Tim Worner on News Corp, new food channel, doubling digital audience

“We aim to be the best and we think we’ve got the content.”

Seven CEO Tim Worner spoke with Mediaweek’s James Manning on Your Money on Friday after the Seven West Media Allfronts event. Here are some of the highlights.

Is your partnership with News Corp in automotive a response to the Nine and Fairfax merger?

I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily a response to what else is going on with “frenemies”. I couldn’t say that it would have happened if that hadn’t occurred and you know what, it doesn’t really matter. What I do know is that the coming together of those two offerings in that automotive space is really compelling.

Is this any sort of test case to other things you could possibly do with News Corp in the future?

I wouldn’t say it’s an experiment or anything like that because I don’t think it’s going to fail. I think it is a compelling offering and we see it working. The nature of media in 2018 is that we’re all frenemies, we’re all talking with one another all the time. We have a very successful joint franchise with Nine in the facility space. We’ll see more commercial tie-ups. Whether or not we see more corporate transactions, I don’t know.

You seem very confident of being able to double your online audience in two years.

Our digital publishing business is already reaching about five million online Australians. We’ve seen what’s happened once we got our 7plus back from the Seven joint venture. We’ve had huge audience growth there as we’ve been able to take control of the curation of that content and the marketing of that content. We expect the same thing to happen when we get Seven news and short-form content back. In Q1 next year, we’ll be launching our online news offering and we expect to see similar audience growth and if we can pull that off it will mean that we’ll double that digital audience in the next two years. That’s the target that team has set for itself and I’m really happy to say that I didn’t drive them to that target. They’ve set that target themselves and they’re very confident they’re going get there.

You’ve also said Seven West Media is the biggest content creator. Nine last week claimed to be spending close to $1b on content. How do you measure your spend?

What I know is we have more than a thousand hours of content we’ve produced in the last financial year. That’s not just here – we have a few studios in Sydney and studios in Melbourne. We also have studios in Auckland, London and Los Angeles. That’s a thousand hours and that content has been sold into 109 territories. It is a big part of what we do – in fact it’s about a quarter of our earnings now, the Seven Studios business.

You have so far resisted two series of your biggest hit My Kitchen Rules in one year. Why now?

We feel as though the time is right to do it. It’s the 10th anniversary of the show and the audience here this morning has a great appreciation of why Australia has come to love this show. Not just Australia – actually it’s now been loved around the world. It started in Israel this week. Series one, week one, stellar ratings. It is something that we thought about doing before. We feel as though the 10th anniversary gives us the peg that we need and we’ve got a great idea for what we’re going do with that event series in the last quarter of 2019.

You have some bold drama plans for 2019.

We feel Australian drama is still exceptionally viable. It’s a strong suite for Seven, always has been. In fact Blue Heelers is doing exceptionally well on demand at the moment. The thing about drama is, it’s got a long tail. So, as an investment it actually keeps delivering over time and that’s one of the reasons we’ve doubled down on it for 2019. Quite apart from that, it was the quality of the ideas that we’re getting, including one from Bevan Lee whose track record is second to none.

Are you concerned you are late to market with Australia’s fourth food channel?

We aim to be the best and we think we’ve got the content. We’re producing a lot of our own food content. We’re going to use that on Seven Food Network. We see a huge opportunity there. The new channel gives us a great opportunity to go to our partners and integrate their messages into our content and that’s why we’re heading in that direction.

Will your cricket coverage make a big difference to your year-on-year comparisons?

We are looking forward to December very much and we’re looking forward to looking on our year-on-year performance for December. Traditionally it’s been a tough month for Seven but this year that’s not going be the case. I really do feel as though there is extraordinary curiosity from viewers about the Australian cricket team. How are they going to go? Many advertisers have bought into our cricket packages very, very strongly.

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