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