ABC Local Radio boss on how 2014 is going
Greg Smith is an inductee into the Australian Radio Hall of Fame, and a Director of Radio Today.
Last year Radio Today presented ‘A Day in the Life of Jeremy Millar’.
Jeremy is the Manager of Metropolitan Local Radio for the ABC.
During that interview I asked him about the many challenges ABC Radio faces & what kept him awake at night. In this interview I wanted to see what progress he had made & what challenges lay ahead this year.
Greg: How has Local Radio been doing in the ratings?
Jeremy: When it comes to audience measurement, 2014 promises to be a much better year for the Australian radio industry. Better because we’re finally seeing more action with regional surveys. Better because in the metro markets 20% of the sample will be recruited from online research panels and will complete an electronic diary while 80% will receive a paper diary. Better because there’s a range of new reporting tools to help slice and dice the data.
It’s been a sad story that the radio industry hasn’t had a proper survey in the likes of Darwin or Hobart for a decade or so. Fortunately things are improving and the winds of change that have accompanied GFK to Australia will see a greater commitment to regional surveys in 2014 from the industry – something I welcome.
Last year we had some non-NMR surveys tested in Canberra and Launceston, and it was pleasing to see ABC Local Radio performing at a rate that was even better than in the Metro’s, so I’m keen to see the results from some additional markets this year. Why is this important? Well no one would play golf if you didn’t keep score – people want to know how they’re doing. Secondly, in the commercial world, businesses are used to instant metrics around their online advertising and overnight from TV – so efforts to get new radio data in the market – even if periodic – is surely welcome. Lastly, while the ABC is non-commercial, ratings are very important to us – they’re an accepted measure of performance and we want to deliver for our investors (the taxpayers).
Greg: What challenges do you see ahead for Local Radio?
Jeremy: Having just said we’re doing OK in the ratings, it’s important to note that our audiences on metro Local stations tend to be older and it’s challenging to recruit those in their early 40’s. We find if we can introduce people to our services you frequently hear them expressing surprise at how much they enjoy the content – but going back to AM, or even the notion of being “an ABC listener” proves a barrier for more than a few. Parallel to this, our TSL needs to improve. We can out-cume 3AW or 2GB or 4BC etc, but they’ll trump us when it comes to TSL. Why? Well their audiences tend to be older and may have more time available for radio listening, but given the clutter-free environment we enjoy without advertising this suggests we have work to do.
Commercials are of course valuable local information for these broadcasters too (the “I live here too” experience). No that doesn’t mean I’m advocating for commercials on the ABC, but it does mean I recognise that for the likes of 3AW and 6PR audiences, the commercials can have value beyond the obvious revenue equation.
Another challenge is around diversity. At ABC radio we have roughly equal gender splits male/female. But this isn’t the case with on-air roles. There are lots of women in production and management roles, but not enough on-air. Equally, when it comes to on-air roles, we’re whiter than the make-up of the cities we serve.
We’ve been learning a lot from the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), a public broadcaster that has spent the last decade addressing this with great success. When they first made some changes to their famous Metro Mourning show, the ratings dived and the Toronto press referred to the show as “Metro Mournings” (wondering if it was a Murdoch paper?) but the CBC had the guts and vision to worry it into shape, and after some long days they clawed back and have never been more successful than they are today with – at last count – 61 number one surveys in a row behind them.
Can we be more representative of our markets at the ABC? Absolutely. It won’t be easy, it will take a long time, but there are a lot of us who are impatient to see this through. This year we debuted Sunil Bedami (Hindu Indian) on a new Sunday evening show, and in Queensland Rhianna Patrick, (one of our Indigenous broadcasters), has been making waves with some primetime exposure on 612 ABC Brisbane. But that’s only two people; we have a long way to go yet. If you identify with a diverse background and see the ABC as a potential employer, contact the Local Content Manager in your nearest metro market. We’re after interesting storytellers who represent the broad church that is Australia, and while we might not have a vacancy today, it all starts with a conversation.
Over recent months we’re proud to have introduced Debbie Spillane to A-League commentary – much to the horror of some old white listeners. Meantime, Lisa Sthalekar (an Indian-born former female Australian international cricketer) has started doing some commentary work with us, and Indigenous footballer Brad Cook has been learning the ropes with our NRL coverage. Baby steps all of them, but it feels good to be heading in this direction.
Greg: What else is on the calendar?
Jeremy: As a public broadcaster we care deeply about the Australian story. One of the big events we will be covering in 2015 is the centennial of the Gallipoli landing. Local Radio will have an ANZAC team broadcasting from ANZAC Cove – with an ABC broadcaster representing Australia, another Turkey, and another NZ. This is going to be an important and solemn occasion, and combined with a wide range of archive and contemporary activity from ABC TV and online, our Centennial coverage represents the breadth and depth of content that only the ABC can deliver.