Data and tech take the front row at Nine's upfront

Nothing to start a riot... and nothing to stop a riot. But for funnel-focused marketers an uneventful presentation promises little investment risk in 2022

Welcome to Unmade, written at my desk at Sisters Beach, Tasmania, on Wednesday evening, after the end of Nine’s virtual upfronts.

Happy Ask an Atheist Day.

In the end, I resisted the temptation to crack open the Four Pillars gin in Nine’s viewing pack before writing this. But the salted macadamia chocolate didn’t stand a chance.

As an introvert, the ability to do the upfronts from my desk for two years in a row has been the main silver lining of Covid. For Nine it meant more than 5,000 viewers rather than the usual thousand or so in person.

Since the last upfronts, Nine has had a change of management. Hugh Marks moved on as CEO and was replaced by Mike Sneesby earlier this year.

But although he did the opening welcome, it was not really Sneesby’s show. That belonged to chief sales officer Michael Stephenson and his team.

Upfronts are all about persuading advertisers and media agencies to go on spending their money, and the sales teams are the ones who hold all those client relationships. Sneesby, who came to the top seat via the successful launch of subscription streaming platform Stan is still new to that side of the business.

So let’s get to my main impressions from Nine Upfront 2022, to give the event the name the company chose. (Just as the networks are unable to agree whether their shows have grand finals or grand finales, they can’t agree whether they have upfronts or an upfront.)

It wasn’t particularly exciting. But maybe that was the point.

The ultimate target audience of the upfronts are the chief marketing officers from big brands, who each put tens of millions of dollars Nine’s way. They don’t want exciting. They want to know their budgets are being spent wisely.

Like they used to say: Nobody gets fired for buying IBM.

So the announcement given the most airtime was Nine’s agreement with Salesforce. Along with last year’s similar agreement with Adobe, Nine says this will allow marketers to use their data to match it to Nine’s logged in streaming audience.

In a world where third party cookies will soon disappear, this matters. But it also sends a wider signal about Nine’s direction of travel. In the marketing world of Les Binet and Peter Field’s The Long and the Short of It, television will always be the brand building, top-of-the-funnnel long of it. But Nine is attempting to lay claim to the rest of the funnel too.

Almost as unsexy, and just as significant as the Salesforce deal, was the continued march of Nine’s buying platform Galaxy. It will now allow the automation of booking ads across all inventory outside of main channel prime time. That includes streaming content on Nine Now, and the broadcast channels.

Although the ads are now available to be booked on a CPM basis (which potentially means the end of makegoods), Nine has not invited the vampire of programmatic across the doorstep to drive down prices. Those CPMs will still need to be negotiated by humans.

The detente between Nine and Bruce Gordon’s WIN Corporation is also complete. Five years ago, WIN sued Nine to try to stop it streaming its content in the regions claiming it had the rights as affiliate. Nine won “the great geoblock of Wollongong” court case.

Gordon later switched affiliations to Ten only to return as Nine’s affiliate earlier this year. He’s now Nine’s biggest shareholder. And the upfronts presentation made much of the fact that Nine and WIN’s sales teams are now integrated.

It was what Seven West Media CEO James Warburton was trying to do nearly two years ago when he failed in his attempt to fold affiliate Prime into Seven.

The emphasis on streaming also signals an accelerating trend. The rise of ad-supported video on demand was long anticipated. But the networks have been taken by surprise how quickly live streaming of the broadcast channels has become a thing. It’s a bandwidth nightmare for broadband providers, but many broadcast viewers aren’t bothering to connect to the TV aerial any more, even in the lounge room.

It made the programming announcements almost an afterthought, not least because there were no big announcements. There were no major new franchises announced. Instead the return of the existing tentpoles.

The Block, with a tree change twist. Underbelly, with a rapid telling of the Melissa Caddick story. More Married At First Sight, Beaty and the Geek, Love Island, Celebrity Apprentice and Lego Masters.

There are hints that new show Parental Guidance - a reality show about clashing parenting styles - may be as confronting as MAFS. If there’s any controversy in the lineup, that’s probably where it will come from.

Sport is a known quantity - even more tennis, with all the grand slams. and NRL. Perhaps, given the fact that the next round of NRL rights is being negotiated, Nine was slightly more circumspect about NRL than usual. There’s no guarantee it will retain all the rights, if the main season, finals and State of Origin are indeed split.

It was also interesting to see Nine signalling that it intends to give viewers slightly more in the dead end-of-the year period when the networks typically knock off for summer. There’s be a Christmas special of Lego Masters, and Love Island.

And those Christmas viewers may matter more than usual this year. We’re three-quarters of the way through the ratings year, and it’s still all in play. For the full year, it could go to the final days.

In the key advertiser demographic of 25-54, Nine is fractionally behind Seven if the Olympics week are counted, and well ahead without them. Seven has a good chance chance of winning back total people. And Ten has no chance of winning its preferred demo of under-50s.

Nine has now set the upfronts agenda. We have a wait for a month or so until the turn of Ten and Seven. It will be hard for either of them to top the data and technology offering of Nine. I wonder whether there will be a blockbuster content announcement. If Seven is going to exercise its option for the Paris 2024 Olympics, this would be the time.

I’ll be watching from my desk with interest…

Letters: Apple’s podcast hint, and picture perfect

In yesterday’s Unmade, I looked at the shortcomings of podcast audience data.

Unmade - by Tim Burrowes
Finally, some Australian data on podcasts - but beware of what counts as a 'listener'
Welcome to Unmade, mostly written on a chilly Tuesday evening at Sisters Beach, Tasmania, and polished off on a frosty Wednesday morning. There were more whales off the beach yesterday, apparently. Truth be told, I stood on the deck with my binoculars for a few minutes without spotting anything, then gave up and went back to my desk…
Read more

Audio industry expert James Cridland was among those to get in touch with some useful additional information:

Hi, Tim,

Fun to read about podcast stats.

I wrote a long article about podcast stats here: which shows what Apple report. They absolutely do report lots of numbers - just not to anyone other than the podcast publisher.

The IAB's data with regard to Apple vs non-Apple is US-only, a caveat that is both massively important and also entirely absent from the v2.1 document. It also fails to clarify that Apple Podcasts and "a listen on an Apple iPhone" are different. Apple Podcasts doesn't have a majority of listeners. It might not even have a majority of listening.

You wonder how many podcasts are downloaded but never listened-to: I can tell you. 11%. We know this because Apple Podcasts had a bug a few months ago that messed up auto-downloads, and led to a 27% (according to the hosts we talked to) or a 31% (according to Podtrac) drop in downloads. And, given Apple's global share which is about 40%, we can work out what effect that has on the whole industry. 11% of podcasts are never listened to.

Most apps don't auto-download by default: not Spotify (generally acknowledged to be the #1 in this space globally), nor Google Podcasts, the #3 app. And Apple Podcasts stops auto-downloading after you don't listen to three shows anyway.

James Cridland - Podnews

And Michael Blumberg (not the ex Mayor of New York) risks opening Pandora’s Box…

Hi Tim,

Really enjoying your new inspired daily chat, so thanks for your efforts.

Everyday I have the same thought though… and usually with things like this I’m not unique or alone.

I wonder what it’s like over there? Yesterday I googled Sisters Beach - how beautiful, and I’m sure quite dramatic irrespective of the weather condition - (as Tassie has a way of showing off all its colours.)

How about a daily pic to satisfy our curiosity?

Just a thought - maybe you don’t want us to visit!


Michael Blumberg

Thanks for the very kind words, Michael. Tempted as I am by the daily picture idea, I feel it might look a little smug to do it too often. I did, however, pop out at lunchtime to discover that it was a good day for beach cats, so just this once…

If you’re interested in more on how Nine got here, I recommend (although I might be a tad biased) my book Media Unmade. It covers the story of how David Gyngell rescued Nine from the doldrums, before Hugh Marks turned it into the biggest locally based media company, and the rise of Mike Sneesby.

And I’ll also be chatting about the upfronts on the next edition of the Mumbrellacast, which is released this afternoon.

Meanwhile, by the time you receive this, I’ll be on the road to Launceston Airport. Tonight I have the privilege of MCing the AADC Awards in Adelaide. Quarantine-free interstate travel is a novelty I’ve missed, although I must admit I’ll be slightly nervous of finding myself the wrong side of a snap border closure until I’m safely back on the island on Saturday morning. My flight details have changed four times so far, so life could be interesting.

In the meantime, have an excellent Thursday.


Tim Burrowes

Proprietor - Unmade