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Interview: Stephen Grant Clicks with TV3 Online
14 Oct 2010 :
TV3 website
July of this year saw Stephen Grant rejoin the TV3 team in the role of Director of Online. The position was created in response to a growing online trend in Irish audiences and has seen the number of unique users on the TV3 site grow 40% year-on-year and a 50% growth in page views. IFTN spoke with Stephen to discuss the running of the site, the further features he is hoping to introduce and the recent ‘X Factor’ boost the site has enjoyed.

Stephen rejoined TV3 as Director of Online having previously been Sales Manager for TV3 in the ad sales area and most recently a consultant working on behalf of TV3. Before that Stephen worked for Sky in Ireland where he helped set up the Sky Irish Ad Sales operation.
When Stephen was announced at the director of online at the start of July, TV3 explained that the position was a new one which the broadcaster has introduced to reflect the growing significance of online within the overall strategy for TV3 Group. Stephen explains that a change in TV3’s financial situation allowed for the creation of the position: “Before this position was created we had a situation where, with the way the economy was going, and the structuring of TV3, the website was going along under the watchful eye of Peter Clerkin, who was more or less caretaking it,” hebegins. “But when TV3 renegotiated our own financial position with our banks and with Doughty Hansen (TV3 Owners) that meant that we were free to re-look at online, and on the back of that TV3 CEO, David McRedmond and Doughty Hamson principal, Stephen Bone looked at online and thought ‘This is something that TV3 wants to be in, and wants to  take more seriously’.”

Stephen’s commercial background means his approach to his role differs somewhat from other online executives. He explains that a business head was required more than a technological one in the case of TV3: “My background is very much commercial and the organisation felt strongly that we needed someone who more had a commercial focus rather than a technical focus. They really felt that from a technological point of view, we are where we need to be – we’ve got a very strong site. However what we’re probably lacking in is actually monetizing that site and getting the best possible commercial return from the site, and I think that was very much what drove my appointment. There was a feeling that, as online had grown up a little bit it needed less of a technical person and more of a commercial person.”

Stephen’s immediate priority was the multi-platform distribution of TV3 content – both homegrown and international. An iPhone app was introduced to avoid an issue some were having with Flash. “We wanted to give iPhone users the opportunity to watch our video content on their phones. The i-phone app has performed well already, as Stephen tells us: I don’t want to put an amazing figure on it, but certainly there would be in excess of 5000 downloads to date of the App which we are very happy with, it is ahead of our target for downloads on the App.”

On the topic of what makes a good online service Stephen tells us the most important factor is an understanding of a changing audience and their evolving needs. “Consumer behaviour and expectation are changing and amending as the world goes on,” he starts. “As  technology converges there probably is less of a distinction in TV3’s mind between somebody watching ‘The Apprentice’ live as its broadcast, or they could watch it at a time that suits them through their PVR, or they could watch it online in TV3’s catch-up service, or they could possibly watch it on their mobile phone through our App. So really we are the ones that are adapting to consumers changing habits.”

Where consumerism is concerned - mass-consumerism in this case -TV3 is again on board as the Irish broadcasters of the ‘X Factor’ this year. Stephen and his team have made use of the huge following for the global music phenomenon by establishing the TV3 site as the only place for Irish fans of the series to vote for their favourite performers to be put through to the next round. One week into the live shows of the programme, already Stephen is pleased with the results “At 22:05 on Saturday when Dermot O’Leary announced voting lines were open our site experienced a huge surge in traffic with over 150,000 hits (to our servers) a minute being recorded,” he tells us. “We estimate we had approx 10,000 people per minute attempting to access the site at this peak period.  We invested in significant additional capacity and resources to ensure the site stayed up under such pressure and were delighted with the site’s performance.”

Though the focus is currently on the TV3 content being provided online, Stephen tells us that he is hoping to explore the interactive possibilities for TV3 audiences. He is therefore hoping to introduce interactive features to coincide with upcoming TV3 series, ‘Cocaine Wars’: “We would like to deepen the viewer experience,” he explains. “With ‘Cocaine Wars’ what I would like to see online – along with the catch-up for the show – is an online forum. For example, there will be bits in the original book (on which the show is based) about individual crime families in Dublin. Obviously that will be touched on in the TV series but you can’t put up things like graphs or family trees or that sort of added extra deepening part of the story. I’d like to see more and more of that going online so that, if you want to learn more about ‘Cocaine Wars’, or learn more about ‘Spartacus’, or whatever it might be, then there’s a whole lot more info here for you. Generally broadening the viewer’s experience. We very much see a dialogue going forward, rather than just, we broadcast something and the viewers watch it.”

That said, the big pull of the site is the video content which has seen over 750,000 video views since September. Currently, approximately 60% of TV3’s output is available as video catch-up online. This includes all of the broadcasters home-grown shows such as ‘Xposé’, ‘Tonight with Vincent Browne’ and ‘Ireland AM’ along with international content such as ‘Coronation Street’ and ‘Emmerdale’. TV3’s new site boasts 450,000 unique users and 3.8m page views per annum. So where does Stephen want to go from here? There will be further App launches,” he says. “There will be an Android App in the very near future and there will also be an iPad App as well. Where we see our future, particularly online and even in Apps or in mobile, it is in video. We are all about video, that’s a differentiator for us from other websites, the Irish Times, the Irish Independent of whoever else that might be, any other international sites. That’s where we want to be, that’s where we want our video content to be. To allow people to access the video content as easily as they can in a way that suits them.”

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