Radio bosses confident the medium isn't having "its newspaper moment"

Josh McDonnell
By Josh McDonnell | 18 October 2019

Australia's biggest radio network CEOs have all emphasised a level of confidence in the medium's advertising opportunities, despite a recent downturn in spending.

Sitting on a panel at this year's Radio Alive conference, network bosses, Nova's Cathy O'Conner, SCA's Grant Blackley, ARN's Cirian Davis, and Macquarie Media's Adam Lang all discussed the future of the industry.

The conversation was sparked following the release of Commercial Radio Australia's September quarter figures which revealed metropolitan commercial radio stations ad revenue contracted by 10.2% to $181.432 million in the September quarter of 2019, from $202.109 million a year ago, according to data compiled by Deloitte.

Commenting on the decline in media spend, Davis says he constantly fields questions from HTE's, ARN's parent company, investors about the state of radio and whether it is in dire straits.

"I field calls from the investor market every day, and every call starts with the same question, 'is this radio's turn to be the newspapers? And that's total crap if I'm being honest," Davis says.

"Our sector is vibrant as ever. Every network is producing live content and more daily for growing audiences across the country. And from an economic perspective, that's hard at the moment but we know radio works, it's sound."

Davis added that he was confident that the industry would "bounce back" and that the radio networks were out there selling themselves to clients in the same way they always have.

O'Connor says, despite the strength of the medium, radio will still have a tough remainder of 2019 but cautioned people on taking the "what's changed" approach because there still isn't enough data to prove that major structural changes were occurring.

"Looking around at the broader media landscape, there are a lot of other areas that are struggling worse than we are," O'Connor says.
"The fact that people think it's newsworthy that radio undergoing a short period of pain is interesting [because it's rare] and that is leading to people asking a level of disproportionally unfair questions about radio."

Blackley agreed that the issues facing the radio industry were cyclical and tied into a decline in consumer confidence, a credit squeeze from financial institutions and a weaker housing market.

He says radio remains the "resilient medium" and predicted that there will be a "resurrection" of typical buying patterns throughout the industry.

"We've all enjoyed a pretty good time last year, and we performed much better than a lot of other sectors but we all understand it's unlikely that it will start raining money this year,"

"It is going to be relatively tough over the next three months but [clients and agencies] need to be aware of the macroeconomic overtures within the market."

Blackley added that unlike the TV industry, which he says is losing its foundation, its viewers, radio continues to grow its audience base, which will play a major factor in the mediums return to strength.

Lang highlighted that radio was only one piece of the puzzle when it came to the way the industry is viewed, stating that each network was now an "audio business", which he says is in a "golden age".

"Keeping in mind that radio buying only factors around 7-8% of the total budget. However, we've got growing content consumption, growing radio audiences and we continue to work extremely hard to do that," Lang says.

"But then there is clearly 92% who aren't showing enough favour to that three hours a day of audio that is being consumed. So there is plenty there for us as an industry to fight for."

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