ABC Radio reaches over 4.8 million people in an average week in capital cities, on traditional broadcast platforms, as measured by the radio ratings.
But the national broadcaster is also reaching out to audiences in new ways to maintain its connection with Australians.
With 135 million downloads last year, ABC Radio is Australia’s biggest podcaster.
“Audiences on traditional platforms are giving some pretty strong warnings signs. TSL is down and reach is stagnating… User chooses is now the new norm and patience is falling,” the Director of ABC Radio Michael Mason told the BroadcastAsia Conference this week.
“Broadcast radio is still where the greatest numbers are but we need to be wherever audiences expect to find our content,” he said.
Technological changes have brought more competition for all broadcasters, for example, newspapers embedding video in their websites and making podcasts. “It’s not just radio stations we compete with in this new environment, the Sydney Morning Herald website is perhaps our number one competitor these days,” said Mason.
Mobile apps are also changing audience habits. “Audiences used to turn to us for the radio essentials of news, traffic and weather, but these are now easy to get on our phones.”
The national broadcaster is on the front foot in trying new technology to keep audiences “loyal and committed” to ABC Radio.
“What are the new essentials of radio and how will we drive audiences to them?” asked Mason in his presentation.
ABC Radio is striving to answer that question by improving its offering to listeners and finding new ways to reach audiences “who are not necessarily looking for us right now.” All of this “under constant cost saving pressure we are under as a public broadcaster.”
“We are realigning most things that we do. We want to be where our audiences want us to be. We want to look and sound like Australia and connect with new audiences that are culturally diverse, without losing contact with our current audiences,” he said.
With the audience at the centre of its focus, ABC Radio aims to be “creative, engaged, agile, efficient and accountable” according to Mason.
ABC Radio wants to be the “independent home of Australian stories, conversation and culture.”
As audio listening becomes more widespread there is greater opportunity to increase reach on many platforms, so the national broadcaster is moving from a platform-centered to an audience-centered approach. “Audience centered design looks at what audiences want from the radio,” said Mason
Examples of the audience centered approach include personalising news content to provide bulletins to listeners when it suits them and podcasts that can be listened to when and where a listener chooses. ABC Radio is examining partnerships and distribution and is experimenting with one off projects to test reaction, as well as long term audience strategies.
“It’s so important to keep offering audiences ways to engage with us outside our traditional brands. If we step outside our own ecosystem we find out what other things people want.”
Beyond the technology, community engagement is an important part of ABC Radio’s strategy. Triple J’s One Night Stand is one example of that approach.
“It is an all ages concert in a regional remote area. A huge free party and gig for the night in a drug free environment. It’s the biggest night of the decade in some of the regional towns we visit and each year we also support a charity. Through a national competition on the Triple J youth network, one regional town is chosen each year as the site of the concert. “Whole towns get behind the bid to host the one night stand, there are huge economic and social benefits of that one night.”
Mason says that by 2020 ABC Radio will be “in a different place” and that a change of thinking from platform to audience focus will be the way it gets there.
“As our AM audiences get older and technology changes, we will change. Terrestrial transmitters will continue to dominate for the next decade at least, so linear broadcast is still a core strategy for us, but we also know that growth in the short term will come from digital platforms.
“We need a deep understanding of the flexibility that digital gives us. The connected car will be increasingly important to us. We are talking to broadcasters around the world to learn how to optimize that. Personalised radio and podcasting as a discovery tool for new program formats will also be important… By 2020 we will be in a different place.”