As audio evolves from the one-to-many broadcast model to one-to-one with an increased focus on digitisation, Southern Cross Austereo’s Grant Blackley is bullish about its future.
While reporting on a healthy profit reading for shareholders that clocks in at nearly 39 per cent up from the last financial year, he said to B&T, “The industry is seeing record audiences at the moment, with radio recovery quite strong.
“The maturity of digital audio is also happening at a pace. We enjoy being the number one for 25-54s across Australia, which is the audience that 70 per cent of advertising briefs are targeting.”
At the heart of SCA’s digital push, of course, is Listnr – which, at toddler age, already boasts 850,000 subscribers and growing. And its next growth spurt will likely come from international expansion.
“We have been relentless in our determination to build a global world-best product, and we are enormously proud of the UX,” Blackley said. “I have spent a bit of time in the US and UK recently, and some have suggested we are at the forefront of digital transformation [in audio].
“We own and operate the product, and we don’t licence it – which is quite unusual. International podcasters are looking for partners, and we want to be on the front foot on a global scale.”
He stops short of, however, committing to specific markets and timelines.
“We have a product that is transportable. Some of our content will travel exceptionally well, and others won’t. All these questions are in front of us, but we are starting from a positive position,” he said.
The digitisation focus is not only on the front end. SCA has invested a considerable amount of capital expenditure into back-of-house digitisation over the past five years, measures which are helping future-proof the business.
“We are completely connected. We can produce and deploy content from anytime and anywhere,” he said. “Future capital expenditure will be dedicated to innovation in internal systems as well as products.”
A lot of which will be centred around further maturing Listnr with the introduction of more AI, personalisation, and improving functionality led by personal desires and influences.
“The big trend in audio is personalisation – more people wanting a stronger level of personalisation, we are seeing a transformation in how people consume content,” Blackley said.
SCA’s TV assets are here to stay
After a strategic review of TV assets, the decision was made to hold on to them in spite of several purchase bids, as it was projected to offer a better return over time for shareholders, rather than selling at a sub-optimal level. SCA’s TV assets, which represent 20 per cent of the earnings, generated an EBITDA on par with FY 21.
“In the past 12 months, we have transitioned from an [network] affiliation with Nine to a 10 affiliation, but have fundamentally maintained our revenue, thanks to an expert and dedicated sales team,” Blackley said. “In spite of being up against the Olympics and managing this transition, the team has delivered an industry-best performance.
“Earnings of nearly $30 million, which was equal to the previous year was not expected in the marketplace, it has taken a few by surprise.”
“For TV, we have simplified the prospect – what we do really well is sell advertising at the local level, our teams are best in market,” he added. “At the same time, we’ve leveraged TV to promote the radio product – they work very well together.”
The key to the strategy is localism, something they are doubling down on. This makes sense considering the emphasis on community among Australians in the past couple of years and the acceleration of the tree change/sea change trend with regional populations on the rise.
“The majority of Australians want to hear local stories,” said Blackley. “This positive migration is enriching communities, and when new people want to get under the hood of the community – radio is the first and foremost [platform]. Key to this is our team, when our people are not out there broadcasting, they are helping friends and clients – they are committed to the local communities.”
For 2023, the focus remains firmly on growing audio.
“We will spend more time on the attention economy. Audio is more immersive and engaging than anything else. That’s where the attention metrics are very high,” Blackley concluded. “And with digital growing at a rapid rate, the whole industry is united in building and growing audio; we work as one, even though we are competitors.”