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Cathy O’Connor on growing Ooh Media’s market share, leaving radio and hopes for news on Facebook

Following the release of Ooh Media's 2020 financial results, Mumbrella's Zanda Wilson spoke with new CEO Cathy O'Connor about expectations for 2021 and the impact of Facebook's news ban on Ooh's Junkee Media.

It may be just a few short months after commencing her role as CEO of Ooh Media but it’s already come time for Cathy O’Connor to give her take on the performance of the company in 2020.

O’Connor’s appointment was announced in August last year, as she announced her departure from Nova Entertainment after 12 years as its CEO, plus five years as MD of DMG Radio.

She tells Mumbrella that she’s “absolutely loving the change”.

“I think that the longer I’m here, which is all of six weeks, my optimism for the opportunity for the sector and through media within it is only building.

“I have watched the out-of-home sector grow its prominence through digitisation and grow its share of the total ad pie over many years, almost with some envy.

“So I’m just thrilled that I now get to lead a business that’s got a key seat in that journey and is well-placed as a market leader to capitalise on the growth.”

Ooh Media CEO Cathy O’Connor

As for the company she now leads, and the Out-Of-Home (OOH) sector it sits within, it had an even tougher year than radio when it came to falling ad spend, with lockdowns severely impacting commutes and foot traffic.

Ooh Media had a revenue decline of 34% to $426.5m for the year ending 31 September 2020. The company reported underlying EBITDA of $63.2 million in CY20 compared to $139.0m in CY19, and an underlying NPATA4 loss of $8 million compared to $52.4 million in the prior corresponding period.

Net loss after tax was $35.7 million for the year.

But with promising signs showing in Q4, which saw revenues rebound to 70% compared to the same period in 2019, as well as a “more resilient” balance sheet, O’Connor thinks Ooh Media came out of 2020 as well as it could have.

“2020 was without precedent for so many companies and I think the main thing is that we saw that revenue recovery toward the end of the year,” she says.

“We grew our revenue share against a fairly volatile market, and that just speaks to the breadth of the assets that we have, and the way that we’re able to leverage our audience footprint across formats when things like airports and office towers might have changes in their audience.

“So I’m really pleased about that. And of course, in terms of the steps that the company took to stabilise the business and to put it on the right footing financially for the recovery.”

Ooh also reported that net debt at 31 December 2020 was $111 million; a reduction of $243 million from 31 December 2019.

“In terms of the balance sheet, it is more resilient, the debt is lower, and we have we have some new capabilities in how we can work with advertisers, flexibly, when audience dynamics such as lockdowns and things happen,” she adds.

“So we’re not seeing any negative impact in revenue in the event of short lockdowns.”

The key to continuing to grow Ooh Media’s share of the OOH revenue pie, O’Connor says, is about sticking to the core principles of the business, despite having to undertake significant changes.

“The business is in a position that even with further lockdowns, there won’t need to be as big a shift as we saw in 2020.

“I think that I think there’s probably not been a fundamental change to our plan. And that is to have the broadest and most diverse set of assets and scale in the industry,” she says.

“So everything we’ve done in 2020 was not to the detriment of that proposition. And then secondly, we believe that we have the most sophisticated insights and data to underpin the way in which we’re educating the market about those audiences

“None of those principles have been compromised through the short-term steps we took last year or in the structural savings that go through to 2021.

“I think like everyone, we learned the need to be adaptive in a changing world, but I don’t expect that the normal course of business will be a shift of that scale again. And the recovery in our revenue line gives me the comfort to be able to say that.”

So what about advertisers who might be hesitant hesitant to jump back into OOH?

O’Connor says marketers should remember that in the end; “Australia still has the same population”.

“It’s just that the behaviours have changed somewhat in areas and that normalcy is returning. So smart marketers trade through tough times. They don’t give up on brand salience or investment.

“I appreciate, everyone’s had to pull in the reins a little bit as we come out of recovery… but I think it’s those advertisers that take the longer term view that possibly stand to gain market share in their own unique sectors.”

Of course, Ooh Media isn’t just an OOH business, with Junkee Media also part of the proposition. Junkee became one of the latest publishers to sign a Google News Showcase deal last week. “Most digital publishers have been impacted by the code, so the Google [deal] is a net positive for the business,” O’Connor says.

“We’ve had a great relationship with Google, they understand the unique value of Junkee’s content.”

As for Facebook’s decision to ban news content, O’Connor echoed Junkee editorial director Rob Stott’s words last week, saying she’s “disappointed” with the approach the platform has taken as a response to the proposed News Media Bargaining Code

O’Connor remains hopeful, however, that a code can still be brought in place, allowing Junkee and other publishers to begin sharing news on Facebook once more.

“We do hope they continue to keep the dialogue open with the government and regulators around the code. We think it’s a fair proposition; the code.

“We think there should be fair value paid for quality journalism, and the inequity of that exchange still carries in Facebook’s case in our view.

“Having said that we’ve always had a good relationship with them. We hope we can restore that once those conversations re-commence, if they indeed do.”

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