Elise Ferrari
Online & Social Media Editor

Ollie Wards on Survey 5: “…we’ve got the youngest breakfast show on any major station”

Radio Today caught up with triple j content director Ollie Wards following Tuesday’s Survey 5 results.

Solid increases for Ben and Liam in all markets except Melbourne. Are you happy with today’s results?

Yeah definitely. Those increases aren’t incidental as well. Like Brisbane in particularly is up 1.5. They’re significant for a program that’s been around for as long as it has. Off the back of a really great show last year that we are building something different from. So, really happy. And I think that sort of shows we’ve got a good place to go into the rest of this year and next year’s going to be really good one.

Slight dips across most demos and sessions in Melbourne. What’s going on in that market?

Melbourne’s a tough one. I think that everybody knows that Melbourne is perhaps more parochial than the rest of Australia’s cities. And the market’s really competitive there and everybody in Melbourne cares deeply about hearing Melbourne content. Which is something that we do struggle with from time to time because we’re national, we can’t always focus on those local topics.

The heart of AFL season is the most obvious one Melbourne go nuts for and we can’t compete on the same level. Therefore I mean this time of year can be quite difficult for triple j and particularly with Melbourne and things like traffic and those local issues come to the forefront over the winter months and we always struggle to keep up in that period.

Are there any plans for more Melbourne local content to be introduced to triple j before the end of the year?

Definitely. We’re talking about how we can cover as we get into the finals of the footy. Having teams really talk explicitly talk about being in Melbourne, we’ve got quote a few of our teams are actually based in Melbourne so we’re going to open up their ability to focus on Melbourne while they’re also doing their national broadcast. All the references that are happening in Melbourne that can work on a national level, we’ll make the team available to cover those.

Slight dip across the board in Ben and Liam’s home town of Adelaide. Does that concern you?

We had a couple of really great surveys at the start of the year in Adelaide, which I think really was probably in the spirit of Ben and Liam transferring across. So I do think there has potentially been a bit of a slow correction over the last couple of surveys. Not to say that I’m happy with it tracking down in this particular survey, but looking at the figures across the year, I think that we’re in a good spot to be able to rebuild it and we’re working on some plans to do some Adelaide stuff as well.

Even though we’re down on Survey 4, we’re actually still up year-on-year in Adelaide. Looking at reach, Survey 5 in Adelaide last year was 156,000. At the moment we’re 169,000. We’re actually doing better year-on-year there, it’s just that we’ve gone down at the higher level.

Our average reach in 2016 in Adelaide was 155,000 and in 2017 the average reach is 175,000.

How important do you think that big picture thinking is?

That’s absolutely crucial, particularly for triple j we know that a lot of the discussions around ratings in the rest of radio is very city-based because of local programming. But we have a huge challenge and an opportunity to look at our national focus. And so we always stay across the five city results. And particularly with all of the program changes that we’ve made this year, we have to look year on year, as a yardstick to how we’re doing. If I focus on the changes between individual surveys I’ll lose sight of the broader trends, which are often a different story.

So with Adelaide, it’s a great result this year for Adelaide, but if you look at it from Survey 4 to Survey 5 it looks bad. But it’s still significantly up year on year. So if you looked at it across a broader time period, you’d see a graph tracking upwards.

It must be tough to balance that need to focus on local, as well as not wanting to alienate anyone else around the country.

That’s the biggest line that we walk. It’s really difficult as well. We’ve got three or four cities doing really well, and then one drops out. What do you take from that? How do you point out what the difference between Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide is compared to Melbourne. Or Adelaide and Melbourne need a bit of work – how can you focus on them for a while without alienating Brisbane?

It’s a huge opportunity and responsibility for triple j to create a national community of music lovers and young people that care about the world and we take that really seriously, and it’s an amazing opportunity that when we talk into the mic we are speaking to somebody’s who’s jogging in Kalgoorlie or driving their car in Karratha at the same time as somebody who is in an office in Sydney or Melbourne and uni in Brisbane. It’s a massive challenge, and also an opportunity. If we’re down in one particular market but up elsewhere, then we have to sort of average it out across the five cities.

Do you think there are any national conversations that triple j can really own and bring everyone together on?

Oh, 100%. Honestly, I think we own every national conversation about all of the issues young people care about. We do a lot of coverage around same sex marriage at the moment, but everything from the housing market to federal politics to the environment and sex and relationships – we do a lot of work in that area that I think no one else really touches in the same way we do. Other people talk about it, but it’s often in a salacious or titillating way. Whereas we talk about those topics from a peer-to-peer point of view in an inclusive way that young people want to hear and be a part of.

I think we are in a position to, and we do, own and lead national conversations for young people in every area.

You obviously had some impressive growth in Sydney and Brisbane in key demos survey-on-survey, and breakfast and day parts. Where has that audience come from?

I think those are definitely the shared figures that are looking really great, and our Time Spent Listening is something that we focus on quite a lot. Our TSL is higher than it was this time last year, and we’ve put a lot of effort into that. So we’ve got younger people listening longer – which is something you won’t see at any other radio market in the world I think. I’m really proud of that and I think that’s had a good impact on our share. Which sort of compensates for slightly fluctuating reach and that’s really born out in Sydney and Melbourne where our share has gone up and the reach has actually fluctuated a little more.

What stations and shows outside of ABC are you listening to for inspiration and ideas?

I keep track of what other programs are doing in the commercial market, but definitely community radio. I’m a big fan of what the community stations do around the country, particularly FBi, RRR and RCR or ZZZ. They’re all much more in our space – music-loving programs and they are very good at connecting to their local communities and finding good young talent.

And a few stations overseas as well, particularly the obvious ones like Radio One, Radio X and then a few stations in New Zealand, perhaps a bit closer to home for me. Literally closer to home for me. I check around a lot, I follow a lot of stuff on socials – that’s an area where I think we are perhaps sometime snot looking at the success of triple j where we are the #1 radio station on pretty much every platform – Facebook, Instagram, YouTube Twitter, probably Snapchat, but that’s a little harder to measure.

Do you think that social media presence is what’s impacting that increase in time spent listening?

No, I actually don’t because we have very much uncoupled our social media from our radio content. I mean, you have to assume that people who follow you on Facebook might never listen to the radio. And I always cringe – and definitely we do this sometimes as well, and it’s old thinking to have a tweet or something like that that says “coming up at 5pm we’re doing this on the radio”. Every platform has to have value in its content on that platform and not be used as a cross-promotional tool for whatever you’re doing on-air. I think the TSL result is connected to more focus on radio craft, board promoting and our music programming and building things across the day.

Every platform has to have value in its content on that platform and not be used as a cross-promotional tool for whatever you’re doing on-air. I think the TSL result is connected to more focus on radio craft, board promoting and our music programming and building things across the day.

Just touching on your music programming, do you think there is a trend in commercials stations picking up on crossover tracks earlier, and is this impacting triple j’s audience?

I think the music industry has changed and we haven’t changed what we do. We just still look for the best new music from artists that we love and we play it. Whether the commercials are acting on that intentionally to pick things up earlier or the styles of music that they are looking at is expanding and the way they measure success might be changing. It’s much more visual these days to see who’s trending on Spotify with lots of listens or their video clips on Youtube.

It’s perhaps just easier these days to know for the commercial stations when they’re on to a winner. And they tend to still be more risk-adverse at playing something that doesn’t quite have that traction yet. Whereas I think we will always be the music experts enough to know when something is something is good and back it before we can see any sort of stats to prove it.

When does triple j know when it’s onto a winner?

We have very dedicated and passionate music team, which is a broad team that takes some staff from right across the station. I mean every single person that works here loves music and will talk about it, and I think when you’ve got people who are actively living that, it’s a powerful thing. And our music team taps into that, and that’s how we know – when one of our team is really loving something, it’ll go to the editorial meeting and it’ll be discussed and often we’ll just give things a shot from there.

As you continue to chase the younger audience, how’s the line-up looking for next year? Are you expecting any changes there?

I would say we’ve got the youngest breakfast show on any major station. Show me another major Australian radio show that’s got two presenters under 25. I think that’s the really great thing for our young audience – their references and their life experiences and outlook matches our young audience. So we’ll see them helping us with our target demo.

There is going to be a slight program change which we’ve announced previously in the year with our drive co-host Veronica [Milsom] having a baby. I’m not sure what impact that is going to have at the moment, we’re still working through options. But that is definitely going to be a change that is going to happen.

Anything else to add?

One thing that I do emphasise is that we analyse differently to the other networks is that five-city picture. There’s not another network that’s truly national – everybody’s looking at their local breakfast programs and the impact that that has and they might have a network drive show or something like that. But we are the only station with the truly national focus and that’s the way that we, therefore, analyse our results.

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