Tom Malone on Nine Radio prioritising the ‘profitability’ metric

Nine Radio has had a mixed start to the year when it comes to radio ratings, but commercially, the network is in perhaps a stronger position than a year and a half ago. And, save for a COVID downturn and the odd advertiser boycott, it is about where managing director Tom Malone had hoped it would be 18 months or so into his tenure.

Joining the Mumbrellacast this week, Malone reflects back on the time since Nine bought Macquarie Media’s suite of stations, a period which has seen significant talent turnover.

Since Malone took charge, Ben Fordham replaced Alan Jones at 2GB Sydney, Russel Howcroft came in for John Burns at 3AW Melbourne, Neil Breen was installed on a new local breakfast show at 4BC Brisbane, and Gareth Parker took over breakfast at 6PR Perth with Basil Zempilas departing and Steve Mills moving to afternoons.

But Malone wasn’t given a remit to clear house when he came into his role. “You don’t approach it from ‘we’re going to come in and start making changes’. You approach it from ‘what’s our strategy, where does the business need to be in five years?'”

He was tasked with making those radio stations, now under the Nine Radio banner, “profitable now and sustainable for the future”.

“There were some pretty big challenges ahead of us around cost programming and revenue. And so we set about sort of tackling those individually.

“We’ve taken 20% of the cost base out of the business, or about $20 million in costs in terms of programming. We’ve restructured from a sales point of view and so we’ve grown our share of tier one agency revenue,” he said.

Malone also doesn’t spend much time worrying about the media narrative about Ben Fordham losing the #1 breakfast spot in Sydney. “It’s part of being in the media. People love to speculate about ratings… whether in television or radio or publishing.

“In the end [Ben] is more than 10% of where we expected him to be at this point in time. Ratings will fluctuate. It’s about sustainable profitability for the long term,” he said.

In the end, audience is just one metric, and it’s pretty clear that profitability is more important to Malone and Nine Radio. “Across the whole group we’ve just had our most profitable month in more than three years. So the changes we’re making from a commercial point of view are starting to take shape.”

Having Fordham in the slot instead of Alan Jones has already been an unarguable success commercially, even if you take into account COVID recovery in the radio industry.

“Ben Fordham’s just finished his first 12 months on breakfast and for the financial year, revenue in the breakfast shift is up 40% year-on-year,” Malone revealed.

Nine will release its full-year results later this month.

Listen to the full chat with Tom Malone below (27:32):


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