A tale of two cities: Why smoothfm is soaring in Sydney but coasting in Melbourne
The most recent radio ratings gave NOVA Entertainment a mixed report card for its smoothfm brand. Here, chief programming and marketing officer Paul Jackson admits he might need to look at how he programs the station in Melbourne and explores why a brand which is so strong in Sydney isn’t making its mark down south.
NOVA Entertainment’s smoothfm in Sydney is radio’s little station that could.
Against a highly competitive backdrop, it’s now in a position where it’s within spitting distance of Sydney’s market leader 2GB in terms of share, with people speculating it could be the station to remove its long-held crown.
It’s also often cited when people ponder what on Earth to do with Sydney’s 2DayFM. You can’t just kill a station and start again, can you?
But this is exactly what NOVA Entertainment did back in 2012 when it gave up on the Vega and Classic Rock experiment and introduced smoothfm to the market in Sydney and Melbourne.
When people say “It can’t be done”, it’s not long before another voice pops up with “But NOVA did it with smooth, and look how that turned out”.
Indeed if smooth does knock 2GB off its mantle, it will be one of the radio stories of the year.
So why then is the music-based easy-listening format so significantly shaking up the market in the New South Wales capital but plodding along with a 7.6% share in Melbourne, behind 3AW (15.6%), GOLD (11.1%), ABC (8.8%), Nova (7.8%), and Fox (7.8%)?
NOVA Entertainment’s chief programming and marketing officer, Paul Jackson, concedes the stations are operating in very different market conditions, but they are programmed the same – something he may need to address.
“We program them exactly the same, which I know competitor stations don’t do that with their equivalent brands,” he says. “So that’s something we will look at and go ‘Are we at a point where there’s enough of a difference in terms of the audience we’re targeting?’”
Jackson: smooth Melbourne’s moment will come
He says smooth will likely need to “go a bit narrower” in Melbourne because there’s so much noise in the market and competitive stations all sitting at similar share levels.
Could it also be that GOLD, with a similar demographic appeal but the talent draw card of Christian O’Connell, is hoovering up smooth’s potential audience then?
Jackson rejects this idea, and says the market is simply more close and competitive for smooth than its Sydney equivalent.
“Would we want to be one of two [share points] higher? Of course, but I think within the dynamics of Melbourne right now, everybody’s been marketing, whether you’re Nova, or Triple M or Fox, throwing everything at it and so on. So for share of voice for smooth, it’s been harder,” he says.
In Sydney, he notes, SCA’s 2DayFM is far weaker than the Fox equivalent in Melbourne, giving smooth more room to breathe, and more audience to collect in the New South Wales capital.
He also thinks there may be less loyalty in Melbourne, with people more inclined to give various stations a go.
“Other stations are performing well… and so many factors and dynamics need to come together. If you’re lucky enough to be doing some marketing, or in a good music cycle, or the content that your presenters are doing is capturing imaginations [then you’ll go well].
“I think we’re all mindful at the moment that a lot of stations [in Melbourne] have good cumes and do around the million mark, so it’s a good thing for radio… but all the stations are looking to put their best foot forward every day because people might flick up and down the dial and decide ‘What is the best offering here? Who should I listen to today?’ Just because they were listening yesterday, doesn’t mean they’re listening all the time.
“I think there is loyalty, but I think people will circulate through a few stations too. So you have to be on your game all the time or it can change quite quickly.”
Jackson admits the different performance of smooth across the two cities has given him some “food for thought”.
“There’s nothing to be knee-jerk about, but it’s in the pack certainly, whereas in Sydney it’s not in the pack – it’s ahead of the pack. So that’s the difference and it is something we’ll look at,” he says.
The network will focus on marketing smooth in Melbourne later this year, with Jackson confident it will turn things around.
“Smooth’s moment will come…You’ll see that come back very quickly.”