From nothing to number one; SmoothFM hits the big time

By Sarah Homewood and Rachael Micallef | 25 August 2015

Three years since Nova Entertainment launched the Smooth brand from nothing it has taken out the top spot for FM in Sydney, and group programme director for Nova Entertainment, Paul Jackson, said this strategy wasn't just about bringing in a big name and hoping for the best, it's been in the works for years.

“I said to everybody I speak to that it's going to be number one, and I said it was probably going to be in its third year. We said it’s going to incrementally increase and that's what it's done,” Jackson said.

Speaking to AdNews, Jackson said the Nova Entertainment business always believed in Smooth and the brand's rise was different to some other plays in the market saying: “This isn't hit and hope, like bringing back Hamish and Andy because they were good four years ago and let's see if we can conjure up a number, because other than that we don't really know what we're doing - this is a station built with brilliant talent.

“It didn't have to be big names but they relate to an audience, and they carved out a niche in the marketplace, which happened to be the biggest niche of them all.”

Jackson said that the first few years for the station was about getting some awareness around it and some talkability. The second year was about moving it up a gear and this year has been about getting to the top.

“We've been batting at the top end for a while now, so for us it was only ever a matter of time,” he said.

When it came to Smooth and Nova taking on Hamish and Andy in the drive slot Jackson said Nova isn't concerned about the pair entering the fray.

“We believe in what we do, I could not believe that core listeners of Kate, Tim and Marty would stop listening to them just to listen to Hamish and Andy, it doesn't work like that,” he said.

“Hamish and Andy are well known personalities around the country, but it's been four years since they’ve been in a radio studio, most people who haven't done it in four years will come in and be a bit off the pace.”

Australian Radio Network national content director Duncan Campbell said Hamish and Andy's introduction to the landscape has made things more competitive, but said the impact hasn't been the splash SCA are likely to have wanted.

“It's only the first survey of course but these guys aren't necessarily the panacea that everyone thinks they might be,” Campbell said. “They were always going to have an impact and they've had that, and they'll continue to have an impact. The ratings will ebb and flow.”

When it came to drive in Sydney, Nova drew 9.6% of audience share with Smooth coming in slightly below with 8.2%, with Hamish and Andy coming in for their first survey with a share of 6.5%.

Jackson noted they would not be the numbers he would be hoping for.

“If that was me and I had spent the amount of money that they [SCA] would have spent on marketing Hamish and Andy across the country, and I can't image what that would be, and all the other hype on TV or in the media about them and that was the numbers I got – I would be holding an inquest.”

ARN's Kiis station, with Hughsey and Kate picked up 7.3% audience share, dropping 1.8 percentage points from 9.1 in the survey prior.

“The reality is a lot of the Kiis audience is ex 2DayFM so in Sydney Hamish and Andy's audience was always going to be drawn more from Kiis than Nova, which is what we've seen,” Campbell said.

“But my argument is and always has been that the impact of Hamish and Andy on the 10+ share [total audience] is always going to be minimal.”

“Advertisers and clients want a consistently strong station across all day parts with strong cume and strong time spent listening. The reality is if you take the Sydney market, Kiis is a very strong 7.2% audience share, Nova is 6.6% and Hit is at 4.4%. Hit 104.1 just aren't competitive.”

Kiis and its stablemate WSFM continued to battle for the top FM breakfast station this survey which Campbell added, points to the consistency of both stations. However, he added that he would like better shares for both stations going forward.

“For me it's all about consistency. If you compare networks this is where ARN has always maintained itself,” Campbell said.

“We do pride ourselves on being very consistent and offering solid results survey after survey.”

Cream on the cake

Eyes might still be on SCA's drive team but Fox FM content director Dave Cameron said Hamish and Andy are just the cream on the top of the cake.

“We focus on breakfast,” Cameron said. “Breakfast is the starting point of a listener’s relationship with the radio station and drive is the cream on the top. We've got really lovely tasting cream but breakfast is our cake and that's what we're baking.”

Cameron said while Hamish and Andy have had a halo effect on the network already, the positive results today are due to its long term strategy making inroads.

“You don't get five metro shows going up just because there is a fantastic drive show, the breakfast product has to be good in its own right,” Cameron said. “They've been making inroads and they're better products than they essentially were when they started.

“Our competitors keep banging on about Hamish and Andy being the saviour of the network while we were busy working on all of our breakfast show around the country. I think that impact has probably been shown today.”

The other focus for SCA is its Triple M network which dropped 1.4 percentage points in total people from 7.9% to 6.5% audience share in Sydney. However, Triple M group content director Mike Fitzpatrick said that when it comes to its key buying demographic the station continues to dominate.

“Triple M is leading the charge again,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re number one 25-39 that key buying demographic for Triple M and that's by almost six points.

“So its a great day for Triple M all round and its a perfect accompaniment to the result from the Hit network.”

For the full ratings click here.

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