With ARN announcing its official ditch of the ‘Australian Radio Network’ name earlier this week, B&T spoke to CEO of HT&E (ARN’s owner) about what the change means for the brand’s future.
For Davis, the shift from Australian Radio Network to just ARN was a “natural progression” which reflected the business’s ongoing development.
“About three years ago, we introduced this concept of the audiosphere, which was in recognition that our audiences are skipping between radio, music streaming and podcasting effortlessly through iHeartRadio,” he said.
“Then [with] all the digital dynamic audio products that we have following in behind it, it made sense that we’d moved from being a traditional radio business into a total audio broadcasting business, with a much more digital slant and lens over what we do.”
This shift closer to digital audio would not come at the expense of radio, Davis stressed – “broadcast radio will still always be a very important part of our business” – but the rise of podcasts and music streaming has fundamentally altered the audio landscape.
“We’ve spent a lot of time in the last two years building up our our content in this area, building up our distribution platforms in this area,” he said.
“As a result, we’ve obviously got a much bigger audience. So dropping the ‘radio’ from our name – while it’s reasonably cosmetic in the exterior – there’s actually a lot of science and intellect on behind it.”
On podcasting’s astronomic growth, Davis again stressed that it was not “coming at the loss of radio.”
“Radio listening has continued to improve. But people are consuming more audio…because [it’s] the type of thing you can do when you’re doing other things, when you’re going to work, when you’re commuting, when you’re at the gym, when you go for a walk, when you just want me time.”
“What we’re very pleased about is that we’re still seeing growth in our core radio assets. But podcasts in particular have continued to grow, and grow a lot. I envisage that level of content creation will continue to grow.”
It is a market that has massive potential for growth in Australia specifically.
Davis said, “the uptake of podcasting in Australia is still relatively low compared to other countries. I think in the months and years to come, the commercialization of that content will catch up with consumption, and that should see continued investment in content and personalities.”
Last year, radio saw advertising slump. While it has begun to recover, Davis refuted the narrative that radio as a medium was negatively impacted by COVID.
“When lockdowns first happened in April of last year, there was a perception out there that radio listening was all happening in the car, as people were commuting to and from the office. What we saw was a large amount of cancellations in April in May for radio campaigns for the rest of the year, which meant we were starting again, if you like, from a booking revenue perspective.”
“What really happened is that radio listening increased and improved,” he continued. “People were spending longer listening to the radio because it was a form of information, but more importantly, it was a form of communication with communities that people felt connected to.”
By his own admission, it took the network “a little bit of time” to convince the advertising world that this was the case.
“But, pleasingly, as we saw towards the end of the year, we returned to growth. That was continuing this year, despite the fact that Melbourne was locked down on its own for a few months late last year.”
“You know, people who are advertising on radio…are continuing to spend, and increase in their spend because of the engaged audiences that we have, the more digitally focused products that we’re rolling out, and the fact that actually, radio advertising works.”
One of ARN’s greatest boons has been the acquisition of the Kyle & Jackie O Show, which joined KIIS 1065 from 2Day FM in 2014. Earlier this year, they knocked 2GB off the top rung of the breakfast ratings – a feat that hadn’t been achieved in 20 years.
The appeal of the pair, for Davis, is that they have an unmatched chemistry. They are also experts in the field.
“They’ve been broadcasting for 21 years. I’ve been lucky enough to work in radio in many countries and wherever I’ve been in the world, whether you like them or not, Kyle and Jackie are considered the best in the world at what they do, for the type of content that they produce,” he said.
He compared them to iconic UK hosts like Chris Evans and Terry Wogan, who have seen incredible longevity in their careers.
“I think it’s because A, they get on well, and B they have this great sense of chemistry. But C, and most importantly, they’re uniquely able to understand what the mood of their audience is on a particular day, or how a particular topic will go. You’ll find that with great radio announcers around the world, they are able to actually talk to their audience and talk about issues, whether it’s silly or serious, in a way that resonates with people. That’s a magnificent skill, a talent that not many radio presenters have.”
In late July, Sandilands dropped his own vaccine jingle to wide praise. This, in Davis’s mind, is the power of radio.
“What I am passionate about is [that] radio’s ability to drive the agenda is really strong. If you look at what’s happened over the past couple of weeks from, ARN perspective particularly, you have Kyle’s video about vaccination, which struck a chord much more than any political advertising I’ve seen to date in terms of talk ability and, and the ability to influence consumer’s perceptions.”
He continued with the example of Erin Phillips, one of the co-hosts of the Adelaide breakfast show, who creted her own 30 second ad in one night. It was then endorsed by the SA Premier Steven Marshall.
Jase of Melbourne brekkie show Jase & PJ asked Scott Morrison for an apology on the bungled vaccine rollout.
“He wasn’t looking to score political points,” explained Davis. “He was just tapping into what the audiences were thinking.”
“That’s radios great ability, that I think needs to be talked about more.”
From an advertising point of view, ARN is currently leading with their new proposition ‘Connections That Count’.
“It’s demonstrating that the connections that we have with our audiences, the touchpoints that we develop with them, and the products that we’re rolling out, actually form deeper connections for advertisers to tap into. We’re very active in market at the moment on that,” said Davis. He also cited the network’s focus on neurological research into audio advertising.
“More often than not, we just listen to the market, we listen to their clients, we understand what their needs are, which led us last year to launch ‘Dynamic Audio’, which effectively was digital advertising capability in a broadcasting environment. What we’re doing is developing an overall audio proposition grounded in radio, but really striking a chord with advertisers, particularly as we look to more digitally focused content and advertising solutions.”
Ultimately, though, ARN’s future relies on striking that balance between more content, more audiences, and new digital audio – and ensuring all of that resonates with advertisers. Along with their new dynamic audio product will be an audio planner, to show advertisers the best forms of audio advertising depending on the day.
Undoubtedly, the newly christened ARN has further changes in store.
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