In the era before Foxtel and video on demand (ala YouTube and NetFlix) television networks often tried to be all things to all people. With only 5 channels, it made sense for stations to be the sports channel, focus on the youth, represent news, be a low-cost network, and deliver advertisement and sponsorship value, all while making a massive profit as a free-to-air channel.
But those days are over, and without clear and consistent branding confusion spells death. Channel Ten's many woes are all part and parcel of this issue, and it all massively impacts the bottom line: Channel Ten is currently the least profitable network.
The confusion begins with Ten's board and management. James Packer bought up 18% of shares last year, and then sold half of that to Lachlan Murdoch. Gina Reinhart, WA's mining billionaire took out another 10% of shares and joined the board. This has been widely seen as a move to buy media influence. Packer and Murdoch have wrought large scale management turbulence. Chairman Nick Falloon and CEO Grant Blackley were both shown the door. Soon after, Murdoch pinched advertising boss James Warburton from Seven as Ten's CEO, sparking legal action from Seven, while Pack quit from the board. None of this is smooth sailing, and it doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the organisation.
Branding and Programming
The confusion is also manifest with the network's programming strategy. First off, Ten has junked their traditional youth orientation. The Simpsons have gone (as has Neighbours) to make way for more news shows. George Negus' show has been brought up to the 6.30pm slot where it will compete with Nine's A Current Affair. Negus' focus on international stories and his un-youthful appearance will not square well with what many have associated with Ten and this timeslot specifically. Andrew Bolt has been given a half hour Sunday morning slot. Bolt is an old school conservative, and the issues he will deal with are well outside the interest of Tens' traditional youth heartland. While many people listen to the AM radio jocks such as Alan Jones, these kind of abrasive talk shows never translate well to a TV format.
Ten's programming and management issues don't end with the incoherence around news and youth audiences. The blockbuster MasterChef franchise returns after Easter. While it's been a cash cow for Ten, apparently this year MasterChef have made a deal that will deliver a bulk of money straight to them and not to Ten, so that Ten will get ratings but little profit.
Channel Ten has lost its way as the brand for people aged 18-39. They have spent decades developing an identity as the channel for the under 40s and then suddenly last year they tried to broaden their appeal to include, well everyone. In effect they have clearly lost appeal, and confused audiences and advertisers. Murdoch is trying to bring some kind of coherence to bear on Ten's identity, whilst lowering costs and driving revenue. By focussing on Ten's core identity and building a programming strategy and management from that he may well steer Ten back to its former high ground.