What to expect from media’s new (and old) disruptors

With Scire and Disrupt Radio set to launch in 2023, Mumbrella's Calum Jaspan looks at the prospects of Australian media's new kids on the block.

Jules Lund, former primetime radio host and founder of influencer agency Tribe, has become the latest new media kid on the block. 

Lund will join Disrupt Radio, which alongside news outfit Scire has voiced a challenge to traditional media structures.

Scire is looking to upend Australia’s concentrated media industry and is led by some at the very top of that pile. 

Chris Janz and Scire are looking to help challenge the structure he helped revive

Founded by former Nine/Fairfax execs Chris Janz and David Eisman, with business editor at the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, John McDuling, joining as its first editor-in-chief, they are no strangers to Australia’s media pool. 

Scire is set to cover business, technology, politics and power, while Disrupt Radio will similarly target a business and entrepreneurship audience. 

Benjamin Roberts, founder and CEO of Disrupt Radio, tells Mumbrella: “The new national talk radio network, with business and entrepreneurial content at its core, is on a mission to re-write the traditional media playbook and create an inclusive community of people interested in opportunity and aspiration.”

It has backing from Australia’s media elite, with former ABC managing director, Michelle Guthrie, joining its board, alongside SEN’s Colm O’Brien, amongst others. Roberts also spent eight years as an exec at Fairfax, departing in 2016 to launch his company, Broadcast Intelligence. 

For now, the company is based out of SEN’s headquarters in South Melbourne. 

The new disruptors 

Scire’s mission, according to its site, is to “be the trusted source of intelligence for the people building the new Australian economy”. Though they’re not the only media outlet that shares this view. 

“Through our journalism, we aim to provide our audience with valuable information they cannot get anywhere else,” its statement further reads. 

Janz recently told The Australian he firmly believes “there is room for more” voices in Australia’s business journalism category. 

And it seems several have had the same thinking. Forbes Australia launched last year, with Private Media also licencing and launching the Inc. brand locally in the same category. 

With the AFR, Inc.’s sister title SmartCompany, Business Insider, as well as barnstorming podcast Fear & Greed, the business and start-up community is increasingly well served.

Fear and Greed had 259,000 downloads in March

A senior business editor, who wished to remain anonymous, emphasised the nature of the increasingly crowded business market, business, politics and culture as an area the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age cover well too.

How do the disruptors disrupt?

Breaking habits is by far the most challenging aspect for Scire or Disrupt, which are looking to turn traditional media on its head.

Scire is yet to reveal much aside from the fact it is a subscription news service of some sort and looking to hire about 50 staff, most of whom are business journos. The site is currently seeking to recruit a chief political correspondent, senior business correspondent, markets and news editor and more. It’s also understood Janz and co have been heavily hovering around Nine Publishing staff. 

Speaking to Mumbrella this week, Janz would not go into much detail, saying with company is “still in stealth mode”.

“I’m a big believer that there’s different business models to be tested,” Janz says. “That’s the wave of what’s happening and in the States in particular, is really interesting to me.

“If you rewind 10 to 15 years, it was all about mass market, huge reach, ad-funded, getting in front of as many eyeballs as possible and relying heavily on social. We’re not really in that anymore, and I think there are publications that do a really great job of reaching a mass audience and competing for digital ad dollars, but that’s not the path we are creating.”

Janz mentions the US, and those across the pond, including Semafor, The Information, Axios and others, have experienced recent success. Each have differing delivery and funding models, and one might expect that Janz and co. have done their research to create something entirely new.

Still keeping his cards close to his chest, he says there will be a commercial partnership component, but “it won’t be a business reliant on ads”, unlike the Semafors of the world, which have offered free, ad-supported journalism.

For our loyal marketing and agency audience, Disrupt Radio on the other hand, looks to have a more firm ad component in its funding model. 

So, what is the opportunity in return? 

“Advertisers will have unrivalled access to a highly contextual environment underpinned by premium programming and premium commercial inventory, enabling them to target an influential and aspirational audience at every age and stage,” says Disrupt Radio’s founder, Roberts. 

He adds that for the first time in Australian talk radio, “ audiences will have access to modern business content, conversation and community, led by credible, connected talent who have been there and done it, not preached it”.

Radio host-turned-entrepreneur Jules Lund is targeting the business audience

Lund and Gore are the first announced as on air talent, and while the company would not reveal any further names, Roberts says “we’ve built one of the most diverse line-ups in talk radio – both on and off the air”. 

How is the audience built?

In radio, talent is pretty important. Marketing your talent is pretty important, too.

Ben Willee, GM and media director at ad agency Spinach, says one thing Disrupt has going for it is that overall audio listenership is still on the up.  So, there is certainly room for audience growth though competition is fierce.

He suggests it will be buoyed “by what Nova has done with Smooth”, successfully launching the station digitally outside the Melbourne and Sydney markets.

“That’s their template,” he says, though the challenge on the other side is that Smooth and Nova have a big, slick sales operation.

Willee suggests Smooth is the digital template for Disrupt Radio

“It’s not just about getting the audience. It’s about getting with the right people in media agencies so they can write revenue.”

And for Smooth, they’re already talking to those agencies, so the buys and campaigns “would have been straightforward”, he adds. 

One media buyer told me this week that Disrupt Radio “hasn’t made a lot of noise” yet and wasn’t even on their radar. But an hour later, they followed up to say outreach about launch partner opportunities just hit their inbox, ahead of a mid-year launch.

We saw Alan Jones try to extend his two decades of radio and TV popularity to digital platforms in 2021, which suffice to say… did not work out. You could almost (almost!) be forgiven for forgetting about him these days. 

Three seasons of Alan Jones on ADH TV, who fancies tuning in?

But Scire and Disrupt are not targeting the same audience that Jones captivated in his time on air.

And Lund and Gorr are certainly not Jones either. Nor do they want his audience, I suspect. While it has a wide and diverse audience, Mumbrella understands Disrupt is firmly looking at the younger demo. 

While traditional radio battles the challenges from podcasting, most of those involved locally have put the medium at the centre of strategies. Just look at SCA’s LiSTNR. 

“We’re DAB+ radio first,” Roberts says. “With a niche format like Disrupt, we’re uniquely positioned to bring some ownership back to the medium. Live radio and real conversation are very much centre stage for us.”

So, it appears Disrupt will be expecting consumers to come to them, as Roberts adds: “Yes, we’ll be available on other audio platforms, but only selectively.”

At first glance, it appears they are targeting the same crowd as 3AW and 2GB, says the aforementioned buyer. “Why wouldn’t you just listen to a podcast?”

Though Roberts says it will not be chasing any of the established players on that front, adding: “We don’t intend to invest money engaging in a race to the bottom alongside most of the other podcast platforms, for example.”

“I wish them the best,” Willee says with sincerity. “It is a very difficult thing to establish a media company in Australia, because there is a hell of a lot of competition”. 

Changing behaviour and habits formed over a long period of time is tricky, he says. “You only have to look at how competitive the radio market is in Australia, how much money is spent on promoting those brands. You have to have deep pockets and a long term vision.”

Scire falls in the same bucket, he says. “Diversity of opinion, news, media is a great thing, but trying to break people’s very established habits is really difficult, and the way to do that in the early days is to be controversial. But you can’t always be controversial.”

Adam Ferrier, consumer psychologist and founder of ad agency Thinkerbell, thinks differently to Willee.

Ferrier, a specialist on consumer thinking says habits change every day

“There is no category as dynamic as media consumption, whether it be streaming or podcasts or digital audio, BVOD, SVOD, or any of those things. The consumer has learned they need to constantly change their behavior to digest the type of media that they want to consume.”

The most important thing, Ferrier says, is to make sure the brand stands for something in consumers’ minds. If you can nail that, they will “hunt you down” across whatever platform you’re on, he says.

And in this media category, he adds, there’s a myriad of ways to access content, depending on what platform it is on, “and the way you access it tonight, won’t be the same way you access it tomorrow”.

By all accounts, that is certainly not the approach Janz is looking to take. Days after Scire’s launch was reported, he again told The Australian: “I don’t want to just be throwing grenades from the side like Crikey. We want to do something that’s meaningful. So, we’ll give it a crack.”

Speaking of Crikey, the previously mentioned business editor points to it and Fairfax’s roll of the dice with INQ – an investigative division launched four years ago – as an example of the tough market it is entering.

Will Hayward, CEO of Private Media, told Mumbrella last year the division had been rolled into the wider Crikey team.

For now, Janz is going to keep Australia’s media industry guessing, with a launch slated for later this year. 

“There’s a really interesting wave of digital business models out there that are very different to the digital business models of a decade ago.” 

One of the most successful of those, it should be added, he helped build at Fairfax, and later at Nine. 

“We’re building a business based on what’s happening in 2023, not how the digital publishing world was looking five or 10 years ago, which means Scire will be different.”


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