L-R: Sky's John Fellet, Mediaworks' Michael Anderson and TVNZ's Kevin Kenrick in a rare united front (supplied)

Sky, Mediaworks and TVNZ unite to try and save television

For the greater good of television, three industry heavyweights put their differences aside for the launch of research and advocacy group ThinkTV in New Zealand. Jihee Junn tags along to see what the fuss is all about.

It’s not every day you have the heads of New Zealand’s three biggest TV providers on stage at the same time, let alone singing along to the same tune.

“We do get together, but normally it’s over a lawsuit,” says John Fellet, Sky TV’s outgoing CEO to a crowd of chuckles at Auckland’s Q Theatre. Sitting alongside him are TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick and Mediaworks CEO Michael Anderson who’ve all gathered for the launch of ThinkTV – an industry group designed to help the advertising and marketing community get the most out of commercial television.

Joining forces is quite the contrast to the bidding wars and tit-for-tat over ratings that usually separate the three founding members of ThinkTV New Zealand. But the rare united front of free-to-air and subscription TV is all in the name of saving the medium they operate in. Because television, they say, has been the victim of frequent bouts of misinformation and untruths, particularly by the “digerati police” in the early days of online video, according to ThinkTV Australia CEO Kim Portrate.

ThinkTV launch event at Q Theatre hosted by TVNZ’s Pippa Wetzell and Three’s Samantha Hayes. (Photo: Jihee Junn)

“TV was being portrayed as the enemy of growth by internet fundamentalists [and] positive news about TV was being portrayed as being against digital,” she says. “But the elephant in the room is that we’re all digital businesses. [TV is now] a blend of broadcast and its beautiful babies,” referring to the multiplatform nature of today’s networks, and that support for one (traditional TV) isn’t a dismissal of the other (online).

ThinkTV launched in Australia in 2016 and its success has encouraged it to make the jump across the Tasman. MediaWorks’ chief commercial officer Glen Kyne will be the inaugural chairman of ThinkTV New Zealand with the role rotating between representatives of each major network annually. Industry bodies Nielsen and the Communications Council will also assist in ThinkTV’s operation.

“ThinkTV allows the industry to speak as one,” says TVNZ’s Kenrick. “In today’s world of multiplatform TV, we have more to offer advertisers than ever before, whether that’s building brands, shifting perceptions or driving business sales.”

(screenshot: thinktv.co.nz)

In light of issues over Facebook data and YouTube algorithms, the brand safe nature of TV was oft repeated by Portrate and the three CEOs. TV, they say, is the ultimate “brand-building machine”. The more premium level of content the medium dictates was also emphasised, with Portrate saying that other than the Discovery channel, you’d be hard-pressed to find TV littered with mindless cat videos (although TVNZ’s highly popular Dogs That Make You Laugh Out Loud would probably beg to differ).

ThinkTV also made the point that just because people spend a lot of time on a platform, that doesn’t mean they’re paying attention to the ads. In Australia, it used machine learning and eye-tracking software for a study that showed that TV advertising had higher viewability and reach rates than Facebook or YouTube. With the launch of ThinkTV now in New Zealand, it’s the sort of research – if conducted locally – that might very well help television build up a more convincing case that it still deserves a place in marketers’ budgets.

ThinkTV Australia CEO Kim Portrate in front of a highly accurate representation of young people today (photo: Jihee Junn)

Perception is powerful – often more so than facts – and Sky TV, TVNZ and Mediaworks are all starting to realise that they need get serious about changing the conversation, ditching in recent years the more dismissive and aloof attitude they’ve deployed in the past. “The era of anytime, anywhere TV is here,” says Portrate. Except for many of us, it’s already been here for a long time – traditional TV is just rushing to catch up.

Will it change public opinion that millennials are leaving traditional TV in droves? Surely not (and there’s good reason to be sceptical). Will it save Sky TV from the doubters after losing the rights to the Rugby World Cup? Also highly unlikely, but it might help.

ThinkTV is striving to be the industry’s voice of authority and provide a solution to the fragmentation and confusion that exists about TV’s effectiveness. The advertising industry has a lot to contend with: digital ad fraud, shrinking client budgets, lack of transparency, and social media flux, to name but a few. There’s a lot to weigh up for marketers today – deciding whether TV’s still worthwhile is all part of the juggling exercise.


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This content, like all television coverage we do at The Spinoff, is brought to you thanks to the excellent folk at Lightbox. Do us and yourself a favour by clicking here to start a FREE 30 day trial of this truly wonderful service.

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