HT&E’s Ciaran Davis on iHeart’s local content strategy and his continued interest in outdoor

CEO Ciaran Davis breaks down HT&E's trading update in this chat with Mumbrella's Zanda Wilson, touching on digital audio growth and potential diversification opportunities.

“We don’t see digital audio revenue coming away from radio. We actually see it coming from other digital providers of content and audiences.”

HT&E CEO Ciaran Davis is speaking with Mumbrella following the company’s AGM and market update, during it was revealed that its main asset, Australian Radio Network, is on course for a revenue upturn in Q2 of 2021.

HT&E CEO Ciaran Davis

The update revealed that total revenues for ARN were down 2.5% in Q1, but up 53% year-on-year in April alone. In addition, digital audio revenues were up 180% in the quarter ending March.

Davis tells Mumbrella it’s a reflection of the fact that advertisers now have “a great understanding of the power of digital audio, there’s a lot of appreciation for the environments and the communication challenges,” and he’s also confident that marketers can use both digital and traditional radio together.

“The two are quite complementary because if you think of radio advertising, it’s very retail-driven or point of sale or action-driven, whereas digital audio tends to be in a different environment with potentially different forms of brand building.

“From our perspective, I think the awareness of the efficacy of the mediums of podcasts to music streaming is now known by advertisers.”

During this week’s AGM, Davis spoke about ARN’s partnership with iHeartRadio in the US as a “point of difference” for the local digital audio market. While other networks might be yet to have the scale to advertise across a wide range of digital audio as it’s consumed by Aussies, the iHeartPodcast Network is already there.

“Building scale, which was the first part of what we did, we’ve done that quite successfully,” Davis says.

The next part of the equation is the local podcast and digital content strategy. “We do see a gap in the market in terms of some content that is not being provided. That’s what we’re working on, and it will be launched in early-to-mid H2.

“It’s not about trying to replicate what’s there at the moment. We actually see a gap in the market for different forms of content,” he adds.

Off the back of the launch of a TikTok Trending digital radio station, Davis says there’ll be more dedicated stations to launch over the course of the year.

“One of our pillars is to grow new audiences beyond what our FM spectrum can broadcast to at the moment. TikTok is very youth-focused… the ability to promote our content to those types of audiences is something that excites us.”

New local podcasts are on the way for the iHeartPodcast Network

As the conversation draws back to financial results, the H&TE CEO admits that while the early numbers for Q2 are looking good, it will be necessary to look at the rest of the year in the context of 2020’s lockdowns, and how much radio, and the media in general, suffered over that time.

“Last year was such an odd year. Year-on-year is still what you look at in terms of talking about financials, but you’d also look back at 2019 to see where the market is at. We will look at 2019 from a revenue perspective too.”

The presentation also touched on diversification, as well as consolidation, in various areas. ARN has been HT&E’s key core asset for a few years now, and as ever, Davis is keeping his eyes peeled for opportunities.

“Everything’s on the horizon. We’re in a very fortunate position that we’ve got a very strong balance sheet,” he says.

“We’ve got a good understanding of the broader media markets through the management team and the board. Outdoor will be one of the sectors that we’ll continue to look at, obviously we have experience running Adshel as well.

“So yes, it’s one of the ones we will look at, but we’re not only looking at outdoor.”


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