Grant Blackley on the “golden age of audio”, DAB+ and no new Dobbo
Southern Cross Austereo last week reported a 6.1% increase in earnings in the six months to December 31.
But net losses tallied $119.3 million, after a $37.5 million profit in the same period a year before.
Despite that, CEO Grant Blackley says the results are either “slightly above or on market expectations”.
Speaking Radio Today following the results announcement, Blackley says the period indicated a “solid outcome” that will be appreciated by the market.
He immediately pointed to a turnaround in metro market growth, in addition to the traditionally strong performing regional area of SCA’s business.
“I would say that I think all of the indices that we put forward in terms of growing our metro market, advertising and growing our share commensurately with that was well received,” he says.
“I also consider that our regional assets, we’ve been able to manage exceptionally well, and continue to provide investment into those regions but at the same time, we’ve had some better cost outcomes across the board.
“I think it’s been a very solid outcome and I think the market hopefully will appreciate that.”
So where is the biggest growth potential inside the next 12 to 18 months?
Well, the SCA audio business division – which incorporates metro and regional radio and podcasting – had a 3.8% spike in revenue and a 7.3% expansion in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation.
Blackley on DAB+
Blackley points to the growth of DAB+ digital and podcasting as he muses about the future which will momentarily see audio in Australia enter what he calls a “golden age of audio”.
“I think we look at all of those aspects of our business. In terms of the opportunity, I think the audio market is in very rude health,” he says.
“What we mean is that audio is becoming more pronounced and more impactful across communities.
“We’re seeing that with FM, we’re seeing that with DAB, we’re seeing that with device take-up of smart speakers and inclusion of digital receiving devices in cars. All of those things are actually putting very positive momentum behind the sector.
“And that’s before I talk about podcasting, which is a wonderful on-demand audio product that thankfully we have a very dominant position in, if not the leading Australian commercial podcaster.”
When pressed on the future of DAB, Blackley responded to criticism recently levelled at SCA over how they’ve represented audience size, incorporating DAB listenership into their terrestrial radio numbers.
“I think we have to recognise that we are the largest landholder of spectrum in DAB,” says Blackley. “We own about 50% of the commercial spectrum in perpetuity.
“It is a growth platform globally and within Australia and I’m sure some of the criticism is probably some of those networks or those employees of those networks who don’t own as much spectrum as they would have liked to.
“We see enormous brand value in DAB.”
The SCA chief goes on to explain that the decision to aggregate audiences from terrestrial and DAB listening was done because it is “brand safe”, a unique proposition for advertisers when they look at ratings.
“We reorganised ourselves into two sets of brands where we have four stations under Hit, and four under Triple M, that are quite divergent in some respects to the audiences.”
“We are now releasing DAB ratings with a gold standard from GFK so it is fully audited set of results with gold standard. We’re making a very scaled conversation and we’re making a very simple introduction of DAB.
“The advertisers and agencies are talking about one thing, and that one thing this year versus last year means that we have 397,000 more listeners, or 8.4% more reach.
“That’s actually meaningful in its own right, and that’s just a point in time.
And this is just the beginning, with Blackley explaining that DAB+ saturation a means of future-proofing the business.
“Next year when we’re talking, the universe will be bigger and our audience will be bigger and that’s just the natural momentum behind it.
“[DAB] must get to 100% as it has in certain countries around the world and when it gets to that point, we’ve actually seen people – government turn off their FM.”
Blackley on a new Dobbo
On the content side of the SCA beast, Blackley tells us that life after Guy Dobson, who departed the business recently, has been a smooth transition.
He also pointed out that there has been no firm decision on whether a new group content or creative director will be installed as a replacement at this stage.
“We have a group of very talented executives at the network and across our market, and the most pleasing thing is that the preparations that they had made have set us up very well to enter the year,” says Blackley.
Blackley on Content
When it comes to content, the SCA boss is pleased with how his shows that have been installed in the last 12-18 months are performing. Familiarity with shows is a key reason for increasing retained listenership, he explains.
“We see the Moonman in Sydney on Triple M as an opportunity and we see Bec and Cosi in Adelaide on the Hit network as an opportunity.
“What we know is that our formats are a year older and have aged a bit more. People now recognise that Carrie & Tommy and Hughesy & Kate have been there.
“Kennedy Molloy have been there for the year. There are no substantial changes. In actual fact, there’s greater continuity, I think, in what we’re putting forward.
“So on the content side, I think it’s very strong. On the market level, I think it’s strong and clearly our monetization of those assets in the markets we operate.”
Blackley says that part of the reason behind installing Triple M Sydney’s new Breakfast show was to compliment 2DayFM Breakfast, and the 2Day ‘More Music, More Variety’ music strategy in particular.
“We made a meaningful change in breakfast in many ways and we did that not only with Ed, Grant and Ash but most important, we also did it through our music.
“We aged the music by 10 years to find a gap in the market that we think is quite valuable. So we entered this year with the team.
“We have already made some inroads but I don’t think we’ve fully capitalised on those collective changes just yet.
“It remains our number one priority to garner the best outcome we possibly can in Sydney breakfast.”
Blackley on Talent
Finally, Blackley hailed some recent hires and movement of staff, with SCA securing the services of Jonesy & Amanda producer Laura Bouchet and Hot Tomato CD Dan Bradley.
In addition, Fox FM CD Adrian Brine has also moved to Sydney, recently put in charge of talent development unit Hubble.
“Obviously, he’s a highly talented individual and we couldn’t find a better place for him than to head up our talent development in Hubble.
“His role won’t just be about not only development of talent that might be within the network or be enticed to the network, and the education and mentoring of producers and EPs across our market place.”