Seven West Media chief executive James Warburton is optimistic about the future of free-to-air broadcasting, saying the company’s audience growth was continuing apace and it had a leading share of audience nationally. The television industry has overhauled its audience measurement to a system known as VOZ which measures the national reach and average audience of programs, regardless of whether they’re viewed online, on a catch-up service or on traditional broadcast television. Mr Warburton expects the new metrics will deliver the company fresh opportunities to significantly grow its digital earnings. Reporting results for the first-half of the 2024 financial year on Tuesday, he said Seven West Media had increased its share of audience growth to 41 per cent. Importantly, he said, given the tight advertising market, Seven had maintained a tight and disciplined approach to cost management. Seven has increased audience and revenue share for six consecutive quarters. West Australian Newspapers delivered strongly, driven by strong growth in digital audiences and the launch of new digital products. WAN’s unique monthly audience was up 18.5 per cent year-on-year and revenue increased thanks to new commercial print opportunities. “It’s a very, very solid performance, and I think without a shadow of a doubt we’re probably the best-performing market on a per capita basis in terms of that combination of newsprint and digital,” Mr Warburton said of the company’s WA performance. Changes to the overall measurement of broadcast audiences were needed for players like Seven to be able to compete with the likes of Google, he said, which had for many years been able to talk about audience reach where television was hamstrung by overnight, five-capital city metrics, with regional audiences and digital viewers counted separately. “We can now be directly comparable particularly to the likes of Google,” Mr Warburton said in an interview. “The reach of something like (breakfast TV program) Sunrise, (it) would take 10 days to deliver that type of reach with Google. “It is huge in terms of its overall reach as opposed to the digital platforms which are spread across the never-never land.” Earlier, he told analysts: “No matter what the naysayers claim, VOZ is clearly demonstrating that free-to-air viewing is growing, driven by the two biggest networks and people are spending longer watching our content across multiple streams. This will drive advertising dollars back to TV.” Mr Warburton said opportunities for streaming app 7plus to grow thanks to digital rights for AFL and cricket later this year were enormous. “Together they will add an estimated four billion minutes of content a year to 7plus and allow us to capture an estimated 45 per cent revenue share,” he said, adding they would drive the company’s digital future from levels that had been “pretty anaemic” when he started five years ago. “Our share growth was achieved across each month of the half and partially offset the 9.1 per cent decline in the total TV advertising market during the period. We gained share in metropolitan and BVOD markets and remained in line in our regional markets.” Seven West has previously announced a two-year program to find $60 million in cost savings. Mr Warburton said $25m had already been delivered and was expecting cost growth to be between one and 2 per cent for the financial year — but said the program would be revisited if the advertising market remained weak. Chief financial officer Jeff Howard said though it was hard to predict the advertising market given the uncertainty in the broader economy, the company hoped given inflation was heading down, there would be a positive spill-over effect. “Hopefully it’s starting to relieve the pressure, we start to see advertisers coming back into the ad market. That will be helpful,” he said. “So we’ll just keep monitoring all of those things and making sure that we’re positioning Seven West Media as best we can in that operating environment.” In December, it was announced Mr Warburton will stand down as chief executive, with Mr Howard taking over. The transition is to occur on or before June 30. “To be the clear leader in terms of metro and regional markets in audience and audience share . . . is probably underestimated a bit — the strength of our platform and the fact that we’re number one in every single place we compete,” Mr Warburton said of his time leading Seven. Revenue across Seven West Media in the six months to December 31 was down 5 per cent year-on-year to $775m. The company reported first-half post-tax profit of $54m, down from $115m a year prior.