New Nickelodeon GM Ben Cox on growing Australia’s #1 kids brand

Cox joined the company in mid-February 2017 from Foxtel

Ben Cox

It’s three months today since I joined,” Ben Cox, the new GM of Nickelodeon Australia and New Zealand, told Mediaweek early in the conversation. “So I am nearing my 100-day mark.”

Cox joined the kids brand in Australia at a good time, both personally and professionally.

The job will be a good training ground for the new father, who has a one-year-old child. His son is too young for Nickelodeon programs at this stage, Cox said, but he is bracing himself for what’s to come: “I am readying myself for the repetition of shows, that’s for sure.”

Cox joined the company in mid-February 2017 from Foxtel, where he had been working for nearly a decade.

On day one of his new job, Cox jetted up to Brisbane from Sydney for a meeting with Tourism and Events Queensland to go over the details of their partnership for the 2017 Slime Cup.

MORE: Nickelodeon team gets down and dirty for Slime Cup

“As I landed [at Nickelodeon] we’d just finished up with Big Bash League and the partnership we had with them over the summer,” Cox said. “The Big Bash League was looking to attract a family audience, so over the summer we had activations at the games with characters, Nickelodeon games and events on the grounds. We had the Crash The Bash series with them.”

Through this partnership, Nickelodeon reached more than 255,000 people with on the ground activities over the span of nine matches.

Nickelodeon is currently in discussions with Cricket Australia to renew this partnership for the upcoming season of the T20 Big Bash League.

“Watch this space is all I can say at the moment,” Cox said.

Before joining Nickelodeon, Cox was the general manager of content aggregation at Foxtel. In this job he worked on a number of projects directed at children, including the launch of the Nick Play app in 2015. He was also instrumental in the content aggregation process for the launch of the Foxtel Kids app in December 2016.

These experiences, Cox said, had given him some familiarity with Nickelodeon’s operations in Australia and the team working behind it. The brand was established down under in 1995 as a joint venture between Foxtel and MTV Networks Australia.

“I was looking after all the commercial partnerships with our third party channels,” he recalled. “I’d worked with the Nick team for years on their priorities and the direction they were headed in. In 2014, I joined the Nickelodeon board from the Foxtel side. That gave me a good oversight about what their top line was.

“A mix of working closely with the Nick team and working closely with kids and family content certainly helped me in understanding how the market works.”

In April 2017, Nickelodeon recorded a few milestones on television. The main channel ranked #1 in the kids and family marketplace for children aged 5-12. Meanwhile, the brand’s channel for pre-schoolers, Nick Jr., was the #1 channel in the kids and family marketplace with children aged up to four.

Front Row [L-R] – Cassandra Chan, senior manager, retail marketing and licensing ANZ; Yvonne King, director, Haven Global; Claire O’Connor, VP, consumer products and retail marketing APAC; Back Row [L-R] – Ben Cox, VP & GM, Nickelodeon Networks ANZ; Tom Punch, MD, Haven Global; Ben Richardson, SVP & GM, Viacom International Media Networks ANZ

While Cox takes a note of the brand’s successes on TV, he tells Mediaweek that it’s important to speak about Nickelodeon Australia and New Zealand’s activities off the platform as well.

“We certainly don’t measure our success based on just our performance on TV,” Cox said. “The Nickelodeon brand exists quite broadly. We are obviously on platforms like Fetch TV and Foxtel, but equally the brand exists off platform as well.”

The unique audience going to was up 35% year-on-year January to April 2017. Meanwhile, in the same period, the number of unique browsers going to was up by 88% year-on-year.

“The focus for us is to try to build the brand based on where the kids are,” Cox stated. “It is about the reach for us.”

One of the most surprising things for Cox when he took on his current role was realising how many people the brand and its products reach through their various activities including events.

He noted, “The channel reach is often the focus, but if you look off the screen, we are reaching 700,000 kids and families through our on-ground activities like meet and greet and Slime Cup.”

The number of people reached includes the Big Bash events held earlier this year. “But that excludes our theme park partnerships with Wet’n’Wild – where we have the Nickelodeon beach – and Sea World,” Cox pointed out.

Nickelodeon’s ticketed event Paw Patrol Live travelled to Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne in March and April 2017. More than 70,000 people attended. The show will head to New Zealand in September and October this year.

Cox said: “The scale of that alone is huge.

“For us it’s important that we are giving kids a firsthand Nickelodeon experience where they can touch and feel the brand as well as view it on TV.”

Cox replaced Jihee Nam as the GM of Nickelodeon Australia and New Zealand. Mediaweek spoke to Nam a number of times in the four years that she’d been in the job. She often spoke about her digital vision for the brand. Cox credited Nam’s digital background and expertise for leading the kids brand to the success it is currently experiencing in that arena.

“A lot of her advice and guidance was around helping to grow those digital platforms,” he said. “If you have kids then you know that they are increasingly using technology. They are playing games on iPads and are viewing content online whether its long form or short form.”

Cox said his focus would be on growing the Nickelodeon brand in digital as well as its live events.

Talking about who the brand’s biggest competition in Australia is, Cox said: “I wouldn’t necessarily talk specifically about Disney. Kids are leading busier and more complicated lives than they did before. There is a lot competition for their time – YouTube is a big one and other channels like Netflix. There is also competition from the games they are playing.”

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