‘We’re in control of our own destiny’: SCA’s Grant Tothill on shaping the future of audio
SCA’s general manager of digital audio, Grant Tothill, has a sense of adventure and excitement about where the world of digital audio is heading, particularly in Australia. We don’t lack opportunity. We don’t lack creativity. We just need a roadmap for where we’re heading. Here, he talks to Vivienne Kelly about just how we might make it happen.
VK: Describe your job in one word:
It’s exciting because it’s the future. Digital audio is going to be a very big part of our life and we’re seeing it grow and grow and that means it’s virtually a green fields or blue ocean opportunity, and we’re all on a journey to explore it and make the best out of it.
So I think that’s exciting.
VK: If you could make a podcast about anything, what would it be?
GT: That’s a really good question.
There are a million different podcasts I’d love to be able to make, but for my own self-indulgent approach, I would probably say I would make an adventure series podcast where it tracked basically an in-field recording of some things like people climbing mountains or extreme adventures.
VK: What’s your prediction for where the industry will be in five years’ time?
GT: I think the exciting thing is we’ve started to see it accelerate now and I think in five years’ time it will be a far more accepted, dominant medium than what it is now, which I would say is still very much in its early stages, even though it’s starting to grow.
Probably around 10 to 12 million Australians are listening regularly to podcasts ,and it’s actually considered as very much part of a viable medium in Australia, as a part of entertainment, information and education, learning new things – it just becomes very much a part of people’s lives.
VK: You mentioned your role is exciting, but what’s the best part of your role?
GT: There are a number of great parts.
One part that is going well is ‘How do you navigate a roadmap forward given there’s so many different variables?’ And I think working with a leadership team like we have here at SCA is very exciting to be able to do that and everyone has a very considered view.
So shaping what our destiny might look like, and we’re in control of our own destiny, is pretty exciting.
That’s one part of the job I really love.
The other part of the job I love is seeing and watching creators come in with concepts and then the team working with them, and then the end product getting an audience, and then making money out of if.
The whole process of that is really exciting and we have a great team and they take risks and they try things, and that’s a lot of fulfilment to se every day. So that makes it great.
VK: And what about the biggest challenge you face in your role?
GT: The biggest challenge is looking at how we as a business and as a podcast business learn to be better at being super efficient in what we do to both grow audience and commercialise that audience in relation to podcasting.
That is a conundrum for everyone in the world in podcasting. I don’t think we lack creativity. I don’t think we lack opportunity to be creative. It is actually about letting that work be discovered and then making money out of it.
VK: So is that the biggest challenge for the wider podcasting industry?
GT: Yes, I think so.
I think if everyone is super honest, there’s not one podcast group that I talk to anywhere in the world that doesn’t face that same challenge of going ”How do we get this going? How do we grow an audience? And how do we commercialise this?” Whether it be a subscription play, whether it be an ad-funded play, I think everyone is working their way forward on that.
And so our challenge is: How do we navigate that and then learn about how to do that in a better way? Equally, the industry will need to. So it’s a bit of a double-edged sword on that one.
I think the Australian podcast industry really has a great opportunity to develop differently and better than how the US market has gone. The US market is a very big market and there’s lots of different things that we can do, but I think us having a smaller populous but with a lot of very strong players in the market, we’ll all be beneficiaries of where we end up with podcasting in Australia compared to the rest of the world.
VK: Do you think LiSTNR has any sort of advantages in that space in terms of trying to overcome that challenge in the next couple of years?
GT: I think we do as a compete business, yes.
If you have a look at the capacity to draw people into an ecosystem and you start to understand that behaviour, then I think we’ll be far better at using that data to a) create content which we think will attract an audience, b) understand audience behaviour, but c) monetise it in a more effective way.
So I think LiSTNR is the perfect introduction to allow us to start to change how we do things.
VK: What’s something about you that might surprise people?
GT: I don’t know, most people know me. I don’t have many secrets. I’ve been around for too long.
I think my passion for what I do is no surprise to people. People know I love to ski.
I think what might surprise people is actually, I’m a bit of a softie.
VK: If you weren’t in podcasting, what do you think you’d be doing?
GT: If I wasn’t working in podcasting, and we didn’t have COVID, so COVID-19 isn’t restricting us – so let’s say all things are equal – I think I’d become a ski bum. It would be awesome.
Entries for Radio Today’s Podcast Awards with LiSTNR are now open. Categories span podcast executive leader of the year, host or presenter of the year, branded podcast of the year and podcast company of the year. Late entries are open now until July 4. More information is available here.