John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: Drama channel has Sky high price tag

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'Boardwalk Empire,' starring Steve Buscemi, will screen on Sky's new drama channel. Photo / File
'Boardwalk Empire,' starring Steve Buscemi, will screen on Sky's new drama channel. Photo / File

SoHo will surely attract a committed audience, but lack of competition means they are paying top dollar

It seems like common sense for Sky to launch a new premium channel featuring quality drama from HBO, the BBC and others.

SoHo will deliver first-run quality dramas such as HBO's Treme as well as Boardwalk Empire and BBC series The Hour among others. Old HBO favourites like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under will get a rerun and Sky programming boss Travis Dunbar predicts that even if SoHo does not have a mass appeal, it will have a committed and highly engaged audience.

This column lamented the lack of quality drama on Sky back in June - so all credit to them for shelling out for the significant cost of an output deal with HBO.

But $9.99 seems rich, especially for platinum customers already paying more than $100 a month to include movie and sports packages.

Media commentator Martin Gillman said the $9.99 a month price tag for the SoHo channel subscription was a bit steep. But Sky could not charge that price if there was competition in the pay TV market.

PAY'S THE WAY

I wondered if SoHo might cannibalise customers off the premium arthouse channel Rialto, but both Sky and Rialto dismissed that prospect.

TVNZ and TV3 both played down the impact of losing access to some of the best TV programming in the world.

The fact is HBO content is edgy and challenging and that is too much of a risk for free-to-air TV, which needs mass audiences to deliver advertising dollars.

A classic example was HBO's The Sopranos, which screened on TV2. Some people loved it, but its appeal was too niche for prime time.

BREWER'S JUNKET

Cameron Brewer is a business-friendly politician who likes to be in the public eye.

So what could be better than helping out with some meeting and greeting at a media company's sales junket?

From August 6-11 the Auckland councillor mixed it with MediaWorks customers on the Gold Coast, MediaWorks says.

He was passing on expertise from his old days as head of the Newmarket Business Association, staying four nights at a Gold Coast hotel. Brewer is being tipped as a future Auckland mayoral candidate, but MediaWorks says he was picked for his knowledge of the retail sector and because advertisers liked to hear his views.

His public role was not a factor.

"In the past he has been involved in these sorts of occasions as a guest speaker," said MediaWorks spokeswoman Rachel Lorimer.

Brewer says he declared the trip as a gift.

Sales conferences - or junkets - are common in media as a way to buttonhole favoured customers in a relaxed social atmosphere.

Advertising consultant Martin Gillman said the ad sales jaunts were especially popular in the radio industry and useful for getting onside with retail clients.

But he was sceptical whether ad agencies should attend them. He could not comment on MediaWorks' Gold Coast do, but said typically they were built around conviviality rather than arduous analysis of sales data.

PUMP UP

APN News & Media is producing a new pop culture magazine, Volume, previewing and reviewing new music, films and games.

The A4 stapled newsprint title is distributed free from record stores, food outlets and retailers nationwide on Tuesdays and is being linked to online content.

The print title is edited by Sam Wicks, former editor of Real Groove, while online material will be compiled by nzherald.co.nz entertainment editor Hugh Sundae.

It's understood the new title is designed to mop up some of the surplus demand for the Herald's entertainment section TimeOut. Old timers might remember that Fairfax Media attempted to develop a freebie magazine called Auckland Max, though it had a short lifespan.

IRISH STEW

Irish billionaire Denis O'Brien has taken a direct 1.3 per cent stake in Herald publisher APN News & Media.

With APN's share price historically low, O'Brien's personal investment cost around A$6.6 million ($8.4 million), and at 1.3 per cent is relatively insignificant.

But media reports are linking the purchase with long-running tensions inside Dublin-based Independent News & Media, which is the largest shareholder in APN.

O'Brien owns 22 per cent of INM and Sir Anthony O'Reilly - whose interests once dominated the firm - owns 13 per cent.

INM owns 31 per cent of APN, whose interests include the Herald and numerous magazines, alongside a 50 per cent stake in The Radio Network, which owns half of New Zealand's commercial radio stations.

O'Brien - who has mobile phone interests in the Pacific and elsewhere through his company Digicel - has been reported as saying the APN stake is the jewel in INM's crown.

The Australian newspaper recently reported that after taking his stake, O'Brien spoke to APN chief executive Brett Chenoweth. The Australian said O'Brien advised that he was a supporter of APN, liked Australia and that he had other businesses in the region.

Meanwhile, the Irish Times reported that on July 21 O'Brien wrote to INM chairman Brian Hillery to demand that the company replace him and appoint a new chief executive in place of Gavin O'Reilly, the son of Sir Anthony.

CLOUDY FUTURE

ANZ Bank has confirmed that a handful of marketing jobs are being scrapped as part of minor restructuring.

I've been told about promotional lapses for ANZ's dome facility alongside the Cloud on Auckland's waterfront, which was designed to be a drawcard during the Rugby World Cup.

A Wellington PR agency was hired to promote the dome just three days out from the start of the World Cup.

It has been suggested the problems were due to a sudden loss of marketing staff at ANZ.

But ANZ communications boss Peter Parussini said there was no need for leverage around the dome at Party Central because the bank had a partnership with TRN broadcasting from the building, and there was considerable foot traffic.

Parussini said ANZ has been simplifying its business, reducing 250 brands to about 75 in the near future.

There were now fewer products to market and that was the reason for job losses, and there was no wider transfer of the marketing function to Australia.

A banking industry source said the big issue facing ANZ was the commitment to maintain the National Bank brand.

SEINE CHOICE

Telecom is expected to name Jason Paris for a senior marketing role next week.

A Telecom source said Paris was likely to sign today for a deal that will see him head the team overseeing landline, broadband and mobile. The role largely encompasses the retail arm of the business, but it isalso likely to incorporate wider branding issues.

Paris is a former chief executive of MediaWorks TV and is a close friend of former chief marketing officer Kieren Cooney, who is leaving to take a senior role in the Australian NBN project.

MUZZA AND LOEY

TVNZ is expected to take top ratings honours for the first Rugby World Cup game tonight but says it's hard to judge free-to-air viewership numbers after that.

Sky, with the fullest coverage, is likely to attract the tried and true rugby fans.

One of the issues for advertising agencies stems from the number of broadcasters playing games - Sky, TVNZ, TV3 and Maori TV.

Advertisers don't know who will deliver the bums on seats. The assumption is that it will be good news for Sky.

Speaking of Sky rugby coverage - readers may have caught up with the amusing snippet on YouTube that purportedly features a behind-the-scenes conversation between commentators Murray Mexted and Richard Loe. You can watch it by using this link: http://tinyurl.com/3jlhjry.

As the folks at cup sponsors MasterCard would say: Priceless.

- NZ Herald

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