Video didn’t kill radio star: SCA’s Grant Blackley says audio is healthier than ever

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As audio evolves from the one-to-many broadcast model to a one-to-one model with an increased focus on digitization, Grant Blackley of Southern Cross Austereo is optimistic about its future.

While reporting a strong shareholder earnings reading of almost 39% over the prior year, he told B&T, “The industry is having record ratings right now, with a pretty strong radio recovery.

“Digital audio maturity is also happening at a pace. We enjoy being number one for 25-54 year olds across Australia, which is the target audience for 70% of advertising briefs.

At the heart of SCA’s digital push, of course, is Listnr – which, as a toddler, already has 850,000 subscribers and continues to grow. And its next growth spurt will likely come from international expansion.

“We’ve been relentless in our determination to build a better global product, and we’re extremely proud of the UX,” Blackley said. “I’ve spent some time in the US and UK recently, and some have suggested we’re on the cutting edge of digital transformation [in audio].

“We own and operate the product, and we don’t license it, which is quite unusual. International podcasters are looking for partners and we want to be at the forefront globally.

It does, however, stop short of committing to specific markets and timeframes.

“We have a transportable product. Some of our content will travel exceptionally well, and some will not. All of these issues are ahead of us, but we are starting from a positive position,” he said.

Digitization is not only focused on the front-end. SCA has invested a considerable amount of capital expenditure in in-house digitization over the past five years, measures that are helping to future-proof the business.

“We are completely connected. We can produce and deploy content anytime and anywhere,” he said. “Future capital expenditures will be dedicated to innovation in internal systems as well as in products.”

Much of it will be centered around the maturation of Listnr with the introduction of more AI, customization, and feature enhancements driven by personal desires and influences.

“The big trend in audio is personalization – more people want a higher level of personalization, we’re seeing a transformation in how people consume content,” Blackley said.

SCA’s TV assets are here to stay

After a strategic review of the TV assets, the decision was made to retain them despite several takeover bids, as it was expected to deliver a better return over time for shareholders, rather than selling at a sub-optimal level . SCA’s TV assets, which account for 20% of profits, generated EBITDA on par with FY 21.

“Over the past 12 months, we have gone from a [network] affiliation with Nine to an affiliation 10, but have basically maintained our revenue, thanks to an expert and dedicated sales team,” said Blackley. “Despite facing the Olympics and managing that transition, the team delivered one of the best performances in the industry.

“Profits of nearly $30 million, which was equal to the previous year, were not expected in the market, it took a few by surprise.”

“For TV we’ve simplified the perspective – what we do really well is sell advertising locally, our teams are the best in the business,” he added. “At the same time, we used television to promote the radio product – they work really well together.”

The key to the strategy is localism, something they are working hard on. This makes sense given the emphasis on community among Australians over the past couple of years and the acceleration of the tree shift/sea shift trend with regional populations on the rise.

“The majority of Australians want to hear local stories,” Blackley said. “This positive migration enriches communities, and when new people want to come under the hood of the community, radio is the first and most important [platform]. Key to it all is our team, when our people aren’t streaming, they’re helping friends and customers – they’re engaging with local communities.

For 2023, the focus remains firmly on audio growth.

“We will devote more time to the attention economy. The audio is more immersive and engaging than anything else. This is where the attention metrics are very high,” Blackley concluded. “And with the rapid growth of digital, the whole industry is united in building and growing audio; we work together, even if we are competitors.

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