NOVA's Nicole Bence on audience growth, measurement and an all-of-audio approach

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 12 September 2023
Nicole Bence; image supplied by NOVA.

Nicole Bence returned to NOVA Entertainment in March this year as chief commercial officer after over six years at Seven West Media as network digital sales director 

Nearly six months in, Bence told AdNews that she’s excited about the opportunity that lies ahead for her, at a time when both commercial radio listeners as well as digital audio ad spend are rising.

“Coming over from television and having been part of the growth of BVOD was obviously really exciting and an opportunity I've been incredibly grateful for and I think the opportunity to come into audio, whilst there is definitely advertiser appetite, there's still a lot to work through,” she said.

“The opportunity to be able to contribute to the learning, the education, the product development, the industry collaboration, tackling issues like measurement and all of those sorts of things; having done that in television, the opportunity to come in and do that in a different channel is personally a challenge but something that I am really excited about.”

Bence said one of her biggest observations is how different audio is to TV, as the migration of audiences in television to digital is through quite a different content consumption behaviour.

“If you look at a lot of the BVOD platforms as an example, you've got some really strong live audiences around certain programs and sport, but for the most part, audiences are consuming lots of different other pieces of video, where, for us, the consumer movement from a traditional radio into digital is still seeing them consume the same content,” Bence said.

“If think about all of the traditional channels except out of home, the move to digital has actually changed more than just the device they’re listening on - how they listen, when they watch, what they watch, where it hasn't done for us.”

Bence told AdNews that while the market’s been tough to start a new job, she thinks radio’s in good shape.

“I think the first half has been tough, but I think the second half is definitely looking a lot more buoyant,” she said.

“The July numbers at an industry level were strong, digital audience and audio revenue is strong. There's definitely pockets where you're seeing clients pulling back and then there's other areas where you're seeing clients that have leaned in, but I think one of the challenges for us is the lead times.”

Along with that growth in digital audiences, Bence said that the audience stability is another key differentiator she’s observed since coming over from television. 

“We use our Triton platform to really give us a lot of insight into our total digital audience, which in any given month is three and a half to 4 million that are going through podcasting and streaming,” she said. “At the moment, we're starting to really understand the makeup of those audiences using the CDP to profile them, but also the low duplication, I was quite surprised about. 

“What's different to television is we've got two very different content consumption behavioural patterns to play with, which allows you to grow an audience.”

Adam Johnson, NOVA’s chief growth officer, said that comparing podcasting and streaming is almost as different as TV is to cinema. 

“You consume both things with your eyes and that's pretty much where the similarity ends, but despite we as an industry talking about podcasting and streaming in the same breath, they're actually fundamentally different,” he said.

“I think we underestimate and underplay a little bit just how fundamentally different they are; just because you consume them both through a set of headphones or in your car, they're viewed by the market as ‘that's part of our audio plan’, or it's a radio add-on in the worst case.”

Johnson told AdNews that from a growth and marketing point of view, it's a very fundamentally different marketing strategy as well, to not just attract a listener but the content that’s created too. 

“Unlike a Val Morgan, for example, who don't create the movies, we also create the movies as well as creating the ads as such,” he said.  

“We have the ability to go and spin up podcast titles relatively easily and we can tailor that content as we get an understanding of audience needs and advertiser integrations. 

“It's a luxurious position to be in when you've got different levers to pull, different audiences to grow and therefore the full funnel effect of audio really comes into play there, where you can use your tentpole breakfast shows as a core reach driver, but then you can use things like podcasting as a way to drive a much more core audience.” 

Adam Johnson

Johnson (pictured right) said that podcasters have grown up in that environment, where part of their job is to talk credibly about a brand or a product in the context of their environment.  

“Particularly a TV presenter, and to a certain extent radio presenter, there's a greater degree of separation between content and commercial, whereas podcasting has these beautifully blurred lines,” Johnson said.

“Whether it's comparing magazines to newspapers or cinema to TV, I think that narrative is the same, which is planners would put magazines and newspapers on a plan as doing two separate things. 

“Our messages is to put podcasting on a plan to do a very separate job to streaming to broadcast radio, but the great thing is that you can come to one partner to do all of those things, and to Nicole's point, we're getting much better at building datasets that prove that this is incremental audience and in a different consumption space, thinking about different things.”

Bence said while there's obviously more work to do around automation and audio does add a level of complexity, NOVA is working “really hard” to simplify that. 

“Adam always says ‘if your goal is growth, stop playing hard to get’ and we are going where the fish are so to speak - we are distributing our content where they are and we're monetising that content there,” she said.

“We're not forcing people behind a paywall; we're about to announce publicly a really cool new podcast and we know it'll generate audience and it'll bring quite a different audience profile into the ecosystem than what we've seen before by nature of the talent, but we're not going to put that behind a registration just to drive registrations, even though we know it could.”

“It's a very different approach to a lot of other channels and that comes with pros and cons: you don't get as much data, you don't own the platform, you don't control the experience of that platform. But it does allow us to maximise that audience scale and that's ultimately the game that we're in - grow the audience and make it addressable with advertising.”

Johnson said that NOVA differs slightly from its competitors in that the company is heading towards a “really big" number when it comes to the NOVA IDs in its CDP, but not at the expense of maximising the total audience. 

“If you have a direct, super-connected relationship with NOVA then you will listen to NOVA on the NOVA player, but if you want to listen to a podcast that happens to be from us, but it's more convenient for you to listen to it on your native Google app on your phone, then we will make it available there as well,” Johnson said.

 “You still hear the same ads, the advertiser still reaches the same people, but we're not putting restrictions on the listener to have to go and find it.  

“We have an everything, everywhere approach to distribution, but with the view that the best experience that you have would be on our first party platforms and that will continue to get better as we continue to evolve it.”

Looking ahead to next year, Bence said one of her priorities is maintaining NOVA’s all-of-audio approach.

“Everybody always approaches digital audiences and the monetisation of those slightly differently - some try to upskill their existing teams, others bring on separate digital teams,” Bence told AdNews.

“We have identified some internal talent, and also brought in some external talent, around digital specialisation, whether that's in programmatic trading, data, whatever those things are - but we are very much about having a single point of contact for our client. 

“We believe that the opportunity to be able to talk to one person and then also have them all the way through that campaign to the release is really important and having worked in a number of different models, I certainly support that. The ongoing L&D around our own teams and ensuring that they're able to maximise our assets and the way they present those to clients is really important.”

Bence said another key focus for 2024 is around measurement.

With the launch of Radio360 a few months ago “really well received” in market, Bence said it's a great first step in being able to give agencies and clients more transparency and more visibility. 

“Being able to start to see that movement onto digital devices, what sort of devices, what time of day etc - those sorts of insights is excellent, but it's not a trading currency,” she said.

Bence said that the industry has taken a wise approach in adding incremental value in how to plan, buy and measure those audiences - versus waiting for everything to be perfect, which inevitably takes time - but that while the industry may have more of an incremental approach to solving for some of those problems though, NOVA isn’t waiting around.

“There's lots of ways that we can help to educate and demonstrate to clients how you can use the data that's currently available and use common sense to progress the way you buy audiences and look at them holistically without having to wait for a gold standard, third party verified measurement tool,” she said.

“An example of a conversation I had with a client this week is he's buying into our drive show and looking at the extension into podcasts, and from a deterministic perspective, there's no one data source you can go to to say those podcast listeners are incremental, but we can apply common sense and say, ‘okay, if we time target the delivery of those impressions within a 48 hour period, you could say that the majority of those people are not going to listen to the show on a Wednesday afternoon, and then go back and listen to it again at 12 o'clock on a Thursday.’ 

“We're really collaborating with our clients at the moment; everyone is wanting to get the best out of those audiences, but I think sometimes we let perfection get in the way of progress, so we're really working on different use cases to show clients how they can demonstrate where there's incrementality, but also role of channel.”

Bence said NOVA is seeing some “outstanding” results around podcasting, and how it's driving those lower funnel conversions, so the audio player is doing a lot of work in the background from the research and insights perspective to help clients better understand that. 

Bence also said that looking at creative is a big focus, with one of the most interesting sessions she sat in on in her first 30 days being with the creative services team. 

“The knowledge and the expertise sitting inside those teams is exceptional,” she said.

“You sit and talk to those guys and the way that they are able to understand the moments and the mindsets that consumers tap into throughout the day - listening to Fitzy, Wippa and Kate in the morning is a very different moment and a mindset to then joining a pregnancy podcast on your walk in the morning to then streaming Smooth Relax throughout the day in the office.

“Those guys have really built up a really extensive knowledge around all of the different formats we've got available, when to use them, and what is the right creative tone, because a traditional 15 or 30 second radio ad for a retail brand is not going to work in an intimate environment where you're talking to someone about their pregnancy. How we really start to educate the market about those moments and mindset to the opportunity to how to best use creative is also another key focus.” 

Bence said there is definitely a lot of curiosity around digital audio at the moment, with the more sophisticated digital clients leaning in faster and harder. 

“It's interesting in the observations and the analysis I've been doing is those clients that are spending more often and more consistently are those that have got a very sophisticated digital buyer, probably driven by a lot of CRM data, they know exactly who they're looking for, they know exactly when they want to reach them, and they may be capping out on finding those audiences elsewhere and so they're now coming to digital audio, as we see those audiences grow,” Bence told Adnews.

“They're less concerned around the measurement and us being able to talk about incrementality because they're using all of their data on their side to be able to do that. 

“Digital audio is reaching that maturity curve, so I think we're going to continue to see growth there and that's exciting.”

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