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Teething issues: Will radio’s 2018 programming gambles pay off?

Programming bosses have returned to the radio ratings period with a lineup of new, 'bold' programs, but for some, the immediate impact didn't quite go to plan. Zoe Samios asks: will the programming changes pay off?

It would be hard to find a single programmer that didn’t think ARN’s content boss Duncan Campbell’s programming decisions have been ‘bold’ and ‘risky’ of late.

For the record, he agrees. But his decisions to axe Melbourne’s Kiis FM and Gold FM lineups and launch a brand new drive show were part of a transformative change strategy for the network that he stands by, even after today’s results.

Campbell was ‘hurt to an extent’, after yesterday’s results

Campbell isn’t the only programmer to vastly change his lineup or format for 2018. For those who have forgotten, 2DayFM moved on to its 10th and 11th breakfast show hosts for Sydney breakfast since the departure of Kyle and Jackie O, Triple M launched its first national drive show and endured its first full survey with the departure of various co-hosts across the country, and to top it off, Macquarie Media announced it would axe its Talking Lifestyle stations.

But is the decision to change a line up worth the pay off? It will take a few more surveys to have a conclusive answer to that question.

However ARN’s Campbell admits yesterday’s Melbourne survey results did “hurt”, to an extent.

In Melbourne breakfast, Southern Cross Austereo’s Fox FM had the biggest breakfast share, with Fifi Box, Brendan Fevola and Byron Cooke climbing 3.3 ratings points to a 10.3% audience share.

Nova FM’s Chrissie Swan, Sam Pang and Jonathan Brown saw an 0.2 ratings points dip, to 8.4%.

Triple M’s ‘Hot breakfast team’ Eddie McGuire, Wil Anderson and Luke Darcy came in third with a 7.9% share compared to last survey’s 7.6% share, Smooth FM’s Jennifer Hanson and Mike Perso attracted a 7.8% share, while Gold FM, which has no permanent host at present, stayed stagnant on a 7.4% share.

But Kiis FM’s new breakfast duo, Jase Hawkins and Polly ‘PJ’ Harding, who joined ARN from New Zealand in January, lost out in the time slot, with Kiis FM breakfast’s share falling 1.2 points to a 5.1% share.

“I take it very personally, because a lot of work goes into it by not just myself but people who work with me as well,” Campbell tells Mumbrella.

“We’re never flippant about these numbers and you look at the Kiis 101.1 and it hurts to some degree because we know the work that went in bringing the show to Melbourne and the fact that it was a bold move. But we did think a lot about the strategy and we believe it’s the right thing to do.

“I mean I’m under pressure from myself more than anything, because I really want to see this succeed and I believe it will. So obviously at times like this you have to deal with external pressures more and also the pressure you put on yourself.”

The content director, who’s completed 200 odd survey results, says he’s looking closely at these results, and reacting to them.

“Focusing on Kiis 101.1, the challenge there was always to build familiarity with the show as quickly as possible and that’s ongoing as we speak.

ARN will keep building familiarity with Jase & PJ

“We’re hearing some very innovative content that hasn’t been heard in this market before. There’s certainly chemistry between the two hosts and our confidence levels in that show have not diminished at all.”

Campbell points out it’s just one survey of eight, and while he didn’t expect the shuttle to “jump forward”, he also didn’t expect it to fall to the level it did.

Despite this, he’d rather have the “band aid ripped off now” and focus on building the show. He disputes the idea Melbourne is a tough market to crack.

“People say that, but to be honest, I don’t think it is. Obviously every market is different based on the nuances that exist within the cities, but this is the first time that a brand new show has been introduced with two people that have not been known. Normally the pattern is that you put two personalities together and you create a show. So this is a very different strategic approach.

“This is a bold move by us and we acknowledge that. It’s the first survey and there’s been a reset if you like. There’s been a drop in listening but not so much listeners because the cume (cumulative audience) is relatively robust. But the audience just needs to become familiar with them.”

Nova’s group programme director, Paul Jackson, says no one should ever criticise this early in the survey game.

Jackson says its too early to tell how the new shows will perform

“Some are slow burners and take time to connect. The new shows going into the marketplace now are going to find it hard because you’re going up against a huge juggernaut radio shows that have been around for a long time and people still absolutely love. You have to give them a reason to change stations.

“To be fair [Gold and Kiis ] do have something very different from what exists. Bringing someone like Christian [O’Connell] into Melbourne is very different from what currently exists and PJ and Jase are very different. So you can see the rationale why you might try and do something that different.”

Unusually, Campbell’s other Melbourne station – Gold FM – stood still in the latest survey, despite the absence of breakfast hosts Jo Stanley and Anthony ‘Lehmo’ Lehmann.

The show does not have a replacement at present, as it’s still waiting for the arrival of UK radio star Christian O’Connell. But the latest result brings into questions whether it was a successful show after all.

“You wonder why we even had the previous show on the air at all, given the tantrums that were demonstrated when they left, which I’m a bit over by the way,” Campbell says.

“Gold is a solid radio station that really is built on such a strong music foundation. When you introduce a breakfast show that will actually rate above the station average, we’ve got ourselves a powerhouse potentially there.”

No changes in breakfast following the departure of Jo & Lehmo

He says the breakfast hold gives incoming radio host O’Connell, an “extraordinary platform” to start on June 4.

Jackson, who has worked with O’Connell, says he wouldn’t have brought the host to Australia as he didn’t think there “would ever be the right opening” for him at Nova.

“He’s got to accept that he’s come to a different market. He needs to change his act, or evolve his act from where he is and there’s lots of things you’d have to tweak about him and what he does. Not that he’s not a great broadcaster.

“I found moving out here seven years ago extremely difficult and behind the scenes there’s a lot to get. When you’re going on air and expressing yourself every day, you have to really make sure you are connecting with the audience and not misjudging it.”

Regardless, ARN will continue to roll out its marketing and focus on its new programs.

For heritage Melbourne station Fox FM, however, things are quite the opposite. Hit network’s head of content Gemma Fordham, describes Fox as “steadfast” and a “juggernaut”.

Fordham is pleased yesterday’s results, particularly Fox FM’s dominance

She refers to Fox FM’s cumulative audience – the total number of unique people who listen to a station for at least eight minutes.

Melbourne cumulative audience, survey one. Source: GfK (Click to enlarge)

“It’s such a strong brand in Melbourne and there’s been a lot of change in Melbourne this year for a couple of stations here and so there’s floating cume. It’s really great to see the cume’s landed with us and I think it’s very deserving for Fox.

“I’m really not that surprised by today’s result and to see the station overall, in such strong shape and with a cume over 1.2m is madness. To be so clear of the other stations, drive is four points clear, that’s huge and breakfast is two points clear of its nearest rival,” she says.

Meanwhile in Sydney, 2DayFM’s newest breakfast show Em Rusciano, Ed Kavalee, Grant Denyer tells a different story. The show witnessed a hefty boost in its first survey, up 0.6 points to a 3.4% share.

However Em, Grant & Ed were still at the bottom of the FM breakfast food chain.

The Em, Grant and Ed Show received an 0.6 point increase in share for the first survey of the year

The first survey of the year saw Kyle & Jackie O take out the top spot, despite a 2.1 ratings point decline to 10%. Just behind it was WSFM’s Brendan ‘Jonesy’ Jones and Amanda Keller, which dipped one ratings point to a 9% share.

Nova 96.9’s Ryan ‘Fitzy’ Fitzgerald and Michael ‘Wippa’ Wipfli fell 0.9 points to a 6.5% share and Triple M’s breakfast show with The Grill Team – Gus Worland, Matthew Johns, Chris Page and Emma Freedman, shed 1.9 points, bringing its breakfast share to 6%.

However with its share now above 3%, it’s a positive sign for 2DayFM, which has also made changes to its music format. The boost comes after SCA attributed profit falls to the “underperformance” of breakfast.

Fordham was optimistic despite the small share, telling Mumbrella it was “no easy feat” to boost by 0.6 points from such a low base.

Sydney cumulative audience, survey one. Source: GfK (Click to enlarge)

“That’s obviously off to a great start. When we do aggregate the numbers all together for breakfast across DAB+ as well it’s a really strong story for us in Sydney and with Em, Grant and Ed, they’ve also increased in cume (cumulative audience) by 17,000 which is great, and the station overall has increased by 87,000. There’s some really strong indicator there and we’ve obviously made some significant changes to 2day FM format, so we’ll see how that progresses over the next few books.”

Fordham does not feel under pressure, adding Rusciano, Kavalee and Denyer have “nothing to be concerned about” in terms of contracts.

When every Hit station has gone up and we share and aggregate our audience now because that’s how we’re selling, there’s a lot of good momentum there and there’s really great story.

But she doesn’t hesitate to poke: “You’d be feeling pressure if you’ve made a significant number of changes and the results haven’t come through today but no, I do not feel any pressure.”

Meanwhile Campbell is confused about 2DayFM’s new music format: “I’ve heard a variety before but that’s quite eclectic. I don’t know what they are doing to be honest. I’ve been programming stations for 30 years. But if they can tell you and it makes sense, I’d be fascinated to hear it.”

Nova’s Jackson has heard bits of the new 2DayFM breakfast show and says it is an improvement from where it was previously: “They’ve got a better structure to it with Ed Kavalee in there.”

But as always, he’s focused on his own stations and is more than happy with his Sydney result. His aim this year? Make Smooth FM the top radio station in both markets.

“We are winning all the demos as we were last year, so we’re back with the same robust shape that we were and I think we expect a little bit more out of each of shows. I really think that is very possible in every market or certainly incremental improvement and for Smooth we’re going to go for it, we’ve got to be the top radio station in both markets.

“That will be the expectation in terms of its share, but Nova is doing it in Sydney already with the demos,” he says.

Meanwhile, Mike Fitzpatrick, Triple M’s head of content, wasn’t happy with his latest share result in Sydney breakfast, which was 6%, down 1.9 points from last year.

“I always want it higher. Is a six good enough for survey one? Not really but I know it will come back. We’re effectively looking at half a new show, MG (Mark Geyer) out, Emma Freedman in, the audience is getting used to that. Any change to breakfast show is fraught with a little bit of danger in that you’re not quite sure what its going to do.

Fitzpatrick is pleased with his new drive show, which was up in every market across Australia

But he doesn’t attribute the fall to the lineup changes, arguing it’s just one thing to look at when assessing results. “I don’t attribute that drop to the change in the lineup, but it’s one of those things that you look at when you are trying to assess why a result may have gone up or down.”

“Sydney is an anomaly actually because pretty much everything bar 2Day went down,” he adds. Elsewhere, Fitzpatrick is pleased with the results. Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth all saw share increases in the breakfast slot, while Brisbane dipped 0.1 ratings points.

But one of Fitzpatrick’s biggest focuses this year will be his new national drive time show, with Mick Molloy and Jane Kennedy, which was the only drive show to go up in every market.

He says there’s two point gains in Melbourne and Adelaide as well as strong results in Sydney and Perth. Understandably, he’s pleased with the result.

Triple M’s drive show commences at 5pm while Hit Network’s drive slot includes two shows: Carrie Bickmore and Tommy Little followed by Dave Hughes and Kate Langbroek. Mumbrella does not receive the specific break down of the separate shows.

Fitzpatrick believes Molloy and Kennedy will be “quietly confident” after yesterday’s result.

New Triple M national drive show was up in every market, says Fitzpatrick

“It’s always good to see a nice result when you’re on the radio for the first time. It’s a brand new show. People know and love Mick, people haven’t heard Jane for a long time and there’s parts of the country that have never heard Jane. So it’s effectively a brand new show and to do as well as it has, I think all is well for the future.”

According to the 4pm-7pm GfK ratings provided, Nova’s Kate Tim and Marty dominated the FM Sydney, Brisbane and Perth markets, with shares of 10.5%, 11.6% and 16%.

In Melbourne, the most listened to drive show was Fox FM’s new drive show with Dave Hughes and Kate Langbroek, with a 12.7% share.

Meanwhile, new Kiis FM drive show Will & Woody finished in Adelaide with a 15.2% share, winning the drive time slot.

Adelaide cumulative audience, survey one. Source: GfK (Click to enlarge)

Despite the move over of drive show hosts, Campbell doesn’t believe the audience has shifted from Kiis FM to 2DayFM. Rather, he believes it’s audience churn.

“Will & Woody have done pretty well. They went up in Perth, they’re the number one drive show in Adelaide, they went up in Brisbane, so I don’t think that’s a shift in audience.

“The issues for us are Melbourne and Sydney where the both stations dipped in terms of audience, but elsewhere the signs that drive show are more than positive and give us extraordinary confidence going forward.

SCA’s Fordham, who was incredibly pleased with hew new drive slot results particularly in Melbourne, argues Heidi Anderson – McMahon and Whitelaw’s former co-host – was the star of the show.

She says the Perth market has had a “blinder”, particularly given there is a new breakfast and drive show in place.

Perth cumulative audience, survey one. Source: GfK (Click to enlarge)

“I’ve said this publicly before and I really wish the boys well. They’re great guys and they know that I feel that way about them but I’ve always felt that in that market Heidi has always been the one for us that was the star of the show,” she says.

“To see her with new dance partners, to have that result, only enhances what I believe.”

For Fordham, whose network now sells advertising across both DAB+ and FM for the same cost per thousand, the success of her talent remains essential.

“Obviously talent is still incredibly important for SCA because a lot of brands will buy integration based on talent and certainly what we’ve seen this year is some really great enthusiasm and a huge increase in business toward SCA because of our talent stable.

“So talent obviously remains critical to SCA for our breakfast and drive shows and that’s across both networks. But obviously the landscape has shifted and we do have these remarkable assets, our digital stations. We’ve obviously put them all under our parent brands and we’ve seen today is the strength of doing that,” she says.

But it seems as though the Jackson – the programmer who changed nothing – has come out on top for the start of the year. And while all other networks move through their teething issues, he’s confident, particularly in his drive show, Kate, Tim & Marty – which helped boost Nova 96.9 to its highest cumulative audience of all time in Sydney.

Kate, Tim and Marty were the biggest drive show in the majority of metro markets

He says Kate Tim & Marty’s success could be off the back of the multiple changes in drive, but mainly its due to the “ongoing” success of the show for a number of years.

Why axe Talking Lifestyle?

Macquarie Media probably doesn’t get enough recognition for its strong ratings surveys year in, year out.

This particular survey saw 2GB’s Alan Jones extend his lead over FM rivals by a further 2.2 points, to a 15.5% share. 2GB remains the leading station in Sydney at an 11.8% share.

In Melbourne, 3AW also continues its lead despite a 1.8 point decline in total share to 13.2%.

But breakfast – with Ross Stevenson and John Burns – still held its own against the FM shows, posting a 19% share, down 1.1 points from last year.

Incoming Macquarie Media CEO Adam Lang says the network made ‘some mistakes’ with Talking Lifestyle

For a change however – Lang’s focus is elsewhere. It’s on his Talking Lifestyle stations, which will be replaced by a sports focused format from April 2, as well as building talk show share in Brisbane and Perth.

His newly revamped former Talking Lifestyle stations will aim to build to a 3% share across the markets.

In Sydney, Talking Lifestyle posted a 3.4% share but in Melbourne its share was 0.2% and Brisbane’s share was 0.9%.

“We’ve got work to do. We are determined that 2018 is the year that we want to grow newstalk share in Brisbane via 4BC and in Perth vic 6PR and we’ve got work to do there.

Brisbane cumulative audience, survey one. Source: GfK (Click to enlarge)

Lang tells Mumbrella the immediate focus is internally looking after staff who need to be aware of the changes, and deployed, where they can.

“Alongside that we have to build a brand new network,” he adds.

“In radio we are blessed with everybody’s frank and honest feedback and I can honestly say that in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth unilaterally it has been well received.”

Lang says he hadn’t always planned to transform the station into sport, but admits it was previously considered.

“When we first decided to change format we looked at a number of strategic elements and obviously we want to acknowledge our news talk stations being strong and so we’ll have to work alongside our news talk stations,” he says.

“But we decided on Talking Lifestyle and it’s a difficult thing because it doesn’t exist in the rest of the world. It was the first of its kind.

“We did a lot of things well but we did make mistakes and we had to correct them but unfortunately it hasn’t worked well enough on the timeline that we have. So while sport was considered, we didn’t want to have a back up plan for Talking Lifestyle but we had a number and we’ve decided through all of this experience that sport is the way to go.”

Triple M’s Fitzpatrick isn’t so sure it’s the way to go: “That format already exists in Sydney, its called Sky Sports Radio and it doesn’t perform that well in Sydney anyway, so I can’t see what creating two of them is going to do.”

Lang explains says reasons for the launch include massive audience appetite and the existing and strong commercial relationships.

“We know that we’ve got clients that are very interested in being engaged with sport and so I think we’ve got plenty of internal lessons to know that we can do this. It’s really about executing a successful sport format.”

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