It’s a massive irony that while radio listener numbers have increased strongly during the pandemic, revenue has fallen off a cliff.
In the June quarter, just gone, revenue for the radio sector was down nationally by a staggering 46.62%, or $99.644 million compared to the same period last year.
With numbers like that, somethin’s gotta give. And while upper management is fond of declaring, ‘Our most valuable asset is our people,’ those ‘wonderful’ people are also the most costly and therefore the ones to bear the brunt of cost cutting measures.
No radio network has been immune. ARN, NOVA Entertainment, Nine Radio and Grant Broadcaster have all made deep cuts to staff numbers.
Boasting the largest workforce of all the commercial networks, it was inevitable that Southern Cross Austereo would also oversee the most job losses. Having already shed up to an estimated 7% of staff since last December and implementing a 10% salary reduction across the board for the rest, a further 38 jobs went last week as local breakfast shows in regional markets across Australia were axed in favour of state wide shows networked from a provincial hub.
News of the cuts came as a devastating blow to those affected. Being shown the door from a prime shift can cause distress at the best of times but when so many are looking for so few jobs at present, it can be extremely traumatic to the extent that it becomes a mental health issue.
The gravity of sending young people into a job market teeming with seekers and short on vacancies is not lost on SCA Chief Content Officer, Dave Cameron who tells me, “This is a very sensitive and difficult time for our affected staff members. We are consulting with many of them regarding redeployment options right now.” Nonetheless, it’s cold comfort for those who miss the cut.
Apart from the tragic setback to the budding careers of so many young presenters, which we will discuss in more detail on radioinfo over coming days, there are a number of questions regarding the wisdom of becoming less live and local when many industry observers feel the opposite should be radio’s goal.
Mr Cameron agreed to provide written responses to our questions.
radioinfo: After SCA’s purchase of RED-FM, back in February, you announced a similar strategy just for Western Australia, with a single breakfast show networked from Bunbury. That was before the full impacts of the coronavirus were known. Was that a one off for WA or was it a trial to be rolled out to the rest of Australia?
In other words, if it were not for the COVID-19 pandemic and the sharp drop in profits that’s come with it, would you have gone ahead anyway and closed down those HIT breakfast shows in regional markets in other states across Australia?
Cameron: The change in strategy for the Hit network is entirely initiated by the economic challenges presented by this pandemic. W.A. was certainly not a pre-meditated testing ground before a larger roll-out, however it did present us with an alternative strategic solution for a devastating problem that no one was prepared for. We are confident though from analysing WA, that from an audience and revenue viewpoint the impact of this change will be minimal.
radioinfo: So, is this a long term strategy or is it more of a short term tactical retreat with a chance of re-installing those shows later down the track when profits improve?
Cameron: Changes this significant must be made, albeit painfully, for the long term as we continue to manage the ongoing uncertainty that this Pandemic has created.
radioinfo: I realise, times are tough and desperate times require desperate measures but isn’t there also a lot to be lost by vacating those strong local connections?
Cameron: We continue to deliver fiercely local breakfast shows right across our Triple M communities, and we will double-down on this approach to make sure our shows and talent on this network are even more connected and engaged with their communities and delivering even more local content in these shows.
The Hit network has a natural centre of Pop culture content, both national and international, just by nature of its format. Meaning the level of locally-focussed content delivered was often not quite as high as our Community-connected Triple M breakfast shows in these markets. The new Hit State super-shows will be uniquely “State flavoured”, an important factor given there is so much territoriality amongst States right now.
radioinfo: Specifically, how does this starteguy impact the famed SCA talent nursery?
Cameron: SCA still employs the largest number of talent across both our broadcast stations And podcast/on-demand unit, and talent development will continue to be a landmark initiative for us.
radioinfo: While Radio’s big point of difference over streaming services has been that we’re live and local, does this move leave the door ajar for them to compete on a more level playing field?
Cameron: We’re not turning into a music service. We are delivering live content exactly as we did. It will be State flavoured pop culture centred shows delivered by strong up and coming talent that are all excited by the challenge of broadcasting to a greater audience.
radioinfo: In last week’s media release you mentioned that while the breakfast shows had, in many of those markets, been axed you were also bumping the networked morning shows and bringing back live and local morning shows in their place. What’s the strategy behind that?
Cameron: We have an obligation to deliver a minimum local quota of hours per day. Our new strategy does not change this. To put it simply, We are changing the timeslot we deliver this in, back to locally-hosted and focussed morning shifts, delivered by our team of announcers around the country and predominantly based in each market.
radioinfo: Where are the presenters coming from for the new morning shows? Are they part of the redeployments?
Cameron: We are consulting with many of our affected staff regarding redeployment options right now, so I don’t have any further comment to make on this given this very sensitive and difficult time for our affected staff members.
radioinfo: For the time being Triple M retains its live and local breakfast shows. Will that also change soon or stay the same for the foreseeable future?
Cameron: We will not be making any changes to the Triple M Network regionally. There are amazing locally loved shows and talent right across our regional communities, and that remains a critical part of our “fiercely local” strategy for SCA into the future.