Sam Cavanagh talks about audio, podcasting and his new job

Sam Cavanagh , SCA’s Head of Entertainment and News Content for Digital Audio, talks to radioinfo’s Steve Ahern about podcasting, SCA’s on-demand audio strategy and monetising audio.

Starting his career at Austereo with Hamish and Andy about 20 years ago, Cavanagh has progressed through the leadership ranks to now lead the important podcast and digital audio strategy for SCA, and this year things have come full circle as he once again works with H&A on their latest podcast venture. But it’s not groundhog day, he tells radioinfo that everyone would have been happy with a ‘best of’ series… except Hamish and Andy, because they are always looking for a unique concept in whatever they do.

He also tells us why Em Rusciano is happier doing a podcast than daily breakfast radio and that daily news podcasts are the next big thing.


Sam congratulations on your new job. You moved from Creative Director audio on demand to now head of entertainment news content for digital audio. What does that mean?

Great question (laughs). I think it’s a more confusing title for the same job…

PodcastOne and the whole digital audio component of SCA has seen a huge amount of growth from an audience perspective and from a revenue perspective. We continue to grow and reorganize ourselves so that we’ve got the best people in the best position to help us capitalize on the growth.

Your career has taken logical steps: executive producer, creative director audio on demand, and now this this new job it. What are your perspectives on how programming has changed from just radio to the current multitude of delivery platforms?

When I when I was producing Hamish and Andy our first year in drive we started a podcast… people asked ‘why are you giving the show away for free without ads and making it difficult for the sales team, but we knew that all our friends were listening to podcasts and we also knew that even though the podcast audience was really small compared to the broadcast audience, it was really engaged because 50% of all the feedback we got from listeners was from people who’d listen to the show as a podcast.

We knew we were onto something there and then we just experimented with it. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the website – we just always saw it as a way to push the content out to new audiences.

The other thing about digital, be it social media or podcast, is it’s much more shareable than radio… Often we have to take it off the radio and put it into a format that would allow people to share it.

All programmers now say see digital as a way of not just marketing their show, but as audiences that they need to cater to.

Until somebody works out the copyright deals differently, music is pretty-much music a no-no. So podcasts are talk podcasts now until the rights issues are solved.

I think different publishers are experimenting with different approaches… On the ABC Lucy Smith is using the approach just playing 10 second snippets of music…

One of the new shows we launched this year is with Matt and Alex. So many musicians want to be on that show, the feedback we get from the record companies is overwhelming that artists just love talking to Matt and Alex. So we often use little short grabs of whatever song it is that they’re promoting and generally bands and artists and publishers are all happy to just accept that that’s part of the promotion.

I think shows like the BBC’s Desert island Disks would struggle until  either someone works out how to how to get around the music copyright issues.  I also think radio is much more laid back, so lean back seems to work with a combination of songs you haven’t picked, whereas podcasting is much more lean-in. I think people are happy to have the music taken out or at least most of the music taking out but certainly a music shift isn’t going to work as a podcast.

The audience consumption habit has changed. If you’re listening to a podcast on your smartphone then when you’ve had enough talk you can just pause it you can open you Spotify you listen to music. This is one of the biggest issues coming in the next year for the podcasting industry to deal with.

It’s an interesting point, it’s certainly something we need to work out, but I don’t know if I agree that it’s the biggest issue.

If you look at the Australian podcast charts it’s dominated by listening to re-edited, republished radio shows, so people are clearly happy to listen to the majority of radio content as podcasts. But I do take your point there there’s a whole other spectrum of radio content that’s not being distributed as podcast that perhaps we’ll be able to hear once we work out those licensing deals.

You’ve got quite a few of your shows in the top 20, what are two or three of the ones that you’re really happy with?

How do you choose your favourite kids? (laughs)…  I’m really proud of The Briefing. I’ve worked for a long time in comedy and have never produced a news program but I wanted to work with Tom Tilley for a really long time and the stars aligned with him coming off triple j and me moving into this role. We developed the concept for a daily news show over a couple of weeks and then turned it around really quickly. We’re so fortunate to be able to get Annika Smethurst working on it with us, as well as Jan Fran and Jamila Rizvi and executive producer Nick McClure… It’s a dream team. It’s just such incredible quality and the logistics that they go through to put that show together every morning is incredible.

I’m also super proud of Matt and Alex… that show is one of the most funny breakfast shows I’ve ever heard and I love that it’s sitting there on-demand.

I love working with Em Rusciano, her podcast is the platform for her as a performer, she is doing the exactly what  she should be doing, possibly for the first time. I also love The Sugar Rush out of Brisbane, with Those Two Girls, who do the early breakfast show on the Hit Network have got an incredible rapport for that 10 minute pop culture news show, with 5 stories in ten minutes.

This week we’ve also just launched The Scorecard a daily sports news show written, hosted and produced by Liam Flanagan who also co-hosts The Rush Hour on Triple M Sydney. Is has really funny scripts, high production and gets across the five big stories in about five minutes for sports fans.

And the big one I have been working on for the last three months is Hamish and Andy’s Remembering Project. I  pinch myself that it feels like the sort of thing I’d be doing just for fun let alone publishing it… As with all things Hamish and Andy do they weren’t happy just doing a ‘best of’ show, even though everyone else would have been happy with it. They wanted to come up with a unique concept and they’ve certainly delivered that… It’s been a few years since I’ve worked with them closely and forgot the level of detail and care and consideration that goes into everything that they do.

With The Briefing and the new sports show, is there a new trend for young listeners to want to consume news but not in the old fashioned way of top of the hour news bulletin or a long form current affairs show?

You’re correct. The number one podcast in the world is the New York Times’ The Daily. If nothing else that makes a really clear point that there’s a huge thirst for daily news podcasts…  it’s an obvious choice for us to start to dig into that and ask what else what other daily news products can we create. The Briefing was our first first crack and it’s exceeded all expectations commercially and from an audience perspective.

Similarly with Matt and Alex, it’s daily, each morning for the under 30s audience that might not be listening to F.M. radio as much anymore, but they’re definitely consuming podcasts. The Scorecard and The Sugar Rush, also daily shows, are also working really well.

Lastly to the business side of it. Are these things making money? How?

Absolutely. The Briefing has just commenced a seven week sponsorship from the Commonwealth Bank. Matt and Alex booked right through to the end of the year. No surprises that Hamish and Andy’s Remembering Project sold before we even had it made.

The shows are well sponsored and making great money. What’s interesting about daily content is that we’re able to be really creative with our content integration. Some of our podcasts are produced as seasons, so once the shows are done and dusted they are a little bit locked away there’s not a lot we can do from a content perspective for clients, but with daily shows we can be a little bit more creative with how we bring our sponsors message to life within them. We can be a little bit more responsive and creative, which obviously clients really like.

It’s a bit like what we did with Hamish and Andy… half our time with them was spent figuring out how to try and pay for all the stupid shit we wanted to do!




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