Lachlan Murdoch learns from his mistakes – which is a healthy sign for Wake Up

Next week sees the launch of Ten’s latest foray into breakfast television. This time round, it should fare better, argues Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes.

Most mornings I drink my first cup of coffee from my Classic Rock mug. Which amuses me more than it should.

It’s a reminder of an embarrassing period in the history of Lachlan Murdoch’s DMG Radio.

But it’s also a reminder that he seems to learn from his mistakes.

classic rockThe shift from the poorly rating Vega to Classic Rock was abrupt to say the least. The press release from DMG (at the time 50 per cent owned by Murdoch) arrived in the late afternoon on March 11, 2010. The new station launched the next morning. The mug arrived on my desk that morning too.

It turned out that either the network didn’t do enough research, or the research was wrong. Classic Rock didn’t take enough of the audience from Southern Cross Austereo’s Triple M, or elsewhere. It remained stuck on a share of three or four per cent of the Sydney and Melbourne audiences. It dropped the Classic Rock name after little more than a year.

paul jackson dmgBut the next time round, they did it better. By then, DMG had hired Paul Jackson as its new programming director. He came with the credentials of having successfully done the job in the competitive UK market with the likes of Virgin Radio, Capital FM and XFM, three of the biggest brands in the London market.

Jackson did it properly. (Perhaps inspired by Magic in the UK) he identified the gap as being in the (relatively unsexy, but lucrative) easy listening format. But there was no abrupt launch for smoothfm.

They planned it behind the scenes and announced it a few weeks out, then built a marketing campaign around it. When it launched in May last year, it slowly began to build. In last month’s set of radio ratings, it hit an all time high. The Sydney ratings for smoothfm, with a share of 6.8 per cent, were precisely twice the 3.4 per cent of Vega when it was axed.

A similar pattern to the Classic Rock debacle can be detected in the mess at Ten’s Breakfast. Murdoch also owns a stake in Ten.

It came just as Lachlan Murdoch was installed as chairman of Ten after a stint as acting CEO while his appointee James Warburton waited out his lengthy gardening leave.

While it’s easy to say with hindsight, the launch was half-arsed. The appointment of (the inexperienced in producing breakfast TV) Majella Wiemers as EP was probably not the right move.

The launch was even more sudden.

Ten Breakfast billboardAs it happens, I got to see it up close. My colleague Brooke Hemphill  and I were lined up as potential regular pundits to talk about advertising. They booked us in for a practice run. Then the night before, Kevin Rudd resigned as foreign minister, triggering a leadership spill.

They decided to go on air early. Our trip to the couch turned out to be the first day on air. As I was being miked up, I’m pretty sure I saw Lachlan heading into the control room clutching a bottle of champagne.

There hadn’t been much spent on marketing anyway, but the sudden move meant that the viewers didn’t even know the show was on the air.

The ratings were awful. Disastrously in PR terms, they fell to zero in Melbourne for the 8.45 to 9am segment. (If memory serves, that’s about when I was on.) It averaged 49,000 across the five city metro.

TimBurrowes, brooke hemphill, paul henry, kathryn robinson

I’m in something of a minority here. Most people have the view that presenter Paul Henry was the main problem. Actually, I think the bigger issues were underplanning, the lack of an experienced producer to deliver the hidden intricacies of making such a show and insufficient marketing spend.

Which brings me to the parallels with Classic Rock.

This time round, Ten has done it differently.

Much like the hire of Paul Jackson, this time, they’ve got the right man for the job, hiring as executive producer Adam Boland who famously turned Seven’s Sunrise into a success story.

There’s also been far more planning. Rehearsals have been going on for weeks. The cast was announced months ago.


And the marketing is there. The bus tour of the country, the posters, the promos are just the beginning.


I’m sure that this weekend it will be impossible to pick up a newspaper without huge ads promoting the show.

Of course, none of this guarantees success. The lowish bar of a 100,000 average audience for the first week is being touted as a minimum, just as it was for Breakfast. And in the 18 months since that launch, the environment has changed for Ten – much lower average audiences make it far harder to successfully launch a show through network promotion alone.

And that’s the thing about TV (and indeed much mainstream media) these days. You can do everything right and still fail.

But, like the smoothfm relaunch, this time Lachlan’s taken no shortcuts.

Let’s hope for Ten’s sake it has the same results.

Tim Burrowes is the editor of Mumbrella. He was briefly the advertising pundit on Breakfast. But nobody saw him.


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