On commercial radio Money Talks…

Comment from Peter Saxon

Radio used to be a simple business. You created content to attract a significant segment of the available audience and sold their metrics to advertisers. The bigger the audience, the easier you could sell the airtime and the more you could charge. 
Now, with the advent of social media, all that has been turned upside down. Now the biggest, most influential star of Australian radio, Alan Jones could have his recently inked, two year, $8 million contract torn up, despite having a lock on the #1 spot in Breakfast in Sydney.

All of a sudden, the 100 year old business model: Audience = Advertisers = Revenue, is broken and in need of repair. And it’s not because listeners are deserting Jones, his listeners are as loyal as ever. It’s because his advertisers, as if from the Mafia boss in The Godfather, have been made “an offer they couldn’t refuse” by thousands of people who don’t even listen to his show.

The offer? ‘Either you stop advertising on the Alan Jones show or we’ll ruin your business.’
Following his well-publicised comments about New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, an orchestrated campaign by his detractors, spearheaded by activist group, Sleeping Giants, have targeted 2GB’s advertisers and told them they’d be boycotted if they continued to advertise on the the Alan Jones Breakfast Show.
Imagine, if you will, the prospect of a breakfast show that has the largest audience in Sydney but is boycotted by advertisers and is thus starved of revenue.
At time of writing, no less than 52 of around 108 advertisers have cancelled their schedules on the Alan Jones Breakfast Show. Some, according to reports, have cancelled their advertising on all of 2GB, others have cancelled on the entire Macquarie network. See the latest list on the Sleeping Giants’ website.
Before the advent of social media, rarely would advertisers receive such complaints from listeners. And if they did, it would be a trickle of mail which could easily be dismissed as the work of a few cranks. But faced with a petition on sites like Change.org that can garner 30,000 or more signatures overnight as well as a tsunami of adverse comments on their facebook page and twitter account, corporations take the threats very seriously. They go into damage control with the immediate objective to staunch the wound and limit the fallout. Seeing an opportunity to signal some virtue for their brand, they pull their advertising and send out a media release stating that what Jones said doesn’t reflect their company’s values, etc, etc.
For his part Jones did what he’s done in the past. Once it became apparent that advertisers were quitting his show. At first, he makes a backhanded apology suggesting that he’s sorry if people were offended, but really, it’s their fault for misinterpreting what he was saying.
Later, when management had made it abundantly clear that there was huge money at stake as well as Jones’ own livelihood, he put in a special appearance on Ben Fordham’s Drive Show to make a much humbler public apology. But it was too little late. The outbound flow of advertisers had reached critical mass where almost half of his entire advertising roster had gone including Volkswagen, Chemist Warehouse, Subaru, Mercedes Benz, ComBank, Big W, Flight Centre and IGA.
In the past, though, once the kerfuffle has died down, the advertisers returned. But not before it cost the station serious revenue that can never be recovered. This time, it could easily top $20 million. And many of the advertisers will want huge discounts to entice them back. Those in the sales department who rely on commissions to make ends meet are unlikely to be impressed with having to pay for the indiscretions of a colleague who makes as much in two or three weeks as they earn in a year.
However, that may be the best case scenario. The worst case scenario might be that this Sleeping Giants group, who seem well aware of how advertisers react in such situations, keep the pressure on all those clients who, in turn, may eventually find it more prudent to spend their advertising dollars on less controversial outlets.
Jones, of course, along with his fanbase, and fellow conservative commentators including Andrew Bolt and Prue MacSween have hit back, casting Jones as the victim of a vicious social media campaign out to get the master broadcaster. Callers to Jones show have stuck by him and, in a kind of counter-boycott, have sworn never to deal with those brands again.
The problem Jones has is that he has built a show based on an idea that he is the champion of hard working, right minded conservative people, many of them living on Struggle Street. The left and their operatives, including the ABC and the Labor Party and LINOs (Liberals In Name Only) like Malcolm Turnbull and anyone that believes in climate change, are the enemy.
I have no problem with that per se. If the “left” have the ABC, the “right” should be entitled to their 2GB – even if it seems as silly as having separate ice cream shops that sell either chocolate or vanilla. In the case of radio talk shows, it has little to do with management’s own political bias, it’s just a fact that the most successful talk stations are those that take a partisan approach. 
Jones might argue that it is unfair that a cyber lynch mob who never listens to him should have more sway over his program than his own audience. It’s a low act then, for this Sleeping Giants mob to approach his advertisers and threaten his livelihood by warning them off his show. Who are they to decide what his audience can hear and what they can’t? “The language used about me is just extraordinary,” said Jones. “It seems to be okay that you can, in social media, about Alan Jones, say that we should kill him.” 

For the most part I can’t disagree with him but it’s all irrelevant. There’s no point shaking one’s fist at social media or sleeping giants or those haters of the left. They’re not going away. It’s the reality in which we live in the 21stcentury. This has nothing to do with what’s fair and what isn’t. It’s about dollars, pure and simple.
This point was eloquently made in the highly acclaimed 1976 movie “Network” by Ned Beaty playing the role of Arthur Jensen, the Head of the fictional Network (not dissimilar to, say, Hugh Marks position at Nine). In the hot seat is the network’s star news anchor played by Peter Finch – you can draw your own conclusions.

Arthur Jensen: You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it! Is that clear?! You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immense, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and sub-atomic and galactic structure of things today! And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and You Will Atone!

You can watch the whole 5:11 minute scene on YouTube.
If Jones ceases to be MacRadio’s rainmaker because advertisers believe they’ll lose more sales by being boycotted than they’ll make through his show, then the show will make little or no money regardless of how big his audience is and some pretty drastic changes will have to be made. Replacing the revenue from 52 of the biggest advertisers on radio will be about as painstaking as rebuilding Notre Dame cathedral.
From where I sit, it seems to me that unless 2GB and Alan Jones can convince his accusers and the departed advertisers that he’s  cleaned up his act, it’s going to be difficut to keep paying him $80,000 per week.  

Here’s the thing…
Arguably the most successful comedian today is Jerry Seinfeld. What has set him apart in his career as a stand-up is that he doesn’t swear. Seeing how many times he can cram the word “fuck” into his routine is superfluous to his needs as far as being funny goes.
So, what would happen if Alan Jones swore off the need to demoralise and humiliate people with whom he disagrees? 
There is nothing wrong with calling out Jacinda Ardern for making statements at an international forum against the Australian Government’s attitude to climate change. Whether people agree or not, it’s a fair point for discussion and it was reasonable of Jones to bring it up. But is it absolutely necessary to call the elected Prime Minister of New Zealand “A joke, a clown an absolute and utter lightweight,” just because she has a different opinion (and that’s all it is) to yours?
Does it somehow strengthen your argument by suggesting that our Prime Minister give your “opponent” a few back handers and shove a sock down her throat? 
If you were playing any code of football, the ref would penalise you for playing the man (or woman) and not the ball. Make that a feature of your game and you’ll be given a slew of lengthy suspensions. As a player, how often would you expect to be able to do that before your club tears up your contract?

Peter Saxon


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