Television - as we thought we knew it - was set for change anyway, but in Australia media law reform and the first major consolidation to flow from it, have just upped the pace.
Perhaps only allowing them to keep up with the rest of the world.
And it's all about data: The app that enables viewers to vote and respond, and the line at the end of broadcast programmes inviting them to 'visit our website for more information' are all about starting a digital relationship.
Sturdier internet infrastructure - including in Australia the maligned and still inadequate National Broadband Network - create a framework for exploiting it.
And increasingly, newsmedia companies will be in the picture. September sees the start of two News Corp Australia forays into free-to-air TV - complementing its activities in pay-TV, where it is now majority owner of Foxtel - and the planned merger of Fairfax Media into FTA broadcaster Nine Entertainment gives one of the country's one of the two highest-rating television networks access to the data expertise of possibly the country's most data-savvy publisher.
It seems to have been a while coming. Rules dating from 1992 which limited companies to 'two out of three' platforms - of radio, TV and newspapers - and limited TV companies to a "reach" of three-quarters of the Australian population were repealed last September after a good deal of horse-trading including agreement to a $60 million 'jobs and innovation' package for regional and small publishers.
Not soon enough to allow the Murdoch camp - elder son and News Corp and 21st Century Fox executive co-chairman Lachlan, in this case - to acquire and privatise the Ten TV network, snapped up out of administration instead by creditor CBS.
But News Corp Australia had been catching up: A deal that puts live and time-shifted Sky News content onto the regional WIN network of Lachlan Murdoch's former Ten partner Bruce Gordon was announced in May, News having bought out partners Seven West Media and Nine Entertainment in Sky's owners, Australian News Channel at the end of 2016.
A month later in June, News and ANC announced a 50-50 joint venture to create a dedicated 24-hour "business, personal finance and luxury lifestyle" channel called Your Money to be broadcast on Nine digital channel 95 - as well as Foxtel's subscription TV and app-based streaming service - and a dedicated digital platform, details of which "to be announced soon".
A statement said the new channel - which would replace the existing Sky News Business channel on Foxtel - would also contribute content across the joint venture partner platforms and their related parties. Curiously, having talked of "setting the stage for a bold new era in business and finance news and commentary", ANC chief executive and managing editor Angelos Frangopoulos was soon to announce that he would be leaving for a new role with Sky News Arabia.
And then news of the Nine-Fairfax link-up hit: If News had come to terms with working with Nine while it was in partnership with arch-rival Fairfax on subscription video-on-demand provider Stan and other projects, the prospect of Nine actually owning the 177-year-old news media company has clearly been harder to digest.
Immediately after the official position following the Nine/Fairfax announcement of July 26, News said it "will continue (its) talks with Nine on the progress of the joint venture". A fortnight later, ANC and Nine followed up with presenter and senior executive announcements and promised further announcements regarding launch date and programme line-up.
At stake is much more than the carefully-developed market positions - and talent pools - of three (soon to be two) of the country's media giants and fiercest rivals. Critical is the accumulated and acquired consumer data which is key to pitching digital advertising to readers and viewers... and effective competition with technology giants such as Google, Facebook and Amazon. Survival in the advertising market, in fact.
Beyond what each gains from interaction with its own audiences, partnerships with companies which gather large amounts of consumer data as part of their normal business have been highly sought after.
Fairfax, for example, has partnered Ticketek data unit TEG Analytics for more than two years, signing with mobile creative ad-tech company Playground XYZ at the same time. The TEGA 'first' created "one of the largest addressable datasets available to advertisers in Australia", according to Fairfax.
In another alliance, the Fairfax/Nine-owned Apex ad exchange has had access to the passenger data of Qantas' 11.5 million Frequent Flyers via its Red Planet loyalty business for almost as long.
Incidentally, Apex chief executive at the time, Pippa Leary is now Nine's commercial director for digital sales, having returned last year to the company for which she worked prior to a ten-year career with Fairfax.
We'll pass on the question of whether News should have seen the Nine/Fairfax "merger" coming... or CBS on Ten, for that matter. Wishful thinkers, GXpress included, thought a deal between Seven West - which owns print publisher West Australian Newspapers as well as string of consumer magazines - and Fairfax might have been a match more made in heaven, but despite talk about talks for much of this year, those are not always the sort that succeed. As we go to press, Seven West boss Ryan Stokes continues to protest lack of interest, but we'd guess this position could change if regulators intercede... or before. Stokes' comment (on the Nine/Fairfax merger) that media deals "were not a priority" for his shareholders lacked the clarity we like.
And so to the nub of this: data - and the matching of advertisers to potential and often qualified purchasers - and "television".
The quotation marks recognise the change since John Logie Baird found a way of transmitting live vision through thin air in 1926 - the basis of FTA broadcasting - to the way in which much live vision is broadcast today, via the internet.
The prospect of a day when free-to-air is no more seems unthinkable, but it's the future broadcasters are looking ahead to. Even Australian national broadcaster the ABC recently put its hand up for a one-off government funding boost to prepare for the eventual termination of traditional broadcasting services and a shift to a pure-play online media company from which its audience might access its entire archive of audiovisual content. Savings incidentally, according to ABC chairman Justin Milne, might include the $200m a year on broadcast infrastructure and spectrum.
But while the state-owned national broadcaster has such thoughts, they are even more relevant to commercial channels and major news publishers which until recently, have been effectively kept out of TV by ownership laws, and see internet-delivered TV as a new frontier which they enter on equal terms.
Enter addressable TV, the technology which allows broadcasters to compete with tech giants such as Google and Facebook by giving advertisers the opportunity to focus their messages, targeting individuals and households by using sophisticated first and third party data, instead of making do with ad slots based on broad demographics.
With two thirds of Australians annoyed by "nearly all TV advertising", Michele Levine, chief executive of pollster Roy Morgan, says addressable TV will offer traditional TV broadcasters tools to retain and grow their share of an Australian advertising market worth more than the $15 billion.
"The power of addressable TV to show relevant advertising to consumers will give commercial TV channels the chance to level the playing field that has thus far been tilted in favour of purely online competitors and the opportunity to 'flip' the perceptions of advertising many Australians currently hold."
Levine - who has a product to sell in the integration of Roy Morgan's Roy Morgan Single Source survey with its Helix Personas psychographic segmentation - says the technology will bridge the gap between the traditional TV advertising model and the personalisation of advertising enabled by Big Data analytics and internet delivery.
The programmatic buys could also help change attitudes to TV advertising.
Which is another reason why "getting in on the act" is important to traditional news media companies such as Fairfax and News Corp. Targeting - which has so far typically been on a demographic basis - is about to step up with census-based individual 'identifiers' and OzTAM data set to measure crossmedia reach, moving to what the industry believes will be a world-leading position.
Seven has already gained experience from work on last year's Rugby League World Cup, where viewers watching streamed coverage on smartphones and increasingly-popular connected TVs saw different ads based on demographics instead of those in the ad breaks of the live broadcast. The broadcaster recently claimed it since delivered 135 million ad impressions via the process.
Rival Nine Entertainment claims 5.8 million unique users for its 9Now platform after encouraging viewers to sign in. At AdNews' Media and Marketing Summit in May, Nine chief sales officer Michael Stephenson claimed that when the channel's Love Island reality show launched, he would have "every 16-24-year-old in the country sitting in their bedrooms and watching our content".
And that's without data partners; its merger-acquisition of Fairfax Media could change all of that.
Meanwhile, News Corp's move into free-to-air broadcasting with the WIN content deal and - if it proceeds as originally announced - Nine on the Your Money channel, raises its broadcasting profile beyond subscription TV and delivers a total crossmedia offer.
Either way, News has invested heavily in broadcast, vision and production - Your Money will be centred on studios at its headquarters in Holt Street, Sydney - and is likely to be an addressable TV player one way or another.
Much has yet to be resolved, but these and other developments promise an interesting period in coming months.
Currently the focus is on building video capability and audience, but News DNA head of video Robert McKnight told GXpress the key was making compelling content and being able to monetise it.
"We've seen a major increase in video streams over the past few months due to changes we have made in regards to video product commissions," he says. "Our focus has changed somewhat in the types of video we deliver and how we react to breaking news. We want to make sure we are delivering video on stories that people want to see now."
McKnight reports a "significant lift" in numbers across all News' platforms. "Our videos rely on the websites generating traffic, but our job is to give consumers great video content while they're on our platforms. If we can increase engagement and time spent, then we've done our job.
"And hopefully they'll watch another video while they're here too."
He says live video is changing the business: "We've seen significant increases in traffic during live news events like the Thai cave rescue and the royal wedding where we supplied livestreams.
"The next phase will be looking for opportunities to go live without waiting for a major news event to unfold. Going forward, will websites start creating live video content? Will those very same websites end up with a live video player on their homepage? There are a lot ways this can play out, the key is making compelling content and being able to monetise that content."
Exciting times; watch this space!
News and Nine line up talent for TV joint venture
Kylie Merritt and David Ash (pictured) were the first to be named when Sky News proprietor Australian News Channel and Nine announced a joint venture company to run a new digital business channel in June.
ANC, which is wholly owned by News Corp Australia, are equal partners in Your Money, a dedicated 24-hour Australian business, personal finance and luxury lifestyle channel.
It will be broadcast on free-to-air on Channel 95 - part of Nine's digital spectrum - and on its streaming service 9Now, as well as being available on Foxtel Channel 601 and its Foxtel Now streaming service and app. A dedicated digital platform is also planned.
Merritt was previously currently commercial director of ANC, while Ash moves from Nine digital to be head of digital for the joint venture. The channel will have its studio and operations at News Corp Australia's National Business Hub at Holt Street, in Sydney's Surry Hills.
In a statement in June, the partners said Your Money would also contribute content across the joint venture partner platforms "and their related parties". ANC is putting into the venture its Sky News Business channel, which will close. Journalists Brooke Corte and Ticky Fullerton will move from Sky News Business to the new channel, while Chris Kohler has joined from (Nine) Fairfax subsidiary Domain.
Also named were Simon Hopkins - formerly of ContentShed, Brand New Media and Fairfax Regional Media - as commercial director, Glen Caro as programme director and Nadine Blayney as news director.
News Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller said News was "doubling down" with its channels, adding that the joint venture presented "exciting opportunities" for News, ANC and Nine.
News-owned Foxtel is also set to launch a new 4K television channel, which chief executive Patrick Delaney says will be delivered to its iQ4 box via a "big, fat" satellite.
Photo: Britta Campion/The Australian
First published in GXpress Magazine August/September 2018
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