doesn’t let you have the DRS [decision review system] so I’m not sure if they will let you have night cricket. We will be pushing hard because we think it is the right thing. Australia and England are the two places that still love test cricket. There could be thoughts around four-day cricket in the future. The modernisation of test cricket should be four days rather than five. Out of 25 days of Ashes test cricket, we got 16 full days. Four-day tests are now more logical. We sell ads for four days, we don’t sell five days.

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