Radio bosses: Nova stations surge but ARN at a loss over its declines

Following an interesting fourth radio ratings survey of the year Mumbrella spoke with radio content bosses about the surge in Nova's ratings, the uplift for Rove and Sam and whether ARN's stations have lost their mojo.

It is the second ‘bad book in a row this year for Australian Radio Network’s content boss Duncan Campbell and it’s fair to say that some of the results have left him scratching his head.

“It’s not the day we expected,” Campbell concedes. “Our strategy hasn’t changed. (It might) if we could identify changes in the market that would explain these sort of movements, but we can’t.”


Campbell: “We can’t explain some of these movements”

If there was one stand-out narrative in survey four of the GfK radio ratings it has been the rise of Nova Entertainment’s stations in key markets such as Sydney and Brisbane, often at the expense of ARN.

And while ARN might claim it is confused about what’s happened its counterpart Nova says this result has been a long time coming.

Nova’s stations surge in Sydney

In Sydney, ARN has been fond of touting its dominance of the FM breakfast market with KiisFM’s Kyle and Jackie O and WSFM’s Jonesy and Amanda dominating the top slots in the city for some time.

Jonesy Amanda

Jonesy & Amanda have shed two points in two surveys

But that breakfast dominance has come under pressure in the two most recent surveys with Nova’s Fitzy and Wippa now firmly in second place with a 7.7% share, SmoothFM in third with 7.4% share and Jonesy and Amanda in fifth, behind Triple M which a 6.1% share, having lost almost two ratings points in just two surveys.

Nova group program director Paul Jackson is under no illusions about what’s happened.

“The last book or two has seen a steady climb and Fitzy and Wippa at Nova have got themselves into a great place,” he says. “They are having fun and sounding good. Nova is also in a great place musically, we are ahead of the curve compared to everyone else.

“For SmoothFM, we have been up and down but what is great is that we have brought everyone together. 7.4 for Smooth is really astonishing and they are leaving WSFM for dead (at 6.1).”

Jackson is quick to add he doesn’t think this result is a flash in the pan, but rather the result of a significant amount of work .

Jackson: Confident Nova can maintain these results.

Jackson: Confident Nova can maintain these results

“This is one of our best ever results as a network,” he says. “It’s an across-the-board sweep for us. It’s also a first for us being number one overall and number two (in total people FM).

“I am confident. For Smooth it has been sevens – eights for much of 2016 – and with Nova I would say this sort of level has been coming for a while. With both Nova and Smooth I think both breakfast shows are in a great place, we have some great talent and the longer they are there the more people buy into it.”

Nova and Smooth both performed well in Sydney.

Nova and Smooth both performed well in Sydney

Campbell is quick to concede that much of the growth has come at ARN’s expense.

“Smooth and Nova have had quite a big impact this year, but that remains our biggest challenge: to counteract that,” he says. “It will be a key focus for us.”

“Smooth has done well and we need to acknowledge that, particularly with WSFM. Smooth has adjusted their eras where they are now aligning themselves in an era similar to us and this is proving a direct competitor to WSFM.

“We need to look at our music strategy on WS and also make sure that the breakfast content is tighter in light of music strategy on Smooth.

“It has happened quickly this year and we will react and respond accordingly.”

Campbell also makes a bold prediction about the rise of Fitzy and Wippa in breakfast to number two, arguing they are unlikely to remain there.

ARN says Fitzy and Wippa success in breakfast 'won't last'.

ARN says Fitzy and Wippa success in breakfast “won’t last”

“Kiis is our key focus here in Sydney, and that’s still doing very well. I don’t believe the Nova result will be sustained. It’s a one-off,” he says.

Rove and Sam see their breakfast audience lift 

Rove and Sam up 0.6

Rove and Sam: up a 0.6 share

The other major breakfast radio jump in Sydney was with 2Day’s Rove and Sam.

Despite having spent the first few surveys of 2016 stuck at a three share, the pair built on the growth they showed last survey, pulling a 0.6 share rise to a 3.9% share.

For HitFM content boss Gemma Fordham there’s still a long way to go but the progress is positive.

Fordham: Good result for Rove and Sam.

Fordham: “It’s that slow and steady growth that we keep talking about”

“It is another good result with them,” she says. “It’s that slow and steady growth that we keep talking about and I’m pleased to see another book with them growing.

“They are definitely (getting traction) but it takes time and we are half way through the year and we have consistently seen growth and that is the path we are aiming to continue on.”

The pair are currently on holiday and Frost, presently in Bali, yesterday raised concerns about how she was coping with online trolls after she tweeted that they had “broken” her.

Asked about recent tweet and related media reports, questioning Frost’s welfare, Fordham responded: “Of course Sam will return to air on Monday, after her holidays. We whole-heartedly support and adore Sam and we don’t give online trolls any oxygen.”

Eddie McGuire holds steady despite Caroline Wilson controversy 

Rove and Sam has not been the only Southern Cross Austereo program in the headlines recently.

Triple M's Hot Breakfast holds steady at 9.5

Triple M’s Hot Breakfast holds steady at a 9.5 share

Eddie McGuire had been in hot water over recent remarks, made on-air, alluding to drowning The Age journalist Caroline Wilson. Despite a national media furore his remarks appear to have had little impact on the performance of the breakfast program which remained number one in the FM time slot, steady at a 9.5% share.

“I wouldn’t have expected to see it (a dip),” says Mike Fitzpatrick, TripleM’s head of content, who argued the the people who were outraged by McGuire’s comments weren’t listeners of the show.

“It was one week in a 10 week survey period and even then a survey represents actual listeners not a protest vote. Even if it had affected a larger part of the survey I would have expected to see a lift-out of interest in the story.”

KiisFM continues to struggle in Melbourne 

While ARN’s struggles in Sydney were the big story this survey it hasn’t gone unnoticed by its rivals that Kiis in Melbourne fell to a 5.1% share, placing it sixth in the commercial FM market.

Matt Tilley Meshel Laurie

KiisFM breakfast in Melbourne fell 0.9 to 4.6

Last survey Mike Fitzpatrick took aim at ARN over the dismal ratings performance of its much-promoted breakfast show, featuring Matt Tilley and Meshel Laurie, describing it as “done”.

Asked about the Kiis breakfast show’s 0.9 decline this survey, he responded:  “As I said last time I think the top choices are clearly set.”

ARN’s Campbell disputes this arguing the contest still has some way to play out and noting the station is only one share point behind Nova.

“It’s far too soon to know,” he says. Our marketing only really began in late June. We held off because breakfast and the station was sounding strong.

“This is not about one survey result. This is a long-term strategy to get Kiis right. We had to make sure that we had some confidence before we started marketing.

“The battle between us and Nova in Melbourne continues. I mean, the gap is there, I acknowledge that, but I think it’s not insurmountable.”

Nova’s Jackson has a simpler synopsis of what’s happening in Melbourne. 

“FoxFM has performed well, and Hamish and Andy dominate,” he says. “This is a market where there are three new breakfast shows. We are only a couple of points off the top and now the focus is on incremental growth.

“Really it’s Kiis that’s in the world of pain. We are now a clear number three – we were a number six a year ago.”

Brisbane sees ARN’s 97.3FM toppled by Nova106.9

The other big surprise this survey was the knocking off of ARN in Brisbane by Nova 106.9.

ARN has been top of the market for the past two years and Duncan Campbell says he is at a loss to explain what’s happened this survey.

“Nova has come out of nowhere and I really can’t explain it,” he says. “It doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

“When you have had such consistency to then have the station fall the way it has, and for Nova to appear out of nowhere it simply doesn’t make any sense. I have no explanation for Brisbane.”

Nova’s Jackson says part of the success is that things have “come together” at Nova, particularly with its breakfast show consisting of Ash, Kip and Luttsy, who this survey surged 2.2 points to a 13.5 share.

“When you have Ash, Kip and Luttsy and they are doing fun stuff,” he says. “I can’t speak for what the other stations sound like or what they are doing but I think for us things have come together.”

Campbell is quick to note he expects it to rebound in the next survey or two.

“The Brisbane market is volatile at the moment and we expect it to come back,” he says. “Our research says the station is incredibly strong and robust. We expect it to rebound pretty quickly.”

Adelaide sees ARN take back number one 

If there was one shining light for ARN this survey it was Adelaide which saw Mix 102.3 regain top spot after losing it to Nova in Survey Three.

Duncan Campbell says this is really the case study of what ARN now needs to do in other markets, with Mix up at 12.6% and Nova falling back to a 11.2% share.

“Adelaide is an example of our strategy and focus working really well. We acknowledged the mistakes we made and we corrected them,” he admits.

“The execution in Adelaide under Sue Carter has been exceptional and, as predicted, Adelaide is back at number one. We are very happy with that.”

More broadly, he adds: “Melbourne I understand – we haven’t really marketed down there; it’s very crowded and competitive – I understand that, that’s not the case in Sydney and we need to do some work on WSFM; Brisbane will bounce back.

“It’s business as usual, but with a focus on execution and strategy.”


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