Foxtel raised eyebrows in TV land on Tuesday when it announced that its chief marketing officer, Andy Lark, was leaving after just 10 months in the role, following “the successful roll-out of the new brand positioning, the launch of Foxtel’s 4K channel and the unveiling of Fox Cricket”.
Foxtel’s statement on the matter raised the question of why Lark is leaving. Such a case of premature ejection from such a high-profile marketing gig always raises questions about relationships with fellow senior executives, particularly in a company like Foxtel, where the pressure is on to turn the ship around.
Rather than recruit an outsider to shake things up, Foxtel has brought in Keiren Cooney, from News Corp stablemate REA Group, as a replacement. This suggests there was no one at Foxtel suitable for the job, or that no one from outside News Corp was interested.
Out with the old, in with the new
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Lark was formerly the CBA’s chief marketing officer, where he was responsible for the bank’s “CAN” campaign. Besides the CBA, he had worked at Dell, Sun Microsystems, and Xero accounting software group. He was appointed in January by former Foxtel head Peter Tonagh, who was himself replaced by current CEO Patrick Delany shortly afterwards.
Lark’s replacement, Cooney, has been handed the added responsibility of chief of sales as well as marketing. At REA Group, he was the “Chief Marketing Officer … responsible for driving the brand, marketing and digital strategy for REA’s Australian and global brands”. He joined REA from Omnicom Interbrand, where he was CEO. He’s also previously held chief marketing officer positions at NBN Co and Telecom New Zealand (now Spark), according to the REA Group website.
A hard road ahead
Cooney’s new role is an even bigger job than that Lark had. With Foxtel subscriptions stuck at around 2.8 million for the past two years (rising and falling by a few thousand a quarter), the company’s big need post-Fox Sports restructuring is to boost that figure as quickly as possible.
But Netflix, Stan and other streaming services are causing Foxtel the same sort of problems they are causing the likes of Nine, Ten and Seven. Foxtel is being forced to accept lower revenue per-user and shorter contracts without handcuffs, to try and reduce the cost of subscriber churn. Boosting subscriber numbers will be especially important with the first year of the cricket contract with Seven.
Cooney will also start from behind the line in his marketing role, with reports that Foxtel’s ad bookings for September were down 8.9% against a 2.1% for metro free-to-air TV. Cooney will find that selling ads in an already fragmented TV market, and marketing Foxtel’s offerings into the wider Australian media market, will be very different to marketing an online property listing business.