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BOTW: SXSW finds a new home in Sydney; The verdict on Seven; ABC defensiveness
Welcome to Best of the Week, kicked off on Friday afternoon in Sydney CBD, continued early today in the Sydney Airport branch of the Mos Eisley cantina, added to on JQ745 to Launceston, and wrapped up in Evandale. It’s not the best way to focus.
What. A. Week.
Sorry (not sorry): this is going to be a long one.
Even without South By Southwest Sydney, there was a lot going down. ARN Media launched its takeover bid on Southern Cross Austereo. Seven held their Upfronts. Quarterly earnings season got going in the US. And the local advertising industry came together to try to demonstrate its economic worth. And we’ll come to all of that.
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Hold the date, follow the Compass
Tim Burrowes writes:
Before we get into the events of this week, let’s start with the events of next month. We’d like to introduce you to Compass.
We’re planning to wrap up the year with a low key look back on what the industry has just been through, and ahead to what to expect in 2025. Think of it as reflections and projections, if you want a snappy line that rhymes.
Once again, we’ll be doing it over a drink in a pub. And as well as Sydney and Melbourne, this time we’re coming to Brisbane too.
So please pop the dates in your diary. Kicking off each one from 5pm, it will be: In Sydney on Tuesday November 14; in Melbourne on Tuesday November 21; and in Brisbane on Wednesday November 22.
Tickets are now on sale for $195 each. Unmade’s paying members will be entitled to a complimentary ticket; we’ll be publishing the coupon code under the paywall in our next edition of Tuesdata.
Each event will have its own, local panel. My colleague Cat McGinn (email her at email@example.com) is currently curating those speakers. At the Sydney event, we’ll also reveal the winners of our first REmade Retail Media Awards.
All the venues are deliberately small, and will likely sell out. This is about building on the Unmade community. Hopefully you’ll be there.
Value adds and valuing ads
A new fixture on the marketing calendar arrived this week.
The first outing of South By Southwest Sydney was an imperfect affair. But it was successful enough to come back stronger next year.
With SXSW supported to an unprecedented degree by NSW government money, I’m relieved I’m no longer the owner of Mumbrella360. It would be hard to compete. A lot of locally run events - I’m also thinking of the likes of B&T’s Cannes in Cairns and Advertsing Week APAC - will face a considerable challenge for audience, sponsorship dollars and ticket sales.
Even in its first outing, SXSW has generated gravity.
If you’d asked me last Sunday or Monday, I would not have said that. The first two days were lonely. The outdoor Tumbalong Park stage drew almost no visitors and there was little buzz in the sterile corridors of the ICC. The UTS stage felt a little too far away.
But by Tuesday, things began to take off. There were more people around. I came across the first of what were to be a few sessions that had to turn people away.
The content was of mixed quality. The coin-operated sessions - as one attendee labelled them - were too heavy in their salesmanship. Sponsors often need help to save them from themselves. Those paying for the privilege, directly or indirectly, of being on stage struggle to resist the urge to sell rather than tell.
If anybody on stage experienced a tough interview or conducted a hard conversation, I didn’t see it. Many interviews I saw were safe, verging on obsequious.
One industry model of conferences sees most revenue come from the sponsors. Most delegates get their tickets for free, and lower their expectations accordingly. But that makes it hard to sell paid tickets if the content is not good enough. It’ll take a year or two to work out whether SXSW goes down that route or can genuinely deliver content worth paying to see.
In the bigger rooms, the content was curated best. Charlie Brooker, creator of Black Mirror, was really good. So was David Droga.
It is, however, well past time to institute a ban on conference presenters kicking off a session with the words “I asked ChatGPT…” It’s quickly become the lazy conference version of a school kid opening their presentation with the words “The dictionary defines…”
Organisationally, this first SXSW was bumpy. That was to be expected, but it was even bumpier than I anticipated. The program was hard to navigate, and much of the content was announced surprisingly late in the process. Many of the media struggled to collect the passes they’d been issued.
Several sponsors didn’t make the most of the opportunity they’d paid for, this time round. They’ll likely blame themselves for that though, and come back with bigger plans to make more of SXSW next time.
However, it felt like enough of the right people were there. You’d bump into interesting industry characters wandering between every session.
The passmark for SXSW this time around was to do well enough to come back bigger next time. That was easily achieved.
The value of advertising
It was a good week to be thinking about advertising - at its best and worst.
The Monkeys, part of Accenture Song, launched their latest labour of love to mark the 50th anniversary of The Sydney Opera House. Fronted by Tim Minchin and a huge cast, it’s a big musical number in praise of risk taking and creativity. It’s one of the great pieces of work this year. I’m not sure you could even call it advertising.
It was excellent timing for Accenture Song’s global boss - the Australian ad industry’s most successful export David Droga - to be making a home visit.
His was a memorable turn on the main stage.
Fortunately he mostly ignored the brief which was presented as being all about AI. It’s quickly become the settled view (and party line) of the advertising industry, that humans will always do good advertising better than the robots. Droga indeed made that argument too, but was at his most insightful when he drilled deeper into adland.
Advertising should be either “straight or great”, he argued - either straight to-the-point, or awesomely creative. Those working in the “mediocre middle” will be the ones swept away by AI.
He was also candid about the current state of advertising: “Turn on the TV and most of it is garbage”.
Indeed the only moment he was momentarily nonplussed was when his interviewer Sunita Gloster asked him to look forward to the year 2030 when he would be, she informed him, in his mid 60s. You could see him processing whether to argue that he’d in fact be 61.
Speaking of birthdays, the next day saw Droga’s Accenture Song colleague Mark Green, cofounder of The Monkeys and chair of the Advertising Council, on one of the SXSW satellite stages, over at WPP House. (WPP House, it should be noted was in fact a corridor and a car park at the back of the Powerhouse Museum. You have to salute the branding.)
Like the Opera House, Green is celebrating his 50th birthday this weekend.
The session was to launch the industry’s Advertising Pays report. Green spoke alongside Australian Association of Advertisers chair Martin Brown and Media Federation deputy chair Virginia Hyland. Communications minister Michelle Rowland dropped by.
Commissioned from Deloitte, the Advertisng Pays report is an attempt to quantify the economic contribution the advertising industry makes to Australia.
The report calculates that the Australian ad industry employs 153,000 people and has grown twice as fast as the wider labour market over the last decade. There’s a lot more in the report, and on a quieter week, I’ll be returning to the subject.
On Wednesday night, Seven’s Upfronts also took place under the SXSW banner. The network made the best of not having a great deal of new stuff to talk about.
I’ve not been to a Seven Upfronts where less new content was announced. Or indeed to one where Home & Away was more prominently featured.
There was little new drama on the slate. Most of the light entertainment offering consists of returning shows. That’s helpful consistency for marketers but doesn’t create much sizzle.
In a year’s time, the organisation will add the streaming rights to its free to air rights for cricket and AFL. That will be a significant moment, but has also been known for months.
Seven (re)announced the latest iteration of its TV planning tool. Code Seven is now known as Phoenix. Having Home & Away’s Alf Stewart explain it in character and on set was good television.
There were also some coming-soon AI and data bells-and-whistles. Without the opportunity to see it in action, it’s hard to judge the substance of that.
The live show itself was good (and comfortably short), with a couple of big musical moments, but the event was impossible not to compare to what’s already unfolded in Upfronts season. Nine and YouTube both did their Upfronts over at Moore Park, followed by big parties that were still roaring when I left.
Seven’s was a show followed by canapés in a conference centre centre corridor, with everyone kicked out into a desolate Darling Harbour at 9.30pm. As in introvert, that suited me fine, but it wasn’t the demonstration of confidence the networks usually try to project. It felt smaller than its competitor set.
Enero and audio takeovers
It was a big week of ASX shenanigans.
The early reaction to ARN Media’s complicated plot to break up Southern Cross Austereo has been muted. SCA’s market capitalisation has since grown by $40m, while ARN has lost nearly $10m.
And Enero, parent company of agencies including BMF, slipped back a little this week after CEO Brent Scrimshaw told the company AGM that sentiment around the communications market is yet to improve.
For now, bottom of cycle is all we can hope for.
A disappointing week for the Unmade Index
Seja Al Zaidi writes:
The Unmade Index ended the week with a 0.54% drop down to 611.9 points.
Enero Group lost 3.44%, Pureprofile 3.57% and Ooh Media 2.07%. Seven West Media fell again, down 1.67% and Nine dropped 0.75%.
ARN Media rose 1.84%, Southern Cross Austereo 0.56% and Domain 0.53%. Out of home minnow Motio lifted 11.54%.
The ABC comms team? Supercilious? Surely not
Tim Burrowes resumes:
It was not a good few days for the ABC.
This week, a judge accused its communications team of being defensive and supercilious. It came as part of the judgment on the ABC’s’s defamation loss to former solder Heston Russell
In many, accountable public organisations, that sort of observation would give serious pause. Perhaps less so in a culture where supercilious and defensiveness has indeed crept in after years of being beaten up by politicians and News Corp.
It brought to mind an exchange I had with the ABC’s head of communications earlier this year.
I’d written about ABC Radio National’s poor numbers in our coverage of the latest set of radio ratings. I had not gone to the ABC for comment at the time - when analysing the regular ratings releases, I don’t routinely approach all the broadcasters for comment - the numbers are the numbers. If I’m writing something critical, I might give a courtesy heads-up to communications teams I have a close relationship with, but that did not apply here.
Unmade’s coverage was subsequently picked up by other media (the Daily Mail, if I recall correctly). Afterwards, the ABC published a statement on its website suggesting that using average audience numbers (the main industry currency) for RN “grossly misrepresents its listenership”.
Included in that ABC statement, were some incorrect claims abut the RN’s metro reach - they exaggerated by adding in non metro numbers. When I noticed the facts did not match the claim, I reached out for comment.
That was the reply, above. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it was supercilious.
Meanwhile, the ABC this week missed yet another deadline for joining the Australian Podcast Ranker. It was missing from the September numbers, released this week, despite indicating that it would be there. The ABC now says it hopes its November data will make it for publication in December. We’ll see.
In case you missed it
On Tuesday, we examined how the pollsters and media accurately predicted the outcome of the Voice to Parliament referendum, and why the yes camp ultimately failed:
On Wednesday, we analysed the breaking news of ARN Media’s takeover bid for Southern Cross Austereo:
On Thursday, we shared a session from our retail media conference, REMade:
And on Friday, we assessed Netflix’s intensifying push into advertising:
Time to leave you to your weekend.
We’ll be back tomorrow with a bonus podcast, recorded alongside the team from TV Blackbox reacting to the Seven Upfronts.
Have a great weekend.
Publisher - Unmade