Nova’s Paul Jackson on escapism for listeners and FM stations rebounding

Nova's Paul Jackson is glad the first radio ratings survey for the year is 'done and dusted', and with eyes on the shifting dynamics in Melbourne and Sydney he explains to Mumbrella's Zoe Wilkinson why he expects to see listeners return to FM in the coming months.

After a difficult year for staff, listeners and on-air talent, Nova’s group programme director Paul Jackson is approaching 2021 with a ‘light touch’.

“I think for all of us in the country, wherever that is, we’re very much focused on our listeners and in fact we know that our job is to make them feel better every day. We know our jobs are uplifted to make a fun listen, to give them escapism, and to give the right mix of old and new they want to sing along to,” Jackson says.

“I think if we can culturally have fun in our workplaces and business here behind the scenes, I think ultimately that permeates right through on to air.”

Nova has entered the year recording strong results from the first radio ratings survey across the nation. The network maintained dominance in Brisbane and Perth, boosting its share on Nova 100 and SmoothFm 91.5 in Melbourne, and making an impressive 2.6 point gain in breakfast for David Penberthy and Will Goodings on Five AA – Nova’s only AM station.

Nova Entertainment group programme director Paul Jackson

Jackson is happy to see the market moving back to normality, but after a long hiatus in the ratings last year, summer holidays, and with many new shows launching across the country, he says the first survey of the year also came with a heightened sense of anticipation as “you just don’t know what you’re going to get”.

“You don’t know if there’s been dramatic shifts and then you try to interpret what it all means. So I’m just glad because the first survey is done and dusted and know that we’ve still got listeners and people still like us. That’s good. That’s a good start,” Jackson says.

Easily the biggest talking point this survey was Melbourne indicating a return to music-led programming after talkback on 3AW and news on the ABC AM bandwidth experienced a surge in 2020, while Sydney went the other way.

“I go back over a year and you can see where [the FM stations] were, where they fell off in terms of share and where it’s rebuilding and they’re all reasonably equivalent to each other in terms of getting back to the previous highs of a year or so ago,” Jackson observes.

“People who are listening to these stations across the week, but now, especially over that summer period at the start of the year, probably want to escape some of the news agenda. They’re listening a bit more still with very high numbers with 3AW, all of the talk stations as well, but certainly I think as the year plays out and assuming it’s like we are today then in Melbourne I think we’ll see it be what it used to be.”

Meanwhile Sydney’s FM stations lost share in breakfast to 2GB’s Ben Fordham and the ABC’s Wendy Harmer and Robbie Buck surpassed ARN’s Kiis FM’s Kyle and Jackie O. Smooth FM lost its place at the top of drive to Richard Glover on the ABC, losing 1.9 ratings points to a 8.9% share.

Jackson speculates that “maybe there are some older listeners who were locked into stations like Kiis or WSFM that are moving to 2GB” but asserts that “it’s certainly not affected us on Smooth overall.”

Jackson stresses that the influence of the summer holidays cannot be underestimated in causing the numbers to “bounce around a bit” in survey one and, like Melbourne, he expects to see the news channels come back down in the next few months.

Nova’s Adelaide breakfast hosts Ben & Liam

Also ‘bouncing around’ were Triple J alumni Ben and Liam, who front breakfast in Adelaide and were down 1.8 ratings points to a 7.9% share. Confident that the quality of the program hasn’t changed, Jackson contemplates the impact of holding back on Nova’s marketing until the start of survey two on the Adelaide and Brisbane markets.

“We’ve got a wobbly start and often that was down to Triple J [which airs the Hottest 100 during survey one], but we thought that was less relevant in the last few years in terms of affecting us,” Jackson says of Adelaide.

“I noted they were up a point, I know there was a bit of a buzz and some marketing for it. And, we didn’t start our marketing to be fair until the very first week of survey two. So in this period I’m sort of looking at, does any of that sort of stuff affect us? Not to make excuses, just to go ‘what are the dynamics around us’.”

In Brisbane, the fight for breakfast is back on with 97.3FM coming in sixth on the slot but just 1.4 ratings points behind the Nova team of Ashley Bradnam, Kip Wightman, David “Luttsy” Lutteral and Susie O’Neill. While Jackson acknowledges the ‘strong competition’ in the slot, he considers whether holding back on marketing gave his competitors greater opportunity to grow.

“From a breakfast point of view, I’m mindful that we do through deliberate decision just to pause before we went into our marketing, so we did all say to ourselves internally the competition is marketing through January, early February. We felt that might have been a bit too soon this year, maybe that plays into it,” he explains.

“In terms of the cumulative [audience] we’re well ahead, in terms of the share, we win it but it’s close… There’s lots of strong shows in the marketplace and you can’t expect to dominate them all the time, so we’re really happy with the bandwidth coming out on top in any case.”


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