Let’s go beyond the debate over which BVOD platform gets the most streaming eyeballs and minutes. The big story is how on-demand content is changing the way consumers get their video entertainment. And how broadcasters respond to changing viewing patterns. Seven admits it started behind its competitors when it comes to offering a BVOD service. Seven focused more on being the #1 network for many years, putting development of its BVOD offering 7plus lower down the priority list.
It has played catchup quickly and has fast-tracked that with the arrival of Gereurd Roberts as chief digital officer. He has been fine-tuning the BVOD strategy alongside programmer and director of scheduling Brook Hall.
With Seven close to starting its 2021 primetime programming as the Big Bash League comes to a climax, Hall told Mediaweek: “While 7plus has been a complimentary offering to the broadcast channels, we are very proud about having built a unique eco-system that can stand on its own. Broadcast and digital now works hand-in-hand rather than individual pillars which was a mistake.
“One big thing that has changed is our use of external production companies rather than being inward focused.”
Hall noted Seven’s batting average with the change of production strategy. “We have succeeded with three out of three since we have gone external with Farmer Wants a Wife, Big Brother and SAS Australia. Something that often gets overlooked with broadcast hits is how successful they are also on 7plus. These are the three biggest shows ever on 7plus and they all have over a quarter of a million viewers for every episode.”
The 7plus audience doesn’t consume only content that been on the FTA channels: “While we now have a strong slate of broadcast powerhouses, 50% of the viewership on 7plus is of non-broadcast programming,” said Hall.
Roberts added: “We know our content strategy is now right to grow the audience. Through last year, even without the Tokyo Olympics, the audience doubled. With great content we had to ensure people knew about it. We make it easily discoverable and the distribution is solid. Making sure we had broad reach across the most popular platforms and devices was a key focus.”
Roberts explained most of the consumption happens on connected TVs. “We were pleased to be #1 in audience and we are also now #1 in revenue. The focus was around the launch of 7REDiQ which was about understanding the digital consumers and their online and offline behaviour. Not only for the benefit of clients and advertisers, but to the benefit of the internal [Seven] teams who use that data to create better products.
“The focus this year is not only continuing the growth we saw 2020, but accelerating that all the way through to the Olympics where we feel like it is going to reach another level again.”
Hall said about two thirds of 7plus viewing is VOD and about one third is live streaming. Those numbers fluctuate for certain events – for example the live streaming spiked on the day of Joe Biden’s inauguration last week. “They also spike for our evening news and other one-offs like next month’s Super Bowl or the forthcoming Academy Awards.”
Of the 7plus on-demand content, viewing is split 50/50 between catch-up viewing and content that hasn’t been screened on any of Seven’s channels.
Roberts: “We have done a lot of work to try and eliminate the word ‘catchup’. One of the interesting things we have found is that the consumers who use 7plus aren’t doing it to catch-up. Many of them use it as their primary viewing platform.”
For 2021, Seven will be returning its new 2020 hits which will also loom large on 7plus in addition to the arrival at the broadcaster of The Voice. “It’s a proven success on broadcast and BVOD,” said Hall of the franchise moving across from a competitor. “It was one of Nine’s biggest BVOD shows last year. We are also looking forward to Ultimate Tag and Holey Moley. You will see more exclusive programming dropped on the platform than we have had in its entire history to date.
“That content will feature a range of local and international acquisitions, leveraging our relationships with major US studios plus local production companies and distributors.”
How 7plus is accessed is part of the reason for a different audience profile to Seven’s FTA viewer.
“Three-quarters of our audience on 7plus is under 55,” said Hall. “We are not a mirror of the Seven profile. A lot of other services are.”
7plus exclusive hits
Hall: “We have three or four audience segments. Up until two thirds through 2020, 7plus was very female. The most popular shows included Ghost Whisperer and Brothers and Sisters.
“When we launched SAS Australia we saw a lot of males hit the platform. We worked on leveraging that and it was an area where we weren’t perhaps performing as well as we should have. We almost saw our male profile morph overnight and we were suddenly leading the male demographics. Something we achieved without either the AFL or the cricket on 7plus. That male audience also watched things like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and we also acquired SAS UK. That has been one of the strongest performers for us over summer.”
Roberts: “Now we have content available on all platforms we want to make the experience is as good as it possibly can be. We are focused on creating a personalised user experience which means working on the design of the interface all the way through to content recommendations. Things that will be unique to every consumer.”
Hall: “From a sales perspective the focus will be doubling down on EAVE – enhanced advertiser and viewer experience – which we launched last year for broadcast and digital. But it’s not a product, it’s a mission, something we want to be able to deliver to clients.
“For viewers it means reduced ad loads for binge viewing and more personalised ad experiences.”
With renewed assurances late last week from Japan that the Tokyo Games will proceed this year, Roberts said they expect the event to be massive with a record number of minutes to be streamed. Hall noted Seven surpassed its internal target for 7plus in 2020 even without the Olympics, giving it some confidence about blowing the previous year’s numbers out of the water this year too.
Seven’s Olympic partners are being promised a special experience.
Hall: “Seven had become a lot better at linking advertisers and a product across all the different platforms that it is being consumed on.”
Offering the Olympics for free to viewers will be a big plus said Roberts: “We are big believers in free, as are our viewers and our advertisers. Research indicates that a majority of consumers still prefer first and foremost a free product and they are happy for it to be ad-supported.
“There is a BVOD ad market that, despite the challenges of 2020, is still growing at more than 40% YOY.”
Although free is good, Hall and Roberts understand you still need to have the best content. “First and foremost people make content-based decisions,” said Roberts.