Hi James Warburton,

I don’t believe we’ve ever had the chance to chat. It’s your first week at Channel Ten and I thought I’d introduce myself. My name is Dan. And I don’t really watch a whole lot of Channel Ten shows these days.

After what I’m sure has been a long year of thinking about what you’ll do once legally allowed to sit in the CEO chair at Ten, this is going to be a big week for you. The beginning of what will hopefully be a long-term job for you. Already there is word that The Renovators and Junior Masterchef won’t be returning under your regime, along with a renewed focus on establishing new franchises like the revamped Young Talent Time. It sounds to me like you’ve got all guns-a-blazin’. And that passion is going to be needed.

But, you don’t have an easy job ahead of you.

You’re attempting to revive a TV channel in 2012. TV is not what it was. If I may even be so bold to suggest it, I would even suggest that the way that viewers engage with the medium is radically different than it was back in March 2011 when you moved on from Seven. There are few easy fixes that give you any credibility. For example, something probably needs to be done about the hour-long The Project (extending it by 30 minutes still smells like a slap-dash band-aid solution), but you can’t just strip in an imported sitcom in the way Ten used to with The Simpsons, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Seinfeld. Yes, Nine still engage in this with Two & A Half Men and with The Big Bang Theory in their 7pm timeslot, but it feels so very cheap in a multichannel environment where the digital channels are a haven for those seeking archive/library content. It may do the job for the time being, but it’s hardly a brand-strengthening practice.

Channel Ten, like any broadcast network, needs to be a destination for premium television. If I want cheap library content or niche interest material, I can check out a digital multi-channel or take on a Foxtel/Fetch TV subscription. Networks need to create a point of difference and show they still have premium value to their brands. Ten, last month, on-sold the first-run Australian rights to the premiere episode of the excellent US series Homeland to Telstra exclusively for T-Box enabled customers. It may just be a potential audience of 200,000 or so, but it tells me that if I want high quality first run programming, Ten is not the place I go for it.

The ABC in 2011 proved itself as destination of choice for a lot of Australian TV viewers. I believe they achieved this through creating compelling content designed for the audience (and not for media buyers) while further investing in a viable online platform serving their content. A lot of viewers, trained on watching TV shows on DVD, are reluctant to watch a show if they haven’t been doing so from the beginning. Consider just how many viewers are catching up on a show on iView (available on Sony & Samsung Smart TV’s/devices, PS3, iPhone, iPad, web, and with Android device support) and then switching to first run episodes on broadcast TV and/or continuing to engage with it through iView.

Where is Tens digital strategy? The Ten catch-up website is largely terrible with few viewers knowing it exists, let alone using it. For Ten, a network that has long had a focus on younger viewers, to ignore online distribution of their content is a grave mistake. Discussion with peers (young professionals aged 25-35, generally) at various BBQ’s/parties over the Christmas break made it apparent to me just how many of them were watching TV content, yet very few of them watched broadcast TV. For Ten, these are lost viewers. They are not engaging with the Ten brand at all, and are slipping further away as time goes on and alternative platforms emerge. Instead they’re downloading content from overseas in a much more timely fashion than Ten/Eleven/One HD provide, or catching up with ABC shows on iView.

You have quite a challenge ahead of yourself, James. The Ten/Eleven/One HD inventory has a few interesting titles and there is considerable potential for Ten to reinvigorate its broadcast service as well as to future proof itself for the world of connected television content. Ten isn’t completely broken, but boy is it going to be a lot of work for you. You’ve got problems with your early evening schedule with all that news and The Project (which is awkward to move anywhere), and your digital strategy is almost non-existent. Not everything you try is going to work and you’re going to take some knocks. On a certain level, though, it should be a lot of fun and rewarding if things do go well for you.

Good luck with it all, sir. I’ll be here in my armchair with my remote in my hand. You’re welcome into my loungeroom, just give me a reason to let you in.

Don’t be a stranger, okay?

Dan Barrett
3 Jan 2012