When the Seven Network finally unveiled its new digital channel, 7TWO, last week, it sent a clear message to its rivals. It was not going niche.
Unlike the sports-mad ONE and the youth-skewed GO!, 7TWO is a defiantly broad entertainment channel.
As Programming chief Tim Worner told TV Tonight, he is happy to embrace anybody with ‘a set of eyeballs and a digital telly.’
“We’ve gone for a strategy that uses our main channel to sell our digital channel. We lead in the main channel stakes. Our aim is to grow the number of people watching Seven product over two channels and eventually over a portfolio of channels,” he said.
“I don’t tend to pay too much attention to what’s going on elsewhere. We set our course and sail to that.”
With its mix of largely British and US titles, 7TWO’s feature attractions are the promise of prime slots for favourite titles including Lost, 24, Ugly Betty and Heroes.
“The counterprogramming strategy is pretty simple. In its most obvious execution you’d have Desperate Housewives and Brothers and Sisters on Channel Seven and then over on 7TWO you might have, for argument’s sake, Ultimate Cage Fighting and Family Guy. That’s our thinking.
“We’re not steering away from our digital on the main channel. On the contrary you’ll see the digital channel promoted on Seven and you’ll see a heap of promotion for Seven on 7TWO.”
Already the channel has enjoyed promotions on Seven ahead of its launch this Sunday at 12pm with its politically-inspired “It’s Time” campaign song.
“One thing that’s annoyed us is this speculation that ‘they don’t know what they’re doing… they don’t have a plan!’ In fact we’ve known exactly what we’re doing for a very long time and it’s been like having a present under the tree, and not being able to unwrap it.”
In order to keep the industry guessing, Worner hints at some crafty manouvering.
“How well do you reckon the details of 7TWO have been kept secret?” he asks. “I’ve never known a better kept secret in Australian television. There were all sorts of moves to make sure things rolled that way.”
Channel Mate, 7PLUS and PLUS7 were amongst some names which appear to be red herrings.
“What about those bloody logos? I did them myself on the gestetner machine,” he laughs.
“When we sat down to work out the name of the channel 12 months ago, we were considering all these names. Red, Ruby, Bill, Dave, Tom, Dick, Harry,” he teases. “In the end we kept coming back to the power of that big, red 7 and the trust that’s been built in that brand over the last five years. And I know you bloggo people don’t like to admit it, but you know something? Heartland Australia sees that 7 and they trust it. They know that is going to have some good shows on it.”
7TWO is set up in such a way that it has the ability to include a number of genres, a particularly strategic move given the Anti-Siphoning list is under review.
“We wanted a brand that’s got utility,” he says.
“We want to be able to run sport, comfortably on the channel. We want to be able to run live breaking news on the channel, comfortably.”
While he hasn’t locked anything in, Worner expects that some titles, including the Heroes, Lost, 24 and Ugly Betty brands, may yet have a life on Seven, but on 7TWO they will run at 7:30 or 8:30. There are also reruns of HBO brands including The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, but Worner denies this is an indication of a 7-HBO distribution deal.
“No Free to Air has a deal with HBO. The Pacific is something we bought a long time ago. It’s extremely powerful. I’ve now seen 3 episodes of that show. You don’t watch that show, you feel that show. It is the last of the great miniseries because of the economic model in the US. There will never be another miniseries like that where they spend over $200m making it. It just won’t happen. And that’s why HBO have delayed and delayed the premiere until 2010. It is truly riveting television.”
From the LA screenings Worner also picked up the HBO drama, Hung, which it will air in Australia following its Showtime premiere.
“Essentially it’s a show about a bloke with a whopping schlonger and you think ‘That is going to be a ribald comedy.’ But when you see the show it is anything but that. It’s a very warm show with a real heart and it’s got a couple of great characters out in front that you identify with, you barrack for, it’s a great show.”
So where does the arrival of 7TWO leave 7HD? Worner says it will remain a simulcast of Seven for the time being.
“But our aim is very clear. We want to grow the number of viewers of Seven product. We make a lot of product ourselves, and we want to grow the number of people watching that product across two channels, and eventually, hopefully, all things going the way we’d like, across a portfolio of channels.
“Everything about our channel is broad. From the name, right through to the schedule, right through to the thinking. That is absolutely the way we’re going, and that’s different to the way the others have played their cards.”
When it launches on Sunday, 7TWO will be the final commecial channel to be added to the Freeview suite. It represents a growing confidence in the television sector and for Programmer Tim Worner, it’s a present to viewers and advertisers.
It may have taken some time to unwrap, but he points to a confluence of events that indicated 7TWO was ready to roll.
“There are big sporting events with a lot of eyeballs on the main channel. Possibly improving economic conditions, a bunch of things. A confluence of things. The timing is right. ‘It’s Time.'”
7TWO launches 12pm Sunday on Ch 72 and is accessible via a digital television or digital set top box.