Nine targets Facebook, YouTube as it fires starting gun on Olympics decade

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Nine Entertainment is banking on its recently inked Olympics deal to springboard a unified digital and sales proposition to the nation’s most powerful advertisers.

The company, which owns this masthead, held an event on Wednesday at Sydney’s Moore Park to kick off “Upfronts” season, an eight-week stretch where media companies pitch programming to advertisers for the year ahead.

Nine chief digital officer Alex Parsons, chief data officer Suzie Cardwell, chief information and technology officer Memo Hayek and chief product officer Rebecca Haagsma.Credit: Dominic Lorrimer

While linear broadcasting is no longer the powerhouse it once was, it still gives the major networks a powerful opportunity to grab the attention of the market’s biggest advertisers, according to Kristiaan Kroon, chief investment officer for Omnicom Media Group, which controls over $2.5 billion in ad spend.

Nine’s chief digital officer, Alex Parsons, said the Upfronts were “more than just a sales event”, and instead allowed the network to showcase its whole proposition to all of its stakeholders.

Nine’s merger with Fairfax Media in 2018 created Australia’s largest media company, now housing Nine Network, broadcast video-on-demand platform 9Now, publishing assets (including this masthead), radio assets, premium streaming platform Stan, and a 60 per cent stake in Domain.

The company’s main push this year is to maximise the opportunities from its $315 million, decade-long Olympic Games broadcast rights deal, starting with Paris 2024 and ending with Brisbane 2032.

Nine will also bring Australia its own version of Jeopardy!, hosted by British comedian, actor and writer Stephen Fry, filmed in a production hub in Manchester, with Australian expats living in the UK as contestants. It’s one of several new shows, alongside a yet-to-be-announced Tracy Grimshaw project, and returning favourites such as The Block and Married at First Sight.

“There’s no point in having Australia’s best content if you can’t consume it, or the consumption experience is rubbish,” Parsons, who has spent the past 12 months redesigning his digital team, said.

He has made three key hires to do so, Rebecca Haagsma as chief digital officer, joining from Telstra, Memo Hayek joining as chief information and technology officer from Commonwealth Bank, and chief data officer, Suzie Cardwell, joining from News Corp.

Cardwell joined eight weeks ago, her primary priority creating a data lake across all of Nine’s assets to create a seamless user experience, and a slick buying proposition for Nine’s customers.

Parsons added the company is looking beyond its local network rivals with its ongoing digital evolution and instead aiming to take the fight up to the likes of YouTube and Facebook.

The technology behind the content, he said, is equally important to get what Nine produces in front of consumers and advertisers in the best and the most efficient way possible.

Meanwhile, Hayek and Haagsma said the work done so far by Parsons and his team offers Nine a way to take collaborative work to the next level.

“We have a massive opportunity with this consolidation now to think about our technology a little bit differently,” said Hayek.

“What we’ve done historically is, lots of great people doing great work, but now we have this consolidation of product thinking by each business strategy and by consumer type, brought together in a real centre of excellence,” Haagsma added.

Haagsma said that the “gift” Olympics deal had acted as a starting gun to bring together Nine’s assets more succinctly, addressing how consumers interact with, and consume, content. “We’re all about how do we distribute where consumers want to pick it up, anywhere, anytime.”

Parsons said the Brisbane 2032 Games would be “the biggest thing Australia has ever consumed technologically”.

Nine on Wednesday also announced a new self-serving ad tech platform, allowing small- and medium-size businesses (SMBs) the chance to buy targeted advertising spots on its 9Now service, with Artificial Intelligence powering a creative tool to produce each spot “in under a minute”.

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