Newsmaker: Grant Blackley’s SCA comeback plan

Paul McIntyre
By Paul McIntyre | 17 September 2015
Grant Blackley

In the latest issue of AdNews Magazine (4 September) Paul McIntyre sat down with Former Ten Network CEO Grant Blackley, who is now overhauling Southern Cross Austereo. They talk about everything from the Foxtel and Ten in the MCN alliance to overhauling content creation. You can read it all below. But if you want it as soon as it goes to press, you better subscribe here.

He’s back. After a four-year hiatus from the frontline of broadcast media, running hospitality group Keystone and his own production and investment ventures, Grant Blackley has been back in the saddle at SCA for eight weeks. And he has a cunning plan for the media company which last week reported an 18.6% fall in profit to $64.8 million. But first, a little history.

With the market increasingly focused on how broadcast media will embrace automated trading of their inventory and audiences and competing with online video networks and platforms, Blackley can lay claim to, more than a decade ago, setting up Australia’s first electronic trading platform for TV – the now defunct buyten.com.au. It did not have the smarts of today’s trading platforms but Blackley, back in the early naughties, was already dabbling with the machines and trying to get his broadcast rivals to join Ten in an electronic buying platform for the industry.

Although he says 25% of Ten’s inventory was being booked through Buyten at its peak, it was a decade too early.

“As much as we tried to encourage Nine and Seven to adapt a similar attitude, at that point in time they elected not to,” Blackley says. “It became a different way to trade with Ten, which appealed to some parties whereas others elected to do it in a very traditional manner, over the phone or in person. Today, wherever we can put positive pressure on the sale of our inventory and everything that goes with that, we will continue to embrace it both across our TV and radio assets.”

And so it begs the question: With Ten now in with Foxtel as a joint venture partner in MCN, and SCA’s regional TV network a Ten affiliate, will he link the alliance?

“We’d look at any and all opportunities to improve any affiliation we have,” Blackley says. Does he then see any upside to joining the MCN stable for advertising sales? “We’d like to think so. That said, we have to understand the mechanics of that and we have to understand what the value proposition that that party, or others, can provide. But yes, we can and will look at all options.”

But Blackley must first look at whether Ten and SCA will renew their broadcast affiliate agreement, due to expire next year. That is ripe with complexity given the trench warfare underway between the metro and regional broadcast groups at present over the relaxation of media rules, and the mergers and acquisitions that will likely ensue. Although PM Tony Abbott has ruled out any changes to media rules without broad agreement from the big media companies, there is intense lobbying underway for exemptions to be granted to regional media groups from current media legislation. Besides these challenges, Blackley is also neck-deep into a structural and strategic overhaul of SCA. He has appointed old ally, Brian Gallagher, as chief sales officer and with a new leadership group for content, finance, sales, digital and regional, he wants to see SCA’s disparate assets sold as one.

“We need to streamline the structure and the manner in which we manage those assets and promote those assets to market,” he says. “How do we unlock greater value for the assets we already hold, and how do we ensure we’re talking with one voice on a scalable basis rather than multiple voices in the past for metro radio, regional radio, regional TV and the associated digital assets?”

Another strategic priority for Blackley is to decentralise content creation out to the regions and increase the volume of what SCA produces for its digital platforms. He says in digital, particularly, SCA has a “manufacturing” problem – it needs to create more to sell more. And certainly so for higher yield video product. It will hire a host of new content directors and content teams based in local markets.

“In Sydney and Melbourne, we tend to produce both video and audio, but unfortunately in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth - and our regional markets - it’s typically audio form and sometimes visual,” he explains. “By decentralising, we will have a greater balance of video and audio coming from each and every one of our stations that will enrich those particular geographies. Importantly, we will be procuring content that’s local to their respective markets and local to advertisers so that we’re actually engaging with those specific geographies more often and at a deeper level.”

With a structural revamp and more content being created at the coalface of SCA’s TV and radio assets, Blackley says it will help improve SCA’s “power ratio” – that is, better alignment between the audiences it delivers versus the revenues it is writing. Digital, which has been essentially a standalone unit, becomes more “immersed” in the business, according to Blackley.

“What’s very clear is we need to be a single, professional voice across the group of assets, and we need to aggregate our sales and we need to disperse our content production so that we actually produce more saleable items,” he says.

“First and foremost, we must ensure that we get our house in order to be able to sell to the maximum value of our current inventory. I think there’s a little bit of work to be done from our end. I still think in some areas of our business, our power ratios are not at the levels we believe they should be. That’s something we have to do internally first.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the latest issue of AdNews magazine (4 September). Want the news as soon as it goes to print? Subscribe right here. You can even get it on your iPad.

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