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Attention all 90s babies: How nostalgia-filled RNB Fridays became a multi-platform brand

In 2015, SCA’s Hit Network launches RNB Fridays. What began as a one-off afternoon grew into a nation-wide listening experience and spawned live entertainment events, including RNB Fridays Live which is headlined in 2019 by Janet Jackson and the Black Eyed Peas. Mumbrella’s Hannah Blackiston spoke with head of Hit Network, Gemma Fordham,

Janet Jackson, the Black Eyed Peas, 50 Cent and Jason Derulo – four big names in music, on heavy rotation on commercial radio. Together on one ballot, with Kerri Hilson, Sisqo and Fatman Scoop, they provide an evening of throwback hits that will entertain punters with early-onset nostalgia.

This is what Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) is relying on with its RNB Fridays brand which runs across the Hit Network. What began as a single afternoon in Adelaide in 2015 has become a nation-wide listening event that appeals to a wide audience.

The Adelaide team, under Irene Hulme, were overwhelmed by the initial response, and made the decision to turn the afternoon into a weekly event. Its success saw it replicated across the Hit Network.

“It’s been about five years and we’ve done so much to extend the brand, and RNB Fridays Live is a component of that, but we’ve also done so much to ensure we keep the brand alive and not let it become fatigued. It started as a tiny seed of an idea in Adelaide and now it’s ended up as this incredible listening event that people tune into the radio for every Friday.”

Gemma Fordham says nostaglia and brand equity has been the key to RNB Fridays’ success

Gemma Fordham, head of the Hit Network, joined just after RNB Fridays had been rolled out to become a nation-wide event and instantly recognised the potential of the idea. But nobody could have predicted how much it would grow and the successful brand it has become.

November will see the fourth consecutive RNB Fridays Live event, brought together by Hit Network with Illusive Presents and Frontier Touring, for a one-show-only event in Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney. The concert series has succeeded where many others were unable to – Australia can be notoriously tough to host festivals and concerts in. Five major festival brands went under within two years of RNB Fridays Live launching, unable to find success within the complex balancing act of costs, artists and attendees – but Hit Network was able to find the right mix to secure sell-out crowds.

“The struggle with doing any major artists in Australia., or any festivals, is they’re incredibly expensive because bringing artists out this far, usually with their entourage and their production element, it just becomes too cost-prohibitive for us as a country,” says Fordham.

Selecting the right artists has been a big part of the success – artists who will bring in the crowds but who aren’t necessarily demanding huge fees for massive tours where they play entire albums. The partnership with Frontier Touring also helps, securing access to a host of talent.

The RNB Fridays Live experience in Sydney

“We’ve been really careful about the line-up in terms of selecting the right headline, ensuring the supporting artists are the right artists with the right songs,” says Fordham. “We know the audience, and I think that’s the thing that’s worked for us, why we’ve had so many years of success, is that we can amplify it across our network and we’re able to constantly hammer in the message of ‘come to this concert’.”

Finding a niche was the other trick. The multi-artist concert space was missing an RNB experience which tapped into the nostalgia listeners loved. It wasn’t until the Network started playing the classic 1990s and 2000s RNB tracks that they realised how keen the listeners were for the music, says Fordham, which sparked the idea of the live music events and also opened the Hit Network up to a mass-marketing opportunity across the brand and within the live experiences. From there, nightclub experiences followed, and a partnership with Mushroom, with ticketing and sponsorship revenue. Global expansion is potentially on the cards for the future.

Those ticket revenues are on the rise. 2016’s event brought in 50,000 attendees, followed by 90,000 in 2017 and 165,000 in 2018. Sponsors for the events have included Optus, Kmart, AAMI, Telstra, Mount Franklin, Puratap, Nando’s, Apple Thief and Vicinity Shopping Centres – as well as the advertisers who support the RNB Fridays broadcast. Listeners of the broadcast have increased since the initial years by 10-20% in each market, SCA says.

Taking place across five cities, RNB Fridays Live is growing, bringing in more punters every year

“It’s more than a concert, it’s an experience and people come for the artists, come for the hits they’re known for and the experience itself is phenomenal. We’re playing in our own space, there’s no-one else doing a festival like this, no-one else taps into that RNB market, and with the amount of equity we have now, people return year after year.

“When listeners engage, certainly with radio, there’s this personal relationship because it’s very intimate. The radio is on and we’re in the car with you, on your drive to work, there’s this personalised element to it. That’s the beauty of an event like this, it gives listeners something to touch and feel, you experience the brand in a much bigger element. We’ve been really lucky to grow this brand into something immensely successful and we’ve grown this brand and the listeners have grown with us.”

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