‘We’re at the bottom of the cycle’ says HitFM boss, as rebrand fails to deliver ratings lift

SCA's Bruce

SCA’s Bruce

Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) has defended its rebranding of the Today Network to HitFM after the first ratings of the year showed declines in Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth and no audience recovery in Sydney.

The first GFK radio ratings of 2015 showed declines in audience in four out of five markets with Sydney the only city to hold steady despite a major marketing blitz, although Dan and Maz remain at the bottom of the breakfast ladder with just a three point share. Melbourne’s Hit FoxFM declined 0.9 points to a 7.6 share, Adelaide Hit 101.7 fell 2.2 points, Brisbane Hit105 fell 0.4 points and Perth’s Hit 92.9 fell 1.8 points raising serious questions about the strategy, which has seen SCA dump historic brands such the old SAFM brand in Adelaide B105 in Brisbane, and 2DayFm brand in Sydney in favour of the move to HitFM.

“This result reinforces that we are on a long road and things don’t change overnight,” Craig Bruce, head of content for SCA told Mumbrella this morning. “This is how radio works – it is a cycle. Right now we are at the bottom of our cycle but we believe we are on our way up. I absolutely believe that to be true.”

Bruce’s comments come after SCA’s rivals lined up to criticise the HitFM strategy with Australian Radio Network’s Duncan Campbell describing the rebranding as a “failure” and Nova’s Paul Jackson questioning what it stood for. 

Asked to respond to today’s results and his competitor’s critiques Bruce said: “Dan and Maz have done everything we were hoping they would do in terms of content in the first six weeks of them being on the air,” said Bruce.  “There is no magic bullet or easy turnaround especially with your traditional FM radio breakfast changeover.

“From an SCA perspective in Melbourne, our brands are in very good shape. There was an expectation that KiisFM would go number one in the survey in Melbourne. But my view is that Matt (Tilley) and Jane (Hall) are a new show and they will have to work just as hard as any new show to win an audience.

“We were really happy to have held them off in this survey.”

ARN's Campbell

ARN’s Campbell

National content director at ARN Duncan Campbell put the boot into SCA, saying: “If you look around the country the HitFM strategy has effective failed today. “The only strength is Fox (in Melbourne) which has managed to present a reasonable number, despite dropping 0.9, but I would say it has failed today.

“It is disastrous result in Adelaide and Sydney didn’t move given all the money they put behind that and Brisbane was an average result as well.”

Bruce responded to the criticisms of HitFM’s performance Sydney, amid a major marketing blitz, saying: “We have promoted Dan and Maz, but Kiis were promoting Kyle and Jackie O, and Nova were promoting Fitzy and Wippa but I know that a TV campaign doesn’t guarantee audience – it is a starting point for awareness around the brand.”

He also defended the result in Adelaide arguing it had lost traditional listeners and would need time to reach new audiences.

“We are impressed with the sound of the radio station and the event and marketing strategy around that,” he said in reference to Hit 107 which is the rebranded SAFM. “What may have happened is that we may have lost some of the traditional SAFM listeners and we just haven’t gained any new listeners to replace them yet. But it is very early days there yet.”

Nova’s group programming director Paul Jackson commented on strong results in Sydney for SmoothFM which shows the easy listening station almost over taking sister station Nova saying: “Smooth has snuck ahead of Nova in a couple of surveys last year. In the next period I don’t see why it can’t be challenging for number one – it’s not far off.

“Incrementally it is moving forward consistently.”

Jackson also defended declines in Nova’s national drive audiences, which saw Kate, Tim and Marty’s share slip by 1.3 share points to settle with a share of 8.7 in Melbourne while Brisbane saw a dramatic 5.3 share point decline.

“There has been a bit of a drop in Brisbane overall and I think Drive has been caught up in that,” said Jackson. “Whatever lens you use in Melbourne there is lots of noise in that market and the station overall is 0.3 away from being number one.”

On the HitFM strategy Nova’s Jackson said: “As an observer I don’t know what it stands for. I don’t know what it is meant to mean to an audience and I think if that’s the case you can’t expect the audience to respond to it.”

SCA’s Bruce responded by citing the success of Nova’s SmoothFM as a case study for HitFM:  “I note Tony Thomas (marketing boss at Nova) has been talking about SmoothFM coming number one ahead of Nova. If that happens that will be a three year process.

“They were a three share three years ago, this is how it works.”

Nic Christensen


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