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BOTW: Slow TV, FAST channels and fast news
Welcome to Best of the Week, written on board QF11 to Los Angeles. Admittedly, I was supposed to be on QF35 to New York, but when it comes to Qantas, arriving on the correct continent is prize enough.
Today: Nine finally gets into FAST channels; MI-3 turns on the AI tap; Foxtel knows how to tell a story.
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It was another busy week on the Sydney media circuit, the last big one of Upfronts season.
As we wrote earlier in the week, Ooh Media took over the Calyx in Botanical Gardens on Tuesday morning to talk about premium audiences, Sydney commuters and retail media.
The same day, Paramount invited a conveyor belt of advertisers and agency guests into its headquarters to hear about the company’s journey away from the linear world.
And on Wednesday night, I went to the launch party for a new TV channel. I have a hunch it may be one of the last occasions that occurs. There will be too many FAST channels to get excited about any individual launch.
It took 18 years, but the (until now ironically named) youth brand Pedestrian.TV - which started life distributed via DVD - is finally on television.
This week’s launch saw the Pedestrian channel become Nine’s first venture into FAST channel programming. FAST, or free ad-supported television, is distinguished by taking a channel-led approach, streaming an already curated schedule as opposed which viewers dip in and out of rather than the lean-forward of catchup streaming.
Compared to Paramount and Seven, Nine has been relatively slow into genre (but just wait til the Olympics).
The Pedestrian party was on brand - on the roof deck of the down-at-heel Hollywood Hotel in Surry Hills while guests drank tinnies and ate (incredible) fried chicken from the tiny cafe across the road.
Despite knowing it wasn’t live, and being aware that Pedestrian had in truth been streaming for a few hours, my heartbeat still elevated when the launch countdown reel came on screen. TV is still kind of magic.
Not all brand extensions make strategic sense, but Pedestrian as a TV channel does. It gives its sales team the opportunity to have conversations with clients about bigger budgets and more ambitious projects. The launch partner for the channel is BWS.
Since being bought by Nine in 2015, the Pedestrian brand has done quite well, and found strength in a wider group including Refinery29, Vice and The Chainsaw. Wisely, Nine has resisted the temptation to bring the Pedestrian team inside its North Sydney obelisk. But there are still benefits of having a big brother. It’s the Nine Now infrastructure that gives Pedestrian access into the FAST environment.
That’s a contrast to what used to be Pedestrian’s main rival Junkee Media which was bought by Ooh Media in 2016 but has since struggled under the ownership of RACAT Group.
And on Thursday night, came a boat trip across to Cockatoo Island for the Foxtel Upfronts. I sat on the open top deck chatting to a News Corp bigwig for the 15-minute trip as the mist became drizzle and then rain, while we stubbornly refused to lose face by retreating below deck to shelter.
The rain drumming on the roof of the giant Turbine Hall added atmosphere for the captive audience as Foxtel told its Upfronts story.
It’s an obvious observation once you, erm, observe it, but finding an underlying story is key to a successful Upfronts presentation. Nine ran it close, but Foxtel’s script, structure and story was the best of the season. The undeclared but obvious theme was hard truths.
Opening with a welcome from nine relatively junior staff (“the kids” as Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany put it later) each doing a couple of lines, it was show of two halves. The first focused on the trading, the second on product.
Delaney was bluntly honest - performatively so - about the disruption and decline facing the TV world alongside the escalating costs of sports rights.
It landed well. As one media executive observed to me afterwards, it made a pleasant change from the usual on-stage declarations of optimism that nobody really believes, followed by more honest admissions in the bar later on.
I wrote yesterday about Foxtel’s decision to split up with the TV establishment over the question of audience currency, so I won’t retread that here. It was a big move, and a well kept secret. On another day, the risky choice of venue in bad weather would have dominated the conversation afterwards. But on Thursday night, Foxtel had done enough to set the agenda for the conversation.
Meanwhile, we didn’t learn much more about the specifics of Foxtel’s plans to be a consolidator. Just a name. No longer Project Magneto, the product will be called Hubbl. We already knew there’d be a tie-in with Sky in the UK and Comcast around the Glass hardware.
To the casual observer, it sounds a little like Foxtel has belatedly invented Fetch. Which certainly gives Telstra two horses in the consolidation race, owning a stake in both.
Running media companies is hard, and even those run by smart people don’t always win. Look at the ongoing wipeout on the Unmade Index, which fell back under 600 points this week, signifying a 40% loss of value in the sector in less than two years. That’s a lot of destroyed shareholder value.
What gave reason for optimism though was the common thread running through the four events I’ve been talking about. What each had at its heart was a media company fundamentally unmaking, and remaking, what it’s doing. Unmade media indeed.
MI-3 and humanness
Speaking of FAST, our competitors at MI-3 coined a new phrase this week: Fast News.
They revealed on the MI3 podcast that their plan is to use generative AI to rewrite press releases and turn them into news stories.
Beginning on November 1, it’s going to be a fascinating experiment to watch, and a logical extension of a process that has been under way for a number of years.
A decade or more ago, when I was at the helm of Mumbrella, the thought occurred: Most press releases we received were going untouched. Many of them deserved to stay that way, particularly if you accept that the definition of news is something that somebody, somewhere doesn’t want you to read. That’s not press releases.
However, there was a form of press release that contained a new fact a reader might be interested in knowing: the new boss of an agency; an account win; the release of new marketing campaign and so on.
I created a new section, called FYI. It was for the sort of one-fact story that might be of passing interest to the reader, but would not otherwise make it to the top of the news list for a journalist to build up into a properly researched article.
The format was simple. A junior journalist would write a headline, and a line explaining what the piece was about. Then we’d publish the full press release, which we’d coyly describe as “the announcement”. We’d also include any supplied image. At the end, we’d state the source. We’d then publish links to all these FYIs somewhere at the bottom of the daily news email.
That FYI section served a number of purposes.
For the reader, it was occasionally useful.
For the PR executive involved in writing the release, they could tell their boss they’d successfully had an article published in Mumbrella, and show them the link. In turn that was good four our industry relationships.
Back then it made for good SEO, particularly if we were first to post it. It was never a game changing source of traffic, but over time, that archive of FYIs had a long tail effect.
And it became an occasionally useful reference tool - for example, when the agency executive being trumpeted in the release had quietly exited a few months later and we were trying to piece together what happened.
I also liked the transparency of the process. It felt more honest than a news article based entirely on a press release with no new facts or context added.
The Australian media and marketing trade press is a bizarrely crowded industry, admittedly a situation I’ve exacerbated more than most. You’ve got the heritage titles of Ad News, B&T, Media Week and Mumbrella alongside the newer arrivals of MI-3 and now Unmade. It’s harder to kill a media brand than it is to launch one, so the number keep growing.
But while there have never been more trade press titles, there’s never been less original journalism. It’s not uncommon to see versions of the same news article, all based on a press release, leading the four legacy sites.
Now it looks like MI-3 wants to join that party, but use AI rather than journalists to rewrite the article before an editor signs it off. This week MI-3 described that type of content as “transactional news”.
There’s nothing wrong with that in theory. Using generative AI to do the work of a junior will deliver an equivalent or maybe even better piece of writing, and more cheaply. MI-3 reckons they can turn press releases into news stories at a rate of 10-15 per hour.
While that sounds like a nice content farm for traffic, in a 2012 sort of way, I do wonder whether there’s a genuine appetite from readers to look at 10-15 robot-rewritten press releases remixed as news.
But let’s pursue the logic. There are very few barriers to implementing that sort of AI tool. If it works, within months, everybody who currently publishes these commoditised press releases / news stories via human journalists will likely do the same. So a human (or maybe a chatbot) will write a press release. They’ll then email it out to all the news outlets on their distribution list. In turn they’ll each feed the press release into their own AI system which will produce five similar one-fact news articles.
They’ll each then publish them and put ads next to them. (That’s the reason for doing this, by the way).
In the northern hemisphere, the IAB has been warning against “Made For Advertising” sites, built to suck in ad revenue via low quality content. I wonder if there will even be humans at the other end to read it.
So why is MI-3 doing it? According to MI-3 proprietor Paul McIntyre, it’s “feeding a fundamental human need to know something”. And who am I to question that incredibly high minded motivation?
As their competitor, I welcome their move. My sense has been that if there is a gap in the market, it’s for independent analytical context that only comes with domain knowledge. MI-3 moved into that space first and is, to give them their due, market leader. They can dilute that with as much Fast News as they want.
Almost as intriguing is the fact that the project has received the endorsement of ThinkNewsBrands, the voice of the news industry which has come on board as sponsor.
Not that I’m anti-AI. It’s an amazing tool. As regular readers will know, we created the TimBot.ai prototype to surface the information contained in my book Media Unmade. But it took a human to gather that information in the first place.
The same subject also came up in Thursday’s The Unmakers interview with Abe Udy, talking about the evolution of the audio industry over the last 25 years. As he puts it, “humanness” combined with AI is what he hopes will be the winning difference.
When everyone else is going fast, it’s time to go slow.
Unmade Index hits new low
Seja Al Zaidi writes:
The Unmade Index hit a new low yesterday. It fell another 0.63% to 568.76 points.
Perth-based The Market Herald had the steepest drop, falling 6.12%, while Domain followed with its 2.26% fall. Enero lost 1.88%, Ooh Media 1.54% and ARN Media 1.62%.
IVE Group had the best day, rising 3.73%. Seven West Media rose 1.89%, and Pureprofile 3.85%.
Campaign of the Week: GWM Ora EV Struts Its Stuff
In each edition of BOTW, our friends at Little Black Book Online highlight their most interesting advertising campaign of the week.
LBB’s ANZ reporter Casey Martin writes:
In the lead up to Melbourne Fashion Week, The Hallway has created a fashion-centric, creative, clear and concise out of home campaign for GWM. The punchy copy showcases the car in its grandeur on a plain white background, much like a high fashion editorial. The witty copy includes the likes of 'supermodel' and 'wear whatever you like, it's not like they are looking at you.'
You may have missed…
On Tuesday, we asked attendees what they thought of SXSW Sydney:
On Wednesday, we covered Ooh Media’s Outfronts and Paramount’s Upfronts:
On Thursday, we shared the story of Abe’s Audio and its 25-year anniversary:
On Friday, we examined Foxtel’s push for a breakaway audience measurement service:
Time to let you get on with your Saturday.
By the time you get this, with luck, I’ll be hunting for a comedy club in Manhattan.
And I’ll be back on Monday with Abe for Start the Week.
Have a great weekend.
Publisher - Unmade