Losing sleep: Content bosses reveal what’s keeping them up at night

Remember ‘precedented’ times? When we navigated the ‘current’ normal, rather than the new one? And when the largest looming existential threat was represented by the constant smoke in the air, the ash washing up on the shores, the images of orange skies and destroyed homes filling our feeds, and the prospect that this could be a yearly catastrophic event?

Now, we still have that ongoing threat, but throw in a pandemic, the advertising market falling off a cliff, and hundreds of jobs lost across the radio sector, and there’s plenty to keep the content directors and bosses at Australia’s radio networks restless.

When I spoke to them back in April at a different publication – and when perhaps the full realities of the looming health and economic crisis hadn’t quite revealed themselves – the content bosses were still processing the pandemic.

Southern Cross Austereo’s chief content officer Dave Cameron was frustrated that audience numbers had never been higher, but revenue was beginning to tumble. Australian Radio Network’s (ARN) content director Duncan Campbell also noted the dichotomy was strange. And NOVA’s chief programming and marketing officer Paul Jackson was beginning to fret about the economy and job losses.

Now, some five and a half months later, radio ratings may be back, but there’s even more to keep these men tossing and turning.

Cameron is in the eye of the storm, down in Melbourne and dealing with Fox FM’s declining numbers and mounting speculation about what he’s going to do with the beleaguered 2DayFM in Sydney. He sleeps well though, he tells me.

Jackson is in Sydney, and also claims to rest easy. Nova had a tough book in some cities and the fallout, or gains, from the network’s recent decision to syndicate Workdays are yet to fully play out.

Campbell, also in Sydney, has turned his attention to the economy, and the fallout that is yet to come. And those borders? They need to open, he says.

And Nine Radio’s boss Tom Malone is riding so high on proving his detractors wrong about installing Ben Fordham in the key 2GB Breakfast slot in Sydney and making its radio assets more advertising friendly and less controversial, that, frankly, he could be anywhere and is probably too buzzed to sleep.

But if we drill a little deeper, what’s really keeping the bosses up at night? And, perhaps more importantly, what should be?

 


Dave Cameron, chief content officer, Southern Cross Austereo (SCA):

What keeps him up at night?

“Nothing, I sleep really well. I’m really comfortable with the changes that we have made in regards to reinvigorating the Hit brand, comfortable with some of the talent line-up changes that we have revealed to date in and around the addition of Lehmo in Adelaide, and we’ve made some changes in the Gold Coast, and in the not-too-distant future we will set up our line-up for 2021, and we’ll be excited to talk about that.”

Looming issues for SCA:

Cameron may claim to rest easy, but there are a number of areas which could keep his eyes open.

  • 2DayFM in Sydney scored just a 3.3% audience share, down from the 5.1% it had in survey 2
  • 2DayFM Breakfast fell to a 2.5% share, which means it now only sits above Nine Radio’s recently reinvigorated 2UE (0.3%)
  • Triple M was down to 4.9% in Breakfast in Sydney. The station’s overall share was down to 4.7%.
  • Melbourne was problematic for most contemporary music stations. How long will this trend last?
  • Fox fell to a 5.9% share, now on par with SCA stablemate Triple M (up 0.9 points).
  • Fox Breakfast with Fifi, Fev & Byron fell 3.0 points to 4.8%
  • Will the Hit rebrand pay off?
  • Will state-based regional shows pay dividends?

Duncan Campbell, content director, Australian Radio Network (ARN):

What keeps him up at night?

“What’s keeping me up at night at the moment?

“It’s an interesting one. To be honest, I think it’s the economy.

“Revenue is obviously incredibly important to any business. We’re a commercial radio business, and I think the industry needs the economy to kick back into gear, and that’s not going to happen until the borders are opened – first of all the state borders, and then the international border.

“We’re still yet to feel the economic impact of this pandemic. I think that’s something which keeps me up at night. Because we just need the consumer confidence to be back and advertisers to be advertising again, and that’s not going to happen back into pre-COVID numbers until we get these restrictions and borders open, which we have to do.”

Looming issues for ARN:

Campbell’s eyes may be fixed firmly on the economy and those invisible borders, but closer to home, there are a few areas of potential concern.

  • 97.3FM did briefly take the Brisbane Breakfast crown last year with its line-up of Bianca, Mike & Bob. It’s new line-up – which saw the return of Robin Bailey and Terry Hansen – has not retained the crown.
  • This survey it fell to 9.9% in the tight Brisbane Breakfast market. This puts it on par with ARN stablemate 4KQ (up from 7.2% last survey), but behind Hit105 (11.0%), Triple M (10.4%), Nova 106.9 (12.2%), and ABC Brisbane (11.0%).
  • Despite backing in Breakfast talent Jase & PJ, and affirming they’re part of a long-term plan, KIIS 101.1 in Melbourne struggled this survey. It was back to a 5.0% share.
  • Its Breakfast share fell from 6.8% to 4.4%.
  • In Drive, with Will & Woody (who won other markets), the share was down to 5.1%.

Tom Malone, managing director, Nine Radio:

Nine Entertainment Radio

What keeps him up at night?

“Oh, where do I start, Viv?

“I think we are confident in the strategy that we’ve put in place. And now it’s proving that strategy, and I think today is the first step in that, and now we have to get up tomorrow, everyone across the country, and do another good show tomorrow – be it Breakfast, Mornings, Afternoon, Drive, Evenings, Weekends – and then we have to keep our operating costs as efficient as possible, and then we have to keep driving that revenue number.

“So it really is, that is the challenge for us over the next couple of years, is continuing to serve our audiences, and delivering what they want, which is really great local news, sport, weather, traffic and entertainment – but then also, is to make sure that we’re profitable, and delivering to the Nine Group result and returning value to shareholders.”

Looming issues for Nine Radio:

Malone and Nine Radio may have proven the naysayers wrong, and delivered a stellar result for 2GB and 3AW, but there’s still work to be done, particularly on the commercial side.

  • Finding an audience for its music format stations (2UE and Magic). In Melbourne, Magic 1278 had a 0.9% share (up from 0.2%), and in Sydney, 2UE 954 had 0.6% (down from 0.7%).
  • Building up its Brisbane audience. 4BC is far from being the dominant force in the market like its stablemates 2GB in Sydney and 3AW in Melbourne.
  • 4BC had a 7.1% share, making it 7th in the market.
  • The network has just a 3.6% share in Drive.
  • Getting a larger share of the advertising dollar pie. Nine has admitted despite its market dominance in various cities, it’s not pulling in the revenue to match it, noting this is “disappointing”.

Paul Jackson, chief programming and marketing officer, NOVA Entertainment:

What keeps him up at night?

“I sleep pretty well, to be honest. When you’ve been doing it for as long as I have, you just don’t get too over excited about the good ones and carried away with it, but don’t get too down about the bad ones.

“When you’re always working to a long-term plan, it’s inevitable there will be bumps in the road, but if you’ve got a clear vision and you always know what your end goal is and you’ve got the end vision in mind, you know when you turn your radio station on when it’s brilliant and when it’s misfiring. And you can go and talk directly to your presenters about that, and when you know exactly what you’re trying to achieve every day, then it’s a good place to be, and that’s not going to keep us up at night.

“I think when you don’t know, and you’re kind of searching around for a position and musically you’re changing your records all the time, or you’re changing your presenters all the time – I’ve been here 10 years now, but if I go back to my first couple of years and we were doing a bit of that and we were trying to find our way through. There were plenty more sleepless nights back then. But I feel very confident about smooth and the wonderful performance today from them particularly in Sydney. And other stations, with Ben and Liam eight months in, the #1 Breakfast show [in Adelaide]. It’s been brilliantly executed from them, from the team around them, from Ben Latimer. We come up with a game plan for our shows and go for it. It’s happened on a quicker timeline than we anticipated, we thought it might take a year, so that’s stunning success.

“And on the other side you’ve got really experienced shows like Nathan, Nat & Shaun [in Perth]; and Ash, Kip & Luttsy with Susie O’Neill [in Brisbane], doing #1 performances. So I think we’ve got top-class programmers and top-class shows, so we expect to be consistent, and we don’t expect to do bad books. And we’d get very upset if something out-of-the-blue happens, but generally, for us, not too much out-of-the-blue happens that’s bad for us that we don’t see coming, because I think we’ve got a pretty good grip and vision on all of our output.”

Looming issues for NOVA Entertainment:

Jackson sleeps well, and knows one survey doesn’t rule them all, but there must be a few thoughts buzzing away as he plonks his head on the pillow.

  • Will Nova’s recent changes to Workdays pay off?
  • Will Joel Creasey’s addition to the syndicated Drive line-up see the network return to its top-of-the-charts position across all the major cities?
  • Nova lost its Drive crown in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide this survey.
  • Is Nova 100’s fall in Melbourne Breakfast to 4.6% (down from 7.8%) just a COVID anomaly?
  • Nova 100 now has just a 6.3% share in Drive, down from an FM-winning 10.3% last survey. This places it 6th.

For all the slips, spills and spin from the Survey 6 results, listen to the special edition Radio Today Tonight podcast.

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Reality
1 Oct 2020 - 11:51 am

I really don’t think you can read too much into these issue’s in Melbourne given the absolute crap storm this market is going through right now. 2 million people not driving to work? Can 3AW keep a 26% share in breakfast? Can ABC continue to dominate drive? No…. they get a spike from the news cycle and the entertainment stations were ALWAYS going to fall. Fox still have 940,000 cume… Nova in the 900’s and KIIS not far off.

Give it a few books… a few books into next year will be the time to look at these stats deeper. The game has changed. Anyone trying to create a panic stations vibe for Melbourne (Fox, Nova, KIIS) is someone who is clearly not in this market. It is a ghost town. You simply CANNOT put yourself into the mind of someone living in Melbourne if you’re sitting in Sydney were things are largely back to normal.

Liam Garrett
2 Oct 2020 - 12:25 pm

Nine Entertainment has achieved their desired result of changing the fabric of 2GB. Hidden in Ben Fordhams result are the figures of those aged 10-24 rising 7.7 with 55+ down 6.6. 2CH rose 5.6 with the 55+ aged group meaning any listener that requires detail, substance and intelligent conversation from their host has jumped ship to the safety of classic old music.
Nine Entertainment has deliberately dumbed down 2GB. Good luck to them, but the next survey result will show they that never understood their audience.

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