Paul Jackson on how Smoothfm can leapfrog 2GB to become Sydney’s top station

Nova Entertainment's reputation for consistency was cemented further in the third survey of 2021, and Paul Jackson joins Mumbrella's Zanda Wilson to break down the results and chat about the impact of present and future marketing campaigns on the ratings.

The third GfK radio ratings survey of 2021 threw up few surprises for Nova Entertainment, which has developed a reputation as one of the most consistent performers among Australia’s big three radio networks.

The latest survey also comes after a recent marketing campaign for the Nova Network in which it revived the classic ‘Nova Boy’ character, but it’s the result for Smoothfm in Sydney that’s a key standout for the network.

Smooth 95.3 is no stranger to being the #1 FM station in Sydney, but with a 1.5 percentage point gain to 10.8%, coupled with a 1.7 point downward turn for 2GB, Smooth is now eyeing the summit of the overall ratings.

Smoothfm is just 0.9 points off 2GB in top spot

Nova Entertainment programming & chief marketing officer, Paul Jackson, thinks a #1 overall result is a real possibility. “I think it has got a good chance. Normally we are focused on the FM numbers… it’s a different race we are running in the FM battle.

“We’re a big, broad station sweeping up the whole market. I’m not sure what 2GB’s cumes are, around a couple of hundred thousand, but Smooth is over a million cume. Not to be disparaging but I refer to it as kitchen sink radio, targeted at an older audience.

“It goes on in the morning in the kitchen and it’s on all day. It’s quality talk radio and they get a high share.”

He believes that not only does Smooth have a real shot at the overall #1, but believes that this survey shows that KIIS 106.5’s Kyle and Jackie O could topple Ben Fordham in breakfast as well.

“I do think Smooth has a chance, I think Kyle and Jackie O have got a chance too. But both stations would have to be at their absolute optimum, but they probably could. There’s more of a chance than there ever has been historically.”

And what about that swing away from talk radio in Sydney? Both 2GB and ABC had downward turns, with the former falling significantly since massive share highs during 2020. “People aren’t gravitating to news channels as much as in Melbourne,” Jackson says.

“It’s not helping to drive a news agenda for those talk stations like it has continued to in Melbourne, and around the world where many talk stations are performing extremely well. Of course it could change overnight.”

Nova Entertainment programming & chief marketing officer, Paul Jackson

Jackson is right. 3AW remains the outright #1 station in Melbourne, a market that is highly congested compared to Sydney, and one where Smooth isn’t performing quite as well.

“Gold remains strong, playing a lot of good anthemic pop rock records, which is what I imagine people are enjoying after the frustration of lockdowns and all of that, so fair play to them,” he admits.

In terms of Smoothfm’s performance, Jackson admits that the Melbourne station could be performing better, but he points to market conditions, and contests that the offering is just as strong.

“So if you think of the difference with gap [between Melbourne and Sydney] and the types of audience they are getting, Smooth in Sydney probably does better with the younger end. A lot of those people on Melbourne are on Fox, whereas in Sydney, they’re not on 2Day FM, they’re on Smooth.

At the moment, it’s important not to be too reactionary and risk making changes that might weaken the offering, Jackson explains. “Smooth is going to cut through with the really broad appeal. Everything else holds up pretty well.

“I don’t think there’s too many problems with the brand, and going back to previous surveys, we were second place pretty consistently. So we have to be careful we don’t change anything that would be detrimental to what is a strong product.

There’s a marketing campaign on the way too, which should help get Smoothfm back to front of mind. Previous campaigns featuring Michael Buble and Sam Smith have been successful in bumping the station’s numbers.

“Smooth’s marketing will come in the coming months. Fast forward through the year and Smooth will have some strong marketing [behind it], I would imagine it would probably be back to first or second place [after that].”

Chrissie, Sam and Browny are equal #1 on FM but aiming higher

It was a better result for Nova 100’s Chrissie, Sam and Browny in Melbourne, who went equal #1 on FM with an 8.0% share of listening. But Jackson says the show won’t be stopping there.

“First is always the aim. If you start with an 8.0% share [in Melbourne] you’re going to be first or close to first. It’s worth remembering those market dynamics in Melbourne, it’s harder to run away with 12.0% and 13.0% because all the stations are strong.

“Fox has got a respectable audience, Christian O’Connell is strong, Marty Sheargold is strong too. KIIS breakfast has finally got the share they’ve always wanted, albeit with PJ leaving. So we are right in there with the others.”

Jackson also takes time out to mention the performances of heritage Nova 93.7 Perth breakfast show Nathan, Nat and Shaun, dominant on a 15.0% share.

Meanwhile, Brisbane Breakfast crew Ash, Kip and Luttsy with Susie O’Neill bounced back to #1 this survey with a 12% share, hitting a record-high cume in the process. “People have grown up with that show and evolved with it. And it’s just part of life in Brisbane,” Jackson says.

In Adelaide, Ben and Liam rose into double digits on 10.2%, while Nova 91.9 hit an 11% share to go second overall.

“The marketing just keeps you front of mind, the brand is strong. Marketing can get some of those wavering people who maybe haven’t tried you for a while, or you’ve got Ben and Liam which is a relatively new show and people haven’t listened yet,” Jackson says.

“The cume for them now is #1 in the marketplace. The gap between us and SAFM is quite significant for us as well, that’s what suggests to me we’re going extremely well.

“If we measure under 40 or under 50, Ben and Liam have a pretty dominant breakfast show. They’ve taken a foothold extremely quickly. I imagine they’ll hit #1 again this year having gotten there last year.”

Finally, and perhaps most pleasingly for Nova and Jackson, new-look drive trio Kate, Tim and Joel scaled the kinds of highs they were hitting when the departed Marty Sheargold was part of the show.

Audiences have warmed to Joel Creasey following Marty Sheargold’s departure

Early ratings when Joel Creasey joined the show dipped, but Jackson says it’s clear that audiences have now embraced him nationwide, with ratings up in four of the five markets.

“I think that’s been a wonderful success story for us. Tim Blackwell is a great guy and great broadcaster who has evolved. I think he’s sounding better than I’ve ever heard him. Kate Richie, the same thing.

“Then you bring in Joel, one of the brightest guys I’ve ever met, a really deep thinker. They’ve adapted brilliantly, they’ve got chemistry and they dovetail and fit well together. I guess it was always a very deliberate thing to replace someone as strong as Marty Sheergold with someone different.

“There was a risk in that, it’s either going to work spectacularly well or it wasn’t. I think everybody knew that coming into it as well. This is the best case scenario that we could possibly have imagined. And I guess this iteration of our drive show is probably more ‘feel good’ and fits the sentiment of the tone of the whole radio station better than ever.”


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