Grant Blackley talks to radioinfo about:
- Boomtown and new competition in regional Australia
- Local audio news products
- 2Day FM breakfast
- Audio books
- Latest advice on covid advertising messages
- Lawrence Mooney’s court action
- SCA’s half year results
Grant Blackley describes SCA’s half year results as “credible.” He spoke to radioinfo after yesterday’s presentation to the market.
“We’ve seen our earnings go up by 16.3% to $46.5 million. We have seen the audio revenues grow by 11.5% and digital audio revenue grow by 36% to $10.5 million… we’ve grown earnings by 27.3%… We’ve been able to manage our cost base and our group expenses in the last six months.
“That’s off the back of a very substantial investment within our digital audio assets, so all round, we see this as a quite credible result.”
The extended lockdowns in both Sydney and Melbourne have “changed the shape of the recovery and probably dampened some of the enthusiasm from agencies and advertisers” according to Blackley.
“We saw a really strong bounce in November and December. We didn’t plan for Delta or Omicron, they have been a headwind for all the marketplace, but hopefully it’s starting to dissipate and the markets are starting to open up. Hopefully business and consumer confidence gets back to a level of normality that actually allows us to prosper and grow as we move forward.”
Similar to ARN, Blackley has seen some lag in bookings for February. “I do concur with Ciaran’s outlook… the rate of recovery was dampened by those influences.”
He expects revenue will grow by mid-single digits across the quarter, in the lead up to the Federal Election, with further strengthening on Q4.
“Once we see three or four key categories that include retail who have had and endured a lot of supply chain issues, then things will start to open up. Most importantly, we need to have auto back in the market. They are very strong contributors and supporters of radio and audio, and we would like to see them back… when they do come back, that’s potentially $100 million extra to the radio market on an annualized basis… we are seeing a level of interest coming back, supported by more advertising, but it’s far from normality.”
Blackley does not expect Lawrence Mooney’s court action to have any effect on SCA’s bottom line. “I can’t talk to that issue that is obviously before the courts at this point in time. We certainly did not take the action lightly and we stand by that action, but it will have no material impact at all on any part of our operation.”
With SCA’s audio strategy now including books, Blackley says the company is learning a lot as it studies listening habits through LiSTNR and online streams and tracks the success of its content. Books is one of the innovations coming from those learnings, but they are not just standard book readings.
“We saw an opportunity to fill a void in the market. Just as podcasting has improved in terms of popularity referral, we think this is another driver of interest in digital audio.
“We’ve engaged with quite a number of authors and writers to create an audio version of their book in a truncated manner. I think these short form bite size adaptations will do particularly well. We’re not reading the book, we are actually creating and re-creating the story with a shorter adaptation.
“We’re going to keep doing things like this, audio innovation. If that happens to broaden the pool of consumption and revenue follows, I think that’s a good thing.”
SCA will experiment with advertising and perhaps subscriptions to monetise the new audio product, which will be added to the recently acquired Kinderling, that has a substantial library of kids product and already has a subscription model
“We are adopting learnings from TV and video, and I think they will start to adopt learnings from audio.”
“As you know, radio thrives on the commute, particularly in breakfast and drive, and the commute hasn’t been at normal levels, for good reason, in the last couple of years. We’ve tried to launch new formats, but the mature formats in that period, in the absence of one of the key attributes and drivers of radio, [have been affected].
“However, that commute is coming back. Roads are busier than ever. People are using less public transport and are more in their cars, which is clogging up the roads more and more often. So I think if the cities remain open, it will create a platform for more in-car consumption. That’s a really good thing in respect to formats we’ve launched, with good production values, story arcs, producers and content, in both Sydney Hit Breakfast and also with Marty Sheargold in Melbourne on Triple M drive.
“We stand by those two formats… if the ingredients are there for success and growth, we hope that under a level of normality we will start to see growth in listenership, in referral and in trial, which hopefully leads to a more substantial number. I can tell you we are getting that in our daily streams. We’re seeing an improvement in digital streaming of those two programs and related podcasts as well. But you don’t necessarily see it at this point in time through the normal survey results.”
Over at Triple M, the brand is built on comedy, rock and sport, and Blackley says the company is “very loyal to those program elements.”
“We have to build a vertical or a portfolio of products in sport, that’s why we have the AFL, the NRL and Cricket Australia, they are the three big contributors to that vertical. In terms of comedy, we have a wealth of comedy talent, from Marty Sheargold all the way through the many on air teams and we’re building that out in both broadcast and podcast capacity.”
SCA is innovating in news products, not just for compliance but also for the development of deeper stories on radio and within the podcast environment. “We’re in 15 markets with the new local audio news products at this point, covering local news, local sport, local events and what’s happening in your community, delivered on a geo filtered basis. I think that’s a real opportunity. We can’t afford to do that necessarily in a television broadcast market, but we can do it with the localised formats like in radio and on LiSTNR. Digital opportunities are opening up these content opportunities and the more you open up, the more demands you get from consumers and advertisers alike.”
“As a media owner and operator it’s incumbent upon us and all of our peers to talk about the obvious things because we all have a very busy lifestyle and sometimes the obvious things passes by. I think you have to remind and educate advertisers about what people are thinking. The community is starting to operate as normal, it’s time for advertisers to re-engage, but they will need to do it in a way that resonates with the audience and what they are feeling now. They’re over covid messaging, so drop the ‘all in it together’ lines and sombre music, just get back to normal messaging.”
Regional radio will have a new dynamic in 2022, with ARN now owning the former Grant Broadcasters stations. While there will be increased competition for SCA, there will also be cooperation to grow the market through the Boomtown campaign, according to Blackley.
“You’ve got 9.2 million people and growing [in regional markets], which is 36% of the population, but only 10% of national advertisers’ funds are directed towards the regions.
“Now I know I’ve got a new running partner in Ciaran, alongside all of the other regional operators. As well as competition we will talk more together about the value… of the regions. We have to tell the story, not every marketer or agency has the time to find out and understand the intricacies of it. So to that end, I think it’s incumbent upon us to share our knowledge.”