War of words erupts between radio CEOs over who is the undisputed podcast champion

Southern Cross Austereo’s CEO Grant Blackley has come out swinging against competitor Here, There and Everywhere (HT&E) in a war of words over who can claim to be the audio leader in Australia.

HT&E owns Australian Radio Network (ARN) and has a licensing agreement with streaming and podcast service iHeartRadio. This led HT&E’s CEO Ciaran Davis to claim it was “the only audio company in Australia” positioned to properly take advantage of the booming audio landscape.

Ciaran Davis (left) versus Grant Blackley (right)

Blackley, however, whose own podcasting platform Podcast One is set to break even in the second half of this financial year, said SCA was in fact leading the charge.

“I would expect Ciaran [Davis] to say nothing less for his company, as he is duty bound to do,” Blackley said on a call to Mumbrella today. “What I would say, and I’d correct Ciaran by saying that we have obviously achieved the leading original podcast network in Australia. And I think that’s undisputed because we have generated 150m downloads of podcasting in 18 months, which has been driven by 65 original authors. So we have an original Australian author model which is a premium outcome.”

This puts SCA’s offering ahead of iHeartRadio, Blackley said, because of iHeart’s apparent reliance on international content.

“Others, like Ciaran, tend to bring in international content into Australia, and I can assure you, that doesn’t necessarily resonate,” he argued in response to Davis’ claims. “As evidence of that, for our 150m downloads, we bring 200 hours of content in from Podcast One US, that only resonates and delivers 3% of our downloads.

“So I think it’s pretty clear Australian audiences and Australian communities want to hear Australian stories from Australian authors.

iHeartRadio relies too much on international content, according to competitor SCA

“So, yes, iHeart is globally renowned in terms of its content, however, the import of US or European podcasting into Australia, the evidence for us is that people want to hear Australian stories and original stories at that, more often.”

This Australian focus gave SCA’s podcast platform a clear monetisation strategy, he said, because Australian brands want to be associated with the local stories.

“The fact that we will break even, you can start to see the sorts of revenues that we’re generating, on a cash flow basis, and this has been about educating the marketplace which includes both advertisers and agencies alike, that podcasting is a very unique audio offering, on demand. It has unique characteristics about it in terms of the placement and procurement of ads. In our particular case, we develop a model which has a pre-roll, mid-roll and end roll, but they are host-read, so whoever the author is will read the ad. We procure the ad in an exclusive environment in terms of its placement and creativity with that client, which makes it very much a seamless presentation that consumers will hear. And I think the level of success we get from that return on investment is higher,” he said.

SCA will rule the podcast landscape, according to Blackley

SCA, Blackley said, had worked hard to educate itself and the market about the benefits of podcasting, allowing others to reap the benefits.

“So we’ve done a lot of work to educate the market, educate ourselves, and we know that people are now seeing podcasting as a very clear and investable portion of their audio marketing, and I think that’s only going to grow. And more people, like Ciaran and others, are coming to market, and I think that’s validating the high-growth opportunity we have here, which also underpins the fact that audio in totality is growing and has a very bright future,” he said.

On the release of HT&E’s financial results last week, however, Davis positioned HT&E as the market leader, ahead of the likes of SCA and Nova.

Some of ARN’s on-air talent, which it believes is market leading

“And the basis of what we’re doing is using the strength of our broadcast assets to build out a much more complete audio offering for listeners and for advertisers. And the extension of iHeartRadio was a key thing for us, because we believe that’s our competitive advantage. We believe that we’re the only audio company in Australia who can deliver that piece of integrated content, where we can push and pull listeners based on their choices and interests into radio, into podcasting, into streaming, into artists’ radio.”

He said the benefits for advertisers are unparalleled, and would eventually leave the organisation in a position to battle Spotify – not just other local broadcasters – for market dominance.

“That’s not going to happen today or tomorrow, that’s going to take us a bit of time to build up the audience, but we are investing in the capability, the infrastructure, to build out a more complete audio offering, and certainly we have spent a lot of time over the past six months putting that together,” he said.

“Looking at what’s there in the market today, we’ve got our commercial strategy to grow our radio share, but also to look to become much more competitive with the digital operators.”


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