Can smooth really be the #1 FM in Melbourne and Sydney?


Nova Entertainments smooth is one of the most successful radio brands and formats of the last few years. Launched in Australia in 2012, it has been an outstanding success.

Adult Contemporary (a/c) has a long history in the Sydney market; 2dayfm was a successful Soft a/c in the 80’s and 90’s and Mix (now KIIS) was an a/c until the early 2000’s.

After a few failed attempts with Vega and Classic Rock, Nova Entertainment ( then known as DMG ) finally recognised the gap in the market for a soft a/c. The biggest thing NE got right with Smooth was they recognised the need to differentiate.

Soft a/c differs from many formats in that it’s not era driven, and is not necessarily a breakfast driven format. It’s reliant on mood and tempo. Mood drives the format. Its ‘relaxing’ to listen to. Relaxing being its key attribute.

smooth’s  main difference is that its music is exclusive and can’t really be replicated by other formats. Therefore it’s not blockable by competitors. smooth at launch played in an uncontested area. And they continue to have a unique music position in the Sydney and Melbourne markets.

The Soft a/c format can become boring, an inherent weakness of the format but NE have cleverly used personalities like David Campbell, Richard Wilkins, Robbie Williams as ‘guest‘ announcers giving the station great ‘star power‘.

For its parent company NE, smooth is music to their ears. It’s delivering strong ratings in Sydney and Melbourne yet has a lower cost base than other formats in Syd & Melb. It doesn’t have the hugely expensive breakfast and drive shows.

It has enjoyed some strong television marketing campaigns. The Michael Buble launch TVC was a great success and the recent Spandau Ballet ad was clever, selling the ‘ mood ‘ message well.

The smooth brand, format and launch was masterminded by Nova’s CEO  Cathy O’Connor, Group CD Paul Jackson and Marketing Director Tony Thomas.

Cathy O’Connor said: “Like any good brand, Smooth is a simple idea, executed consistently.  It’s a good example of the importance of differentiation. The station doesn’t always conform to rigid rules around music programming.  It is essentially as much art as science and Paul Jackson has been very skillful in how he has constructed the music and continues to move it around all within the brand parameters.  The profit and margin growth for the stations has been stellar to say the least. “

“I’m very upbeat about the future for smooth given that awareness for the brand continues to build and the conversion of cume to loyal listening remains high.  There are high passion levels in the listening base and the impact of word of mouth with the 35+ audience continues to help us drive this cume”.

So does Cathy believe Smooth can be number 1 FM?

She said: “Given the continuing trends, it is certainly possible that Smooth could rate No 1 overall in 10+ share at some stage in Sydney or Melbourne.  I would certainly consider it a career highlight if and when it does.”

It’s not a huge surprise that Smooth is performing well, Adult Contemporary is a leading format in other major capital cities like KOST FM which is number 1 in Los Angeles, Lite-FM is number 1 in New York, Heart is a high rater in London, and the Smooth network rates very well in the UK.

But credit must go to the Nova Entertainment team for its decision to pursue this direction for smooth.

Since its launch smooth’s distribution has been widened via Digital radio and a Foxtel channel.

The brand has also been extended thru events like the Smooth Chocolate Festival.

So can smooth be the number 1 FM radio station in Melbourne and Sydney? Yes it can be. It’s only a matter of time and by how much!

smooths current ratings position is approximately 1% from the number 1 FM position already. So it’s very close!

Whilst Smooth is going well for Nova Entertainment, its national brand Nova is experiencing challenges in the key markets with Nova Sydney placed #5 FM and Melbourne #6 FM. No doubt NE’s management will address this over time.

For smooth however there is considerable growth to come. It is, in radio terms, still a fairly new brand.

At a dinner recently, two of the guests, women in their 40’s had been “listening” to smooth via Foxtel. The conversation went along the lines of…

“they play the best music”and “I love every song they play, its relaxing”.

I told them about smooth FM on the radio. They had not heard of it and had never listened to it (yet).

So smooth is still building awareness.

It’s been a great ride for smooth.

Listeners like it, Sales love it!

Brad March is a Director of Radio Today a former Program Director, Group Program Director & CEO of Austereo and Group Programmer at ARN. He is Director of Marchmedia. 

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