The 3pm battle: Why one hour of radio has all the networks picking up their game
Ahead of tomorrow’s radio ratings release, Radio Today, casts a closer eye over that 3pm hour. What’s really going on in that key commercial and content battleground, and why is it so important?
3pm means different things to different people. For some, it might be the ringing of the bell, another relentless day of learning your times tables giving way to the prospect of two-minute noodles and some sneaky iPad time before the crushing blow of homework falls down upon you. For others, it’s the moment you consistently realise you need to leave home or work earlier to get your times-tables-loathing child from the school gate and take them home for the never-ending tug-of-war between post-school relaxing and the realities of getting shit done.
Or, perhaps, it’s when the eyes get heavy and lose focus as you stare down the barrel of a few more hours of work, trying to balance the optimism of what you could get done, versus the looming pessimism of whether any of it even matters and if it can just wait for tomorrow.
The different situations and stitch-ups people find themselves in at 3pm mean there’s a huge proportion of adults out there who, for whatever reason, need a distraction, a laugh, a pick-me-up or a moment to breathe.
Somehow all at once, people are tired but full of adrenaline, exhausted but motivated to get through the rest of the day, and perhaps not sure whether that lingering tension in the back of their neck is going to lead to an explosion of laughter or tears.
This goes some way to explain why FM commercial radio stations have put such a focus on this hour in recent years. Their audiences may be distracted and dropping all the life-admin balls they have in the air, but they’re also looking for someone who understands them, someone to share the load with, a voice to lift them out of their funk at work, or a song to listen to instead of the non-stop questions from the backseat.
Not only are audiences at this time looking for content to ease the load of their day, and help them transition as the day part shifts and evolves, they’re also engaged and looking for connection, innovation and inspiration, giving brands a key opportunity to integrate with programs tapping into this market.
All this combines to mean the 3pm hour has become a key battleground in content and commercial terms, something which perhaps gets lost in the flurry of radio ratings reporting around the tentpoles of Breakfast and Drive.
The key players
The Australian Radio Network (ARN) was perhaps at the forefront of openly recognising the importance of 3pm, launching the aptly titled 3PM Pick Up back in 2011.
Since then, it has boasted talent including Chrissie Swan, Wendy Harmer, Mehsel Laurie, Rebecca Judd, and current hosts Monty Dimond (back from maternity leave on Monday) and Yumi Stynes. It further cemented its intentions to make a big splash in the timeslot with its recent recruitment of radio bigwig Kate Langbroek.
Derek Bargwanna, head of content for KIIS Sydney and Melbourne, says the radio stalwart has really hit her stride with the program.
“Kate, I think, has never sounded better, and she’s obviously had a long history in media and on different radio shows. But she’s really come into her own working with two new people she hasn’t worked with, being Monty, who comes back from maternity leave on Monday, and obviously Yumi, who she’s been working with for many weeks while Monty’s been off. So Kate’s great. Relatable stories – even stories if people can’t relate to them, they’re just hilarious, so it’s really jumped from a good show to a great show – just with the injection of a super talent such as Kate,” he tells Radio Today.
Southern Cross Austereo’s (SCA) Hit Network has for a few years had Carrie Bickmore and Tommy Little (Carrie & Tommy) in the slot, initially from 3pm to 4:30pm across the network, but now extending out until 6pm.
Much like ARN’s reliance on its female talent to appeal to audiences at 3pm, SCA similarly banks on the enduring multimedia appeal of Bickmore to the show’s target demographic, and its target brands.
“Obviously, having Carrie as a mum of three is also really enticing, I think. We get a lot of brands that particularly want to go into that show because of her being a mum. But also because Tommy brings kind of cheek and sass to it. And a lot of brands don’t want to just be, they want to be memorable, right? So it’s a show where they can certainly guarantee that they’re going to have the delivery and the integration is going to be in a super, creative fun way, but nothing that they need to be scared of,” the head of the Hit Network, Gemma Fordham, previously told Radio Today.
Bickmore (right) at the recent Sydney Mardi Gras
And then over on Nova, there’s the lead-in to the nation’s #1 Drive show, Kate, Tim & Joel.
Nova perhaps has invested less in marketing its point of difference in this hour, playing highlights from the day before anchored by Tim Blackwell, as well as some pre-recorded segments prior the main show kicking off at 4pm.
The network’s chief programming and marketing officer, Paul Jackson, however, dismisses the idea that Nova does less in this hour than its rivals.
“I’m very happy with Kate, Tim & Joel. We have Tim in there and Kate and Joel. What we do is a mix of pre-recorded stuff and live stuff. So there’s a fair bit now, and we’re increasing that, where they’re in actually live, and then a bit of throwback to the previous day’s show as well. They make a lot of content that we appreciate not everybody heard every minute of every show, so reugritgating that with the best bits works well, and if you listen you can hear that’s mixed in with in-the-moment messing about.
“It’s a nice sort of fun, loose feel to the hour. I think that’s pretty fitting. And then we’re getting down to business at 4 o’clock is the way we approach it, and I think that works really well,” he says.
The commercial battlefield
Both SCA and ARN have pushed their programs as ideal places for brand integration. Safe content. Big-name talent. Captive audiences. Big results.
The 3PM Pick Up was spawned from a partnership with Chemist Warehouse – a brand with obvious affiliations to people feeling the pinch or needing to feel more connected to their body and mind as the day drags on.
“I think it’s playing straight to the right audience for the majority of brands,” KIIS’ Bargwanna tells Radio Today of the 3PM Pick Up’s enduring brand appeal.
“We’re all in the business of commercial radio, so [results for clients] plays a very important part for us, and we’re seeing ARN work with big clients like Chemist Warehouse and getting the very best results for us and them.”
Similarly, the Hit Network’s Fordham, says Carrie & Tommy fits the Hit Network’s mantra of a safe place for little ears and a fun place for big ears – creating a brand-safe environment, ripe for integrations.
“But in saying that, Carrie & Tommy, it doesn’t mean it should be dull or beige or vanilla. They have that ability to be able to turn it into still a really fun show, but that’s why brands like it, because it’s a safe environment for them to advertise in, because they know that they’re trusted names in terms of in talent,” Fordham previously told Radio Today.
Nova’s Jackson, meanwhile, says the importance of 3pm isn’t new, and shouldn’t be given disproportionate attention over other competitive hours.
Jackson: All hours of the day are important
“I don’t see an increasing importance in [3 o’clock], no. It’s always been important. All the hours are equally important, really, whichever way you look at it. One hour in isolation isn’t going to transform everything,” he says.
He does, however, like his rivals, recognise the commercial importance of integration at this time.
“I suppose the difference is, it’s a big hour for your potential revenue as well as client integration. It’s a transitional hour from heads down, work day music in the background into the Drive show, because it’s the pick-up time for that type of audience, so mum and dad are picking the kids up from school, and what station do the kids want to hear music? And what station do mum and dad want for music and personality?
“So it’s a hybrid role there. We’re fortunate to have Kate, Tim & Joel on from 3 o’clock at that point, which gives us that nice consistency and flow through.
“So, yes, it’s an important hour, but it’s not any more important than 4 o’clock or 5 o’clock or any more of the preceding hours,” he argues.
The actual outcomes
KIIS’ Bargwanna belives ARN got on the 3pm train ahead of its rivals, leaving the platform before, perhaps, the others had even looked at the timetable.
“Speaking on behalf of ARN, we definitely run our own race, and the 3PM Pick Up has been there for a long time and it has evolved,” he says. “And I think the other networks are looking at us and going ‘Well, look at what ARN are doing’, and they can see the listener benefits, because there’s strong results in that 3 o’clock hour for ARN, as well as the commercial benefits.”
Jackson and Fordham are similarly confident their shows are producing quality content for their key audiences, and offering brands unparalleled integration opportunities.
But then, of course, there’s ratings, which delivers a mixed picture of how everyone is performing.
In Survey 1 of 2020, Sydney was tight. The 3PM Pick Up us on top with 8.3%, just ahead of ARN stablemate WSFM (8.2%), which has Steve Fitton playing music from 2pm to 6pm. Kate, Tim & Joel on Nova was, somewhat amusingly, tied with former Nova co-host Marty Sheargold, whose highlights from his Triple M Melbourne Breakfast show play at 3pm in Sydney. Both had a 7.7% share last survey. Carrie & Tommy, meanwhile, trails on 5.5%.
The 3PM Pick Up was also on top in Adelaide, with a 16.0% share for the hour, ahead of Kate, Tim & Joel’s 13.4%, Carrie & Tommy’s 12.0%, and Sheargold’s 8.7%.
Carrie & Tommy, however, fares better in Brisbane and Melbourne.
In the Queensland capital, the show is on top with 13.2% for the hour, just ahead of Kate, Tim & Joel’s 13.0%. The 3PM Pick Up is on 6.5%, ahead of Sheargold’s 5.1%.
In Melbourne, GOLD’s Gavin Miller, on air from 3pm to 6pm, dominates the hour with 13.2%, while Carrie & Tommy is second on 9.0%. Kate, Tim & Joel has 7.9% to 3PM’s 6.5%, and Sheargold’s repeats have 5.1%.
Bargwanna, however, says the 3pm hour is about more than just the raw numbers. It’s about a different kind of results.
Success for the hour and the program, he says, is all about “engaging audio”.
“As long as the show is sounding fantastic. As long as our clients are happy and we’re creating some great solutions and some great entertainment for the audience, then we’re all happy.”
Survey 2 is released tomorrow.