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The results are in for those ‘controversial’, ‘bold’ radio programming gambles

The last radio ratings survey of the year is done, and the results are in. So were those gambles worth it, asks Zoe Samios?

This time last year, Southern Cross Austereo’s chief creative officer, Guy Dobson, told me he wasn’t fussed about the results of the final survey of 2017.

“It’s kind of an irrelevant landscape today, because they’ll be fresh and new next year. May the best team win,” he said.

He had a point.

2018 saw Kiis Network’s Dave Hughes and Kate Langbroek went to the Hit Network, Hit Network’s Will McMahon and Woody Whitelaw went to Kiis, Jane Kennedy and Mick Molloy took on Triple M drive, Ed Kavalee and Grant Denyer took on 2DayFM breakfast, and Paul Hogan and Lisa Fernandez joined Perth 96FM.

Later on in the year, Gold FM added UK radio star Christian O’Connell to the team, and 2DayFM brought Ash London to breakfast.

And then there were the goodbyes. By the end of the radio ratings year, Triple M lost Matty Johns (and potentially the whole Grill Team), 2DayFM lost Em Rusciano, 97.3FM Brisbane lost Terry Hansen, while Adelaide’s Hit107 farewelled Amos Gill, Cat Lynch and Angus O’Loughlin, who will be replaced in the new year by Rebecca Morse and Andrew Costello. Triple M Brisbane said goodbye to Lawrence Mooney as Nick Cody jumped on board. Rumour has it he’s not going to be gone for long.

In short, it’s been a big year. If you ask the programmers, it was the “best year to date”, with the final survey chalked up as “one of the best of all time”. Always the way, isn’t it?

It would take hours, perhaps months, to break down the performance of all the radio shows in each metro city, today. I’ll leave that until the new year. In the meantime, most of the big changes have now seen four to eight surveys, so it’s probably time to take a look at the results.

ARN: Programming boss still backs gambles

Duncan Campbell, ARN’s national program director, commenced 2018 with a new show in Melbourne breakfast and a new national drive show.

Hawkins and Harding had replaced Matt Tilley and Meshel Laurie, who, for the most part, had managed a relatively consistent year.

Duncan Campbell: Confidence in decisions hasn’t waned

But the pair did not have an easy start. While Laurie and Tilley had commenced the year prior on a 6.3% share, Hawkins and Harding began on a 5.1% share.

That number fell as low as 4.8%. It was a concern for Campbell, who had thrown out a show that would normally sit on a 6% share.

However the pair seem to have recovered, now sitting on a 5.7% share. Laurie and Tilley concluded the year on a 6.3% in 2017.

“Even though it’s a slight movement up, it’s been a tough year. To see the signs of a turn-around at the end of 2018 is really positive and set the scene for a very interesting 2019,” Campbell says.

“We’ve got to try and dislodge habitual listening off Fox and Nova, and that involves more than just flashing a logo up there on a billboard.”

Campbell’s other change to Kiis FM, the introduction of Perth breakfast co-hosts Will McMahon and Woody Whitelaw to drive time, hasn’t proved effective according to the year’s ratings numbers.

The pair replaced well-known radio hosts Kate Langbroek and Dave ‘Hughesy’ Hughes, who defected to the Hit Network.

Across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, the share has fallen.

Compared to this time last year, McMahon and Whitelaw are down 2.4 ratings points in Sydney from 10.8% to an 8.4% share, down 3.4 points in Melbourne from a 9.4% share to 6.2%, down one ratings point in Brisbane, now sitting on a 9.4% share, down 0.7 in Adelaide to a 12.1% share and down 1.2 points in Perth.

“There’s no great loss or increase, and again I say that drive was a gamble in terms of they’re two guys which people don’t know, and they are bedding in,” Campbell says.

“They are continuing to improve, but they are reliant on the [cumulative data] that we bring out of breakfast. In markets where we are building breakfast shows – for example Melbourne – or there’s been stress on breakfast like Brisbane, and Perth, drive is going to struggle naturally. There’s confidence in all those shows after one year, there’s no waning of confidence at all.

“Year two is the critical year for these shows because of their level of unfamiliarity.”

His point about Brisbane and Perth breakfast and the impact on drive is worth exploring. In Perth this year, Campbell also introduced a new breakfast show with Lisa Fernandez and Paul Hogan.

The show struggled after survey one of 2018, coming down to a 5.9% share, compared to a 7.9% the year prior. It now appears to be settling, with survey eight revealing a 7.7% share, compared to an 8.9% last year.

In Brisbane, Campbell lost one of his co-hosts Hansen mid way through the year. In that time, Triple M has grown its breakfast share significantly, finishing on a 14.1% share.

“The Triple M figure really looks better than it is. It’s disguised by some big numbers in Brisbane, which I can’t explain given we just did a market study up there.

“The lesson from Brisbane is that if you change a component of a breakfast show, then there is movement. Robin left us, there was movement. Terry left us, there was movement. Lawrence is a funny guy, him leaving will create movement and disruption.”

Campbell refers to his Adelaide show on Mix 102.3 with Jodie Oddy and Mark ‘Soda’ Soderstrom as a good example of how a strong breakfast show can help drive numbers. The pair finished the year as the most listened to FM breakfast show, up 0.4 to a 12.8% share.

“Adelaide has had a fantastic year, probably one of their best years ever. That’s a market that highlights the benefit of a strong breakfast show and the impact that has on the other day parts,” he says.

“Overall, that station is a powerhouse for us. There will be increased competition next year with the changes to Hit 107 breakfast, but we are prepared for those. If you look back over the last three to five years, the word consistency comes to mind and we’re very consistent with our results, and we tend to tackle issues that arise quite quickly, and get ourselves back on track.”

But if there was to be a success for Campbell this year, it would be back in Melbourne, on his gamble with UK radio star Christian O’Connell.

O’Connell only joined the station mid way through the year, and has finished the year ahead of last year’s result with Jo Stanley and Anthony ‘Lehmo’ Lehmann. O’Connell now sits on an 8.4% share of audience, compared to Stanley and Lehmann’s 7.4% the year prior.

While O’Connell fell off at the start, Campbell says that because he is so different to other offerings, consumers have taken an interest.

“The one to watch will be The Christian O’Connell Breakfast Show, without a doubt,” Campbell says.

“Christian’s growth has been quite extraordinary, and he’s only four books in. He’s achieved some numbers which you wouldn’t expect from a brand new overseas show in just four surveys. He is ahead of where we expected him to be.”

So are there any regrets for Campbell, after one year of these shows?

“In Melbourne I would’ve marketed more. As much as we were aware that they were unfamiliar, and we knew of them, but the audience didn’t know anything of them,” he says.

“In hindsight, and I’m sure our CMO would agree, that if there were the available funds, we would have done more in Melbourne, certainly on television to help raise awareness levels of the two shows.”

Macquarie Sports Radio: The challenge of an unfamiliar network

Macquarie Media has had one of the best surveys to date, and one of the hardest, all at once. 2GB clocked its 117th consecutive survey win, with hosts such as Alan Jones and Ray Hadley continuing to dominate.

In Melbourne, 3AW’s Tom Elliott is now tying with heritage FM station Fox FM in drive. The growth of 4BC in Brisbane and 6PR in Perth this year has been pleasing to national executive producer, Michael Thompson.

Macquarie Media’s Michael Thompson: No regrets from the decisions of the year just gone

As I hop on the phone, Thompson makes sure to commend – for the fourth time this year – the efforts of George Moore and Paul Kidd on 2GB, who moved over after the axe fell on the station’s Talking Lifestyle format. Thompson says the pair has transformed the weekend performance for 2GB.

“It’s been a big news year, but it seems every year is a big news year and we’ve just got the best people in the business talking about it,” Thompson says.

“It is really led by personality. Ross, John, Neil Mitchell, Alan Jones and Ray Hadley, they are the very best at talking about anything to do with news, anything to do with sport, politics, their own commentary on all of the events of this year has been outstanding. There is an enormous appetite out there for that information. Yes, it has been a big news year, but it’s just given our presenters an opportunity to do exactly what they do best.”

So how then could it have been a bad survey for Macquarie Media in other ways? Every radio business has two networks. For ARN – it’s Pure Gold and Kiis. Southern Cross Austereo owns Hit Network and Triple M and Nova Entertainment is the owner of Nova and Smooth FM. Macquarie Media, until this year, ran its news talk programs along with its Talking Lifestyle format.

But earlier in the year, it axed the format, replacing it with Macquarie Sports Radio.

This radio ratings survey, the group saw growth in Sydney and Brisbane. In Sydney, Macquarie Sports Radio climbed 0.5 points to a 1.1% share of audience, helped by an 0.4% increase in breakfast to a 1.2% share, and an 0.7 increase in drive, bringing its share to 1%. In Brisbane, the station climbed 0.2 points to an 0.6% share, helped by its 0.8% in breakfast. The numbers are small, but are the first signs of growth for the two stations.

In Melbourne, it’s a different story. The station now has just 0.1% share of total audience, while in breakfast, Macquarie Sports Radio had an asterisk, with an audience so low it didn’t even reach 0.1% share of listening.

“Melbourne breakfast is tough, it’s a really tough market. On the one hand we have Macquarie Sports Radio and the on other station we have Ross and John delivering a 20.5% share, so it is a very tough situation, but again I’m confident the cricket is an opportunity for us to establish ourselves in Melbourne, and in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth on DAB+,” Thompson says.

“It’s a disappointing result, and it is a very tough slog, but I think the opportunity is in front of us to promote that audience in Melbourne.

“Familiarity is probably one of the key challenges. We’ve spoken previously about brand awareness and getting that name out there, and that is really one of the key focuses for us in terms of basically telling people where to find the station.”

However Thompson, like Campbell, does not regret the changes he and the Macquarie Media team made this year. And that includes a change to the breakfast hosts of Macquarie Sports Radio Sydney and Brisbane, and a tweak to Melbourne breakfast.

“Would be change the way we did anything? No. We’ve had a really good year with our news talk presenters, we’ve had some good results right the way through the year, and we’ve successfully put a new station on air that’s continuing to evolve and is, as we’ve seen with the results in Sydney, starting to find an audience.”

Nova: The battle of the music

It is always hard speaking to Nova’s group programme director, Paul Jackson, but not for the reasons one might think. His favourite word ‘consistency’ rings true, and his rivals have noticed.

“Nova has had a good book. It would be unkind being the festive season to stay it’s a spike, but there is no trend there. Nova has been very consistent, and if they had a bit of a lucky bounce this time, then good luck to them, but they remained very consistent throughout the year,” Campbell says.

In every market, with the exception of Melbourne, Nova’s drive time show with Katie Ritchie, Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold finished ahead of all FM rivals. In Sydney, the trio finished on a 12.6% share, in Brisbane a share of 14.8%, in Adelaide 15.2%, and in Perth 16.4%. Ritchie, Blackwell and Sheargold are also edging towards Fox FM’s drive time share of 11%, finishing with a 9.8% share.

While the results are still solid, breakfast did see falls in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, However, Jackson re-iterates the large cumulative audiences of his shows and stations.

Sydney caught some attention this survey, as Nova FM’s Michael ‘Wippa’ Wipfli and Ryan ‘Fitzy’ Fitzgerald climbed 1.3 points to an 8.4% share. It was a solid result for the pair, who now sit in third on the FM breakfast dial, behind Kiis FM’s Kyle Sandilands and Jackie ‘O’ Henderson and WSFM’s Brendan ‘Jonesy’ Jones and Amanda Keller.

“They’ve probably done their best work this year. The team around them is the best line up of people we’ve ever had with Sarah McGilvray and Matt De Groot as well. The audience knows them so well and in radio, it takes years to be that familiar with everybody, but they are now one of the established, heritage radio shows and that’s what the numbers reflect,” Jackson says.

Paul Jackson: Competition isn’t about similar offerings, it’s about being different

“I wouldn’t say [becoming number one in breakfast] is not an ambition or a focus, but really there’s not much between the radio stations at all – its 0.2 – we’ve got a very powerful station, number one cume over a million, number one day time, the strength of Kate, Tim and Marty and Smallzy, it’s not something we have to gravitate to.

“For us overall we are achieving everything we want to achieve on Nova.”

If there was areas for Nova to work on, it would be Melbourne and Brisbane, after the latest results. In breakfast, Nova’s Chrissie Swan, Sam Pang and Jonathan Brown finished on a 7.2% share, down 0.4 points in Melbourne, while Brisbane’s Ash Bradnam, Kip Wightman and David ‘Luttsy’ Lutteral moved 0.1 points to 10% share – putting the team in third place alongside Hit 105.

Jackson describes the Melbourne results as “slightly disappointing”, but isn’t too concerned about Brisbane, despite saying he’d be “absolutely” working on that result.

“Everything is a focus, and we want everything to go well and be successful as it can be, we have a great history and track record in Brisbane, often having number one cume and share at the same time, and be a record breaking market for us most years,” he says.

“Looking at it, it’s more a trading of audience from 97.3FM towards Triple M. Nova sits where it sits, and it sits in just behind that. The dynamics and the shift is probably that Triple M is taking audiences from 97.3.”

Nova’s other station, Smooth FM, had an incredibly strong last survey of the year, finishing as the number one FM station in Sydney, on a 9.1% share, as well as the number one FM station in Melbourne, on a 10.6% share.

Jackson says competition isn’t about similar offerings anymore, noting if his audience is “trading” Nova for Smooth FM, that’s fine.

“If you are a Nova fan, and you want to change, you don’t often want to change to a station that is most similar to you. You often change to something different, so you are more likely to go from Nova to Smooth,” he says.

He describes the two stations as “complementary” with great synergies, providing the example of selling Nova Red Room tickets to Ed Sheeran on Smooth FM.

“I don’t know there’s many other networks that are able to take their stations and leverage both or have that level across both.”

SCA: The journey to consistency in Sydney

Southern Cross Austereo’s two networks, Triple M and Hit Network, are incredibly different and perhaps not as complementary as Smooth and Nova, or Pure Gold and Kiis.

Triple M is a station targeted at men, while Hit Network tends to serve a young, female-skewed audience.

For Fitzpatrick, yesterday marked eight surveys’ worth of its national drive show with Mick Molloy and Jane Kennedy, which has seen solid growth in most markets.

Mike Fitzpatrick, Triple M’s head of content and Gemma Fordham, Hit Network’s head of content, were both unavailable for this survey. However the year has been interesting for both Fordham and Fitzpatrick, particularly in Sydney.

Triple M Sydney breakfast with The Grill Team is potentially on the chopping block, after anchor Matty Johns announced his departure. And this year’s surveys have given an indication the show has been struggling. This time last year, the pair finished on a 7.9% share, but that now sits at 6.2%.

The station’s cumulative audience is also lower than last year, though has climbed slightly from survey seven.

SCA’s sister station, 2Day FM, tells a more positive story for the first time in a long time. Compared to 2017, 2Day FM was up in every survey, with the exception of survey’s one and five. Half way through the year, the show lost Em Rusciano, who was replaced with Ash London.

The station bounced back from a 3.3% share in survey five to a 4.6% for the end of the year. It marks a good end to the year for a station, which has struggled to find its audience since the defection of Kiis FM’s Sandilands and Henderson five years ago.

Cumulative audience was up every single survey compared to last year.

This coming year, London, Kavalee and Denyer, will remain in breakfast.

ARN’s Campbell is cynical.

“They’re in a holding pattern for a year. The show that rolls into 2019 won’t be the show that rolls into 2020,” he says.

“I believe it’s just a holding pattern and the results, which are pretty flat, don’t indicate any real growth or indicate growth is on the way. They’ll roll out the year and do their best to get 2020 right.”

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