‘It will be dire’: Grant Blackley on regional media’s future without intervention

Editor & Content Director

Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) CEO Grant Blackley has issued a rallying cry, warning of the catastrophic consequences for regional media if the Federal Government doesn’t intervene.

Blackley, and other CEOs with regional media assets, have been on a campaign of late to put pressure on governments to support regional media, level the playing field, and open up opportunities for collaboration, acquisition and more efficiencies.

Blackley noted the likes of SCA had benefited from PING (the Public Interest News Gathering program) and the JobKeeper subsidy, however these handouts wouldn’t last forever.

And, he said, he doesn’t actually like asking for special treatment and financial support.

“We don’t like driving down to Canberra and fundamentally [asking for] handouts saying ‘We need further support’. What we want is we want the rules to be opened up to allow us to organise ourselves and fundamentally create a sustainable model,” he said at an AdNews Live event yesterday promoting the Save Our Voices campaign.

“We don’t want this [these handouts] in perpetuity. We want, as I’ve said earlier, to try and sustain our own businesses on our own merit – however there’s going to be some serious decisions that will be made by certain players – whether we employ the journalists that we do, whether we nationalise more often, whether we sell assets. I don’t think our Government and our communities, and we certainly don’t want that outcome,” he added.

“So five years from now, if nothing’s done, there will be very few local voices, local stories told, and I think there will be, unfortunately, irreparable damage done [to businesses].”

Host of the panel, journalist Ray Martin, pushed Blackley on if this could mean even more radio programming coming out of major metro centres such as Sydney and Melbourne, to which he responded “Absolutely. No question”.

“You don’t know what you’ve lost until you lose it,” he said.

He again used the platform to push for the removal of the one-to-a-market rule and the voices test, noting that he’s “sure there’s places in Australia where we’re actually breaching that rule at this point in time”.

Across both radio and television, Blackley said the organisation had run out of fat to cut. SCA has found the efficiencies that there are to find, and now it needs to be allowed to be more innovative and collaborative, he said.

“We’ve cut our cloth in a whole range of ways in our front-of-house investment and our back-of-house investment. We’ve tried to become more effective and efficient,” he said, noting its sale of its television broadcast towers.

“We have laid off some people, but we’ve laid off people in fairness in both metro and regions… So what we’ve said is we’ve said ‘What are we good at? What are we competent at? And what aren’t we competent at? And what’s going to make a difference to local communities?’ And we have therefore looked at everything back of house that doesn’t affect the consumer, and we’ve tried to make that more efficient, but we’ve done that, and there’s nothing left.

“So all we do now, is we connect with content and we sell content into that stream and all the things that happen in the background that have happened for the last 60 years in TV or radio, effectively has been outsourced. So we can’t go any further.”

While the Save Our Voices campaign is largely targeted at television and news operations in regional Australia, Blackley also highlighted the importance of radio.

“Radio is the most important asset in any [region] because it’s what you wake up with. It’s the connection. You can call in. You can talk to them,. You hear what’s going on,” he said.

The time to act, he said, is now. By 2025, regional media won’t be around otherwise, he warned.

“I think it will be dire in five years. Five years is too late. I think two years is too late, to be honest. I think the markets are moving so quickly that the digital giants are soaking up more and more attention,” he said.

“We’ve done all the things that you could expect of us.”

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What ever it is you're selling, I'm not buying.
1 Dec 2020 - 12:05 pm

I didn’t realise regional media businesses weren’t also allowed to distribute their content on the internet… like all those “new” competitors who aren’t allowed to distribute their content terrestrially.

Rob
1 Dec 2020 - 12:36 pm

What does Grant Blackley know about radio?

He thought it was a good idea to pay Rove $2million a year to host breakfast

timetosell
1 Dec 2020 - 1:13 pm

If SCA are worried about the future of regional media, then they should sell their TV assets to another operator and forget about television to just focus on radio.

Removing the 1 to a market rule and voices rule is a bad idea and will push advertising rates up for local businesses as well as entrench the market power of 1 or 2 incumbents.

Regional Casualty
1 Dec 2020 - 1:50 pm

SCA have left a lot of us high and dry, in remote parts of the country, because of their inability to see the importance of sustaining local radio. If you are reading this thinking that its all Covid-related, it isn’t. They’ve been sinking for a while. Covid was just the right excuse to kill off what regional obligations they could.

As for asking themselves “what’s going to make a difference to local communities”, should the bushfires be as horrific this season as they were last season, you can bet your arse that the “innovative” statewide shows wont be there to do the emergency broadcasting. THAT will be the difference to local communities, Grant.

Aware that this is a supremely salty comment, however, I think we can all agree that Grant Blackely is man wholives and breaths excuses for continual failure.

Cheers.

Donald Van Nooten
1 Dec 2020 - 2:32 pm

Why is it that owners and operators of Oz regional media don’t update their local direct ‘selling’ model? Might I suggest you get in touch with arguably one of the worlds most innovative direct selling minds (Matt Hackett of myAdconnect)to hear their latest. I know he attempted to show his wares to some Oz operators and got brushed by some naive nervous senior sales gate keepers. Just saying…..

Change starts at the top grant.
1 Dec 2020 - 2:34 pm

I don’t think it’s the ownership and reach rules that are the issue. It’s your abdication of community support, it’s your disregard for local content, your abandonment of talent development and a weird desire to make everything look and sound the same.

Your stations were once a community asset we in regional Australia relied on, identified with… Now, what’s the point, it’s just Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth or Adelaide saying our city name every so often between songs.

Damien
1 Dec 2020 - 3:08 pm

No more fat to cut? SCA is still a very top-heavy business paying alot of money to people who continue to fail the business.

Maybe Grant should stop going to Canberra and go to his regional stations to find out why they arent performing. Guaranteed its the lack of localism.

A fish rots from the head down
1 Dec 2020 - 3:41 pm

The real problem and the elephant in the room is is that $100s of millions of dollars worth of debt that SCA carries to from the company in the first place.

Southern Cross Media on its own was in an excellent position, as was Austereo. Companies that had more than enough resources behind them to survive economic storms. They were doing fine, Government never should have allowed the merger.

Surprise surprise, companies like Capital Radio, Grant Broadcasters, ACE and other stand-alone networks are stronger than ever with excellent regional coverage. Some have actually sacked no staff at all.

What the Government really needs to do is force the breakup of companies like SCA that suck away the resources and destroy once-great regional radio powerhouses. Shame on Ray Martin for selling out.

Sell the regional stations, sell the metro stations and sell the TV licences to clear that debt and allow other, more well-suited operators to take over.

We can then maybe avoid the massive job sackings as of late with breakfast hosts and other presenters which leave punters and advertisers fuming.

SCA just want to eliminate the competition so they’re the only game in town. Rather than admit failure, the greatest teacher.

Competition is healthy and I can tell you now, the independent networks that don’t carry debt have no problem running rings around the evil tech companies.

Hate to pile on... but.
1 Dec 2020 - 3:50 pm

Can the intervention be ACMA having you run the markets like radio stations and not relays of other stations… or, failing that, return the spectrum for auction.

Benjamin Starr
1 Dec 2020 - 3:53 pm

I have to say reading this, radio and operators of radio have themselves to blame. Greed, monopolising radio asset regionally; it is lazy and provides NO LOCAL PROGRAMMING. To be honest why would you listen.

In the bushfires last year not ONE regional SCA station was on the ball, instead they just played another song…………. Bill’s Super Radio Network was the only network dropping network shows and stations went local talk they informed us updated us and provided a vital source of information.

This giant radio operators cry poor mouth but in the goods times they had no issues taking the loot. Now you want a handout, let’s be really honest your stations are irrelevant in regional towns you’ve killed every opportunity for training and development of future broadcasters and you say things will get worse. Mate they can’t get much worse they are terrible now. There is no training or start for talent to grow.

We are all sick to death of burn’t out Game Show Hosts and Reality Stars walking into our industry with no respect for it. They can’t even operate the equipment there’s no passion no interest but they take the money.

You know nothing about regional Australia except to loot us of creativity, localism and then you even have the hide to run TV stations and distribute local news updates with kids who wouldn’t have a clue where Broken Hill on a map is let alone the issues facing a town.

I taught radio for 17 years at TAFE NSW. It was inspiring to be in the world of kids with dreams. This industry is dying because people like Channel 9, SCA control media assets and use it as a dumping ground for talent from TV.

Marconi would hang his head in shame. A bloody pandemic is an excuse Marconi and Radio thrived in World Wars. You have lost relevance with your audience and that is because you offer nothing.

Go Back to Grass ROOTS get out there in the community. Start been a positive force and engaging with localism or get out of the game.

You Can't Be Serious
1 Dec 2020 - 5:26 pm

Someone’s taking the piss. SCA is the most top heavy network in the country.
There’s a Group Content Director, Hit Network CD and Triple M CD.
Then the local PD’s.
Plus they have Heads of Music for both networks.

Neither ARN or Nova have such expensive liabilities on their books…and they both beat SCA hands down in the national ratings.

Grant…..time to start culling at the high cost end of your business…not the low hanging fruit.

Chenny
1 Dec 2020 - 5:39 pm

Going to go against the grain here it seems…. I get that many people in the comments are salty former SCA breakfast shows… but listening to regional for years, I really struggled listening to most stations outside of metro and major regional. Poor quality, hardly got any feedback from people so did their own thing. Most of the time weren’t even truly “local” you’d hardly hear about the market anyway – all celeb content or personal stories (they were too busy eyeing off the next opportunity to leave that market). Bushfires will always be covered someway, it’s a huge company with lots of people.

Give me 10 truly GREAT local content spikes from the month leading up to the change and I’ll give you a grand.

Very sad that people lost jobs… I feel for them big time… but the “if they aren’t local it won’t work” I don’t think will be the case.

Anthony The Koala
1 Dec 2020 - 6:32 pm

I have observed the sameness of regional radio over the last 20 years.

To illustrate, listen to AM radio on any evening or early morning, as you move the frequency control (the dial) you can easily receive regional stations. But have you noticed that the signals are delayed (about 30 milliseconds) versions of the capital city programs. No regional voice.

A story from the ABC’s “Media Watch” raised the issue of lack of local content on regional radio in 2009, https://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/episodes/regional-dis-content/9974746 . The links within the abc’s document don’t direct you to the ACMA page regarding local content.

Nevertheless I refer to the Broadcast Services Act (Cth), (Cth) (‘BSA (Cth)’), reference https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2020C00364 , sections 43B and 43C refer to local presence and local content requirements of regional radio stations. For example regional radio must broadcast during daylight hours from 6am to 6pm local content, section 43C(1) and (8). That may well explain no local requirements from 6pm to 6am!

It may also explain why the ABC’s “Media Watch” in 2010 raised the issue of 2SM broadcasting the breakfast program to 2HC Coffs Harbour, https://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/episodes/regional-dis-content/9974746

In contrast a “metropolitan” broadcaster, under s61CA of the BSA (Cth) is a broadcaster in a capital city with a GPO. A metropolitan broadcaster is not required to have local content. So for example a broadcaster can broadcast from Sydney to Brisbane without violating local content requirements because the destination broadcaster (Brisbane) is not a regional broadcaster.

In conclusion, by law, a regional broadcaster must broadcast local content from 6am to 6pm. Change the law by extending the hours to require more local content? Alternatively, does being “more sustainable” and “…level the playing field, and open up opportunities for collaboration, acquisition and more efficiencies….” mean less localism by changing the “daytime” hours provision to less?

Thank you,
Anthony of exciting Belfield

MJ
2 Dec 2020 - 6:06 am

What’s difference between Donald Trump and Grant Blackley ? Trump was popular in regional areas.

Niko
2 Dec 2020 - 10:12 am

Is History repeating itself?

CEO Grant Blackley sacked by Network Ten after unexpectedly poor profit numbers.
Covid wasn’t around in 2011.

Peter Menton
2 Dec 2020 - 10:56 am

Grant,

The answer to the future of regional radio is simple , just let the market forces work. If SCN can not make a go of their regional licences under the present rules just sell the assets to someone who feels they can. With some luck, the radio licences will return to local business consortiums and once again serve their local communities. The judgement of any radio operator such as SCN that nationalised their regional breakfast programmes has to be questioned. Big is not always Beautiful , particularly in regional media.

Alex
2 Dec 2020 - 11:29 am

Bring back 4TO and 4GR.

And KO-FM.

You get the picture.

Think about content
2 Dec 2020 - 12:11 pm

Yes the digital giants are well on the way. The expansion of content choice in Metro radio through DAB+ has helped those broadcasters in the battle for ears even if they do not capitalise on the full digital and hybrid radio capabilities.

So, given that those digital giants are totally able to distribute to regional listeners why is there not a push to expand content offerings in the regional areas. DAB+ is the perfect medium to do that in most licence areas and will provide opportunities for additional local content whether from the commercial broadcasters or community – there is so much opportunity that is not being developed and blamed on cost when the cost is actually not great, especially when compared to the resources being pushed into areas with smaller returns.

Anonomous
3 Dec 2020 - 6:34 am

It will be dire. Mr Blackleys last two companies the Keystone Group and Ten Network both went bust. Is he going for the trifecta ?

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