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How do you Q?

Posted May 23rd, 2011 by debritz

It'd be easy to read too much into the Q Scores published today by The Australian. This "top secret" data is supposed to tell people in the TV industry who the public like and who they loathe.

It's good fun, especially if the star you love to hate ranks lowly. And as much as I agree with some of the findings, I'd hate to think that anybody would lose their job on the basis of these figures alone. For starters, the numbers are a year old, and if a week's a long time in politics then a year is a lifetime in TV. What the scores tell us is who the general public recognise most and whether they have strong feelings for or against them. Of course, many of us may dislike Sam Newman, for example, but some of us (not me) will watch him for that very reason. And while we may love Hamish Blake, he's still got to deliver with his new program for it to rate well. And, of course, somebody could come from out of nowhere and be put into a good role and instantly win our hearts.

The danger is that these numbers will encourage the thinking that only those people who are actually on the list are worth considering for TV jobs. If I were programming a television station or casting a new show, I'd certainly be analysing these figures, but I'd also be looking around for some fresh faces and new (not necessarily young) talent to put in front of the audience.

Tune in, drop out

Posted May 22nd, 2011 by debritz

Fairfax has confirmed it is getting out of the radio business, and is seeking a buyer for its Australian network, which includes 2UE, 3AW, 6PR and, in Brisbane, 4BC and 4BH. I've written quite a bit about this, so I'll try not to repeat myself too much. Instead, I'll refer you to my thoughts here and here.

Now I'd like to address the delicate matter of money. Although Fairfax says it's confident of attracting several bidders, analysts predict the whole network of 15 stations may raise $250 million to $300 million. Fairfax paid $480 million less than four years ago. I don't know how much profit was made in that time, but it doesn't sound like a good deal to me.

And any potential buyer or buyers (if the assets are split up, which seems likely) would need to work hard on answering the question: Exactly what is a broadcasting licence worth these days? Free-to-air broadcast radio has certain advantages in terms of delivery, but it certainly doesn't have the game to itself any longer.

More and more people are choosing to listen-on-demand to podcasts on their computers or mobile devices rather than to scheduled services, and the radio stations are by no means the only ones pumping those out. Anybody with a half-decent PC can produce a broadcast-standard podcast - and it's clear to anybody who's taken the time to search that there are many "civilians" out there who have better program ideas than some of the professionals. (Ignorance of tried-and-tested formats, and freedom from highly paid consultants and their recycled branding concepts can be a very good thing.)

And while much is made of the success of the likes of Alan Jones and Kyle Sandilands, the fact is that big stars are costly to maintain and their continued success - or their portability to other markets - is not guaranteed. (I've noted many times before that Eddie McGuire isn't setting the world on fire at Triple M in Melbourne, which is also where even some of the big names of Sydney's 2GB and the much-touted input of Andrew Bolt are falling flat at talk station MTR.)

Having said that, while I wouldn't be rushing in to be a buyer, there is a chance that somebody will grab a bargain or two in the great Fairfax fire sale. But they'll have to be smart enough to set a low price and stick to it, and to truly understand the changing radio scene to turn a decent dollar. It's a very different market now to when most of the existing players (on air and off) got started, and copying stale formats with recycled celebs and other usual suspects just won't cut it. It'll take smarts, courage and a lot of passion to survive and thrive. More on that later.

A big win for B105

Posted May 10th, 2011 by debritz

B105 has emerged as the clear winner in the Brisbane radio ratings. In the third (second for the Queensland capital) official Nielsen survey for 2011, the Austereo station had a 12.8pc overall share (people 10+), well ahead of Nova 106.9 on 11.3pc, 97.3FM on 11.0 and Triple M on 10.4. 612ABC slipped back from 11.3pc last survey to 9.7, ahead of 4BC (8.8pc, a .03 increase on survey 2), 4BH (6.1, down from 6.3) and 4KQ (5.8 from 5.9).

In the all-important breakfast battle, 612's Spencer Howson still leads the way, although his share dropped from 14.7 to 12.9pc. B105's Labby (Jason Hawkins), Camilla Severi and Stav Davidson came in a solid second (12.2, up from 11.3), followed by 97.3's Robin Bailey, Terry Hansen and Bob Gallagher (10.3 up from 9.1). Former session leader Nova dropped from 11.0pc to 10.1 with its Meshel Laurie, Tim Blackwell and Marty Sheargold show, Triple M's The Cage with Ian Skippen, scored 9.9 (previously 10.7), and 4BC's breakfast team of Peter Dick and Mary Collier dropped marginally from 8.5 to 8.4, follwed by 4KQ's Laurel Edwards, Gary Clare and Mark Hine, who held steady on 6.6pc, and 4BH's Michael Price (5.9pc, down from 6.4) who was even with Triple J's Tom Ballard and Alex Dyson.

In Sydney, 2GB and its breakfast host Alan Jones continued their dominance, ahead of ABC702 and 2Day, while Melbourne's 3AW was No. 1 overall (on 16.3pc) and its cornflakes hosts, John Burns and Ross Stevenson, continued to attract more than 20pc of listeners. ABC774 was second, followed closely by Fox FM. At the other end of the scale, the much-hyped and well-paid Eddie McGuire hung on to a share of just 5.9pc for Triple M, which had a similar figure overall, and underperforming talk station MTR had just 1.8pc of audience share overall and 2.2 in breakfast).

DMG's struggling Classic Rock managed gains in Melbourne, to a 4pc share, but remained ordinarily steady on 2.6 in Sydney.

Ratings race proceeds apace

Posted May 8th, 2011 by debritz

All eyes in the broadcasting industry will be on the results of the third (second for Brisbane) Australian major cities radio ratings survey on Tuesday. This one promises to be interesting for several reasons:

1) It could help set the price for the Fairfax Radio stations, which are widely believed to be on the block. Fairfax's decision to slash sub-editing jobs at its newspapers in favour of outsourcing last week may be unpopular in journalism circles, but it shows new CEO Greg Hywood is serious about reorganising the business. The stations, including 4BC and 4BH in Brisbane, 2UE in Sydney and the high-rating 3AW in Melbourne, could be sold as a package or the network could be split up. (I've speculated about the options here.) Chances are, they will sell for less than Fairfax paid for them, but how much they fetch will depend on how well the stations are performing. 4BC did well last survey; 4BH not so well. However, the impact of the floods and cyclone earlier this year were still being felt, perhaps artificially inflating the figures for news-talk stations. If 4BC did benefit from a blip, the question will be: did it hold on to the audience?

2) B105 claimed the crown in terms of audience share but Nova 106.9, Triple M and 97.3FM were all well within striking distance of the prized No.1 slot. While the stations' managers will all say cumes (cumulative audiences) and demographics are more important, they do care who wins overall, and so do many advertisers who want to place their commercials on the leading station.

3) Again, probably thanks to the natural disasters, 612ABC had a strong survey overall and breakfast announcer Spencer Howson (yes, he's a friend of mine, and I used to be a regular on his show) did exceptionally well to lead by a wide margin in the most important shift of the day. Which way will Aunty's ratings go, and to what lengths will the commercial stations go to claim that that's not at all significant (when, of course, every person who's listening to the ABC is not listening to a commercial station, and therefore isn't exposed to the advertising that keeps these networks afloat).

May 9 update: 4) With Austereo also undergoing a change in ownership, the results may have some bearing on the extent of cost-cutting at the Brisbane stations. Both DMG (which is currently looking for a new program director for Brisbane's Nova 106.9) and ARN have already slashed their budgets. The radio business is resilient, but it is tightening its belt.
Roll on, Tuesday.

The Logies are a joke

Posted May 2nd, 2011 by debritz

Surely it's time to put the long-running television farce known as the Logies to bed. I've been saying that for years, but last night's gong show took the proverbial cake. I have met Karl Stefanovic and I like him a lot; I also have a lot of respect for him as a journalist and presenter. But he is not the most popular personality on Australian television. I know this because the only data that matters - the ratings - tell me so. Australians are given the choice of watching him on the Today show each weekday morning, and the vast majority of them decline. (And don't even get me started on how tiny the am TV audience actually is.) Still, he won a popular vote, apparently on the back of an aggressive marketing campaign by Channel 9 and some negative media comment about another favoured contender, Chrissie Swan (who is also not the most popular person on TV). The Logies are, in Woody Allen's words, a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham. If we are to give awards for television excellence, they should be voted on by the industry itself (as the Oscars and many other major awards are) or, as I suggested some time ago on a radio spot, by a compulsory poll of the entire Australian public. Any other system will provide a skewed and meaningless result.
Disclosure: I am not currently resident in Australia and I did not watch the Logies telecast, nor have I seen many of the programs that were nominated for the awards.

Brisbane stations to be left out in the cold?

Posted April 18th, 2011 by debritz

In his column in The Australian, Mark Day suggests that John Singleton is on the verge of buying radio assets from Fairfax. Day says Singo wants 3AW, which is blitzing his part-owned MTR in Melbourne, and 2UE, which competes with his top-rating 2GB in Sydney. But apparently he's not interested in the rest of the Fairfax Radio network, which includes 4BH and 4BC in Brisbane. If Day is on the money (and he often is), then will Fairfax hang on to the Brisbane stations, or will it find another buyer? Day doesn't speculate on this, but I will. If the stations are to be sold, who are the potential buyers? All of the existing players in the market have the maximum two stations -- except DMG (Nova 106.9) and ARN (4KQ), which share ownership 97.3FM, and could theoretically buy one of the stations between them. So,who from outside the tightly knit group of radio station owners would be interested? Perhaps Bill Caralis, who has mainly regional radio assets and has recently brought John Laws back to the Sydney and rural airwaves. If so, BH and BC would very quickly become cut-price operations, as Caralis's "Super Network" is not regarded as a big spender. While radio is by no means a sunset industry, it is undergoing a lot of changes, and anybody who takes on the stations would have to have a very clear strategy for them.
Meanwhile, there's news from former 4BC drive announcer Michael Smith. According to this Daily Telegraph report, one of Smith's producers Elizabeth Pearson, considered a rising star in the industry, has quit. The Tele reports that Smith's "chaotic approach to the program ... and blue-language sprays during meetings for his weekday noon to 3pm show left Pearson unimpressed".
Update: Jocks' Journal is reporting that Clive Palmer is said to be "putting out feelers" regarding the purchase of regional Queensland's Smart radio network. Might he be a buyer for 4BC and 4BH. Palmer is an outspoken personality, and it may be that the idea of owning a talk radio station such as BC appeals to him. (April 18, 5.10pm)

You can fool some of the people ...

Posted April 3rd, 2011 by debritz

Among the many traditional April Fools' Day jokes in print and online publications last Friday was this item in The Bangkok Post. The story, claming pop star Justin Bieber was giving up his career and coming to live in Bangkok to be with an unnamed "Thai girlfriend", generated a lot of interest from readers of the paper and online visitors (as I write, there were 208 tweets and 1200 Facebook shares for that story - a huge number for the Bangkok Post site*). What surprised me is that many of the Twitterers and Facebookers believed the story to be true, at least at first. Only one or two tweets that I read immediately recognised it for an April Fools joke, and several others suggested that it might be a prank. Even some people I spoke to who had only read the story in the newspaper said they initially believed it to be true. All this, despite:
1) In print, this huge scoop was only on page 3 of the second section ("Life"), with no pointer from the front page of either that section or the main newspaper. Online, it was not featured on the front page and could only be found through the menu system (or - and I suspect this accounts for many hits - by Google searches*).
2) The story starts off with an improbable premise, then adds some plausible detail, but quickly becomes ridiculous. A reference to Mark Zuckerberg, who did attend a wedding in Thailand recently, adds some credibility (although I doubt that he and Bieber are friends, as the story states), but that's about it. The story then suggests that Bieber and the girl had a chaperoned date, where her mother sat between them at the movies, and that the star would record an album of Thai-language love songs. It also makes fun of his reported use of the Auto-Tune software, and suggests that a superstar who can sell-out stadiums would perform live at a small jazz club and an expat pub.
3) The last paragraph clearly indicates it's the kind of story that could only appear "on this date" - i.e. April 1.
So, what to make of all this?
1) Obviously, it struck a chord with many people. Some readers probably wanted it to be true, or were so shocked that it might be true that they didn't read it in a discerning way.
2) As all newspaper people know, or ought to know, readers seldom make it all the way to the end of even a relatively short story, and they often don't fully comprehend what they read.
3) It was all good fun and nobody got hurt.
4) And for those who are asking the by-now obvious question, the answer is: Yes, it was.

* Bieber was, obviously, chosen deliberately because he's a hot topic online and off.

Brisbane radio: What next?

Posted March 30th, 2011 by debritz

So, what to make of the latest radio ratings? Although, as I cautioned even before the second (first for Brisbane) survey results were released, it's hard to know exactly how much weight to give to them, I'm going to have a stab anyway. My main reservations are: a) As always, the survey is flawed (and I'm not going to go into the reasons why for the umpteenth time); and b) that's even more the case this time around for Brisbane, where the survey period was shorter and it reflected broadcasting in the wash-up of the floods, cyclone and -- especially significant in the case of Triple M, which organised a fundraising rugby match that deservedly earnt some ratings brownie points for The Cage breakfast show -- the New Zealand earthquake. The obvious conclusion from the survey is that news-talk stations got a boost at the expense of the music stations apparently because of listeners' desire/need for disaster-relted information. But this creates a dilemma for station managers, particularly the powers that be at commercial talk station 4BC. They're looking for vindication that the decision to ditch breakfast hosts Jamie Dunn and Ian Calder in favour of Peter Dick and Mary Collier was a programming masterstroke. While BC's figures went up, it's not clear if that's because of the disasters, the line-up change, seasonal factors or a combination of all three. The next few surveys will tell if they just got a blip from the floods and cyclone, or from audience sampling of the new talent, and whether they have made, and will continue to make, real gains. One possible scenario is that Dick and Collier will poach some of Spencer Howson's currently inflated audience, given that the ABC is often the recipient of higher listening figures when there's a busy news cycle. Howson's numbers went through the roof in this survey, and it's likely there'll be at least a minor "correction" in coming surveys. Whether those listeners will go to 4BC, or to music stations, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, B105 will be blaming Mother Nature for the slight setback that put its No.1-among-the-commercials crown in jeopardy. It was a close call, with not just arch-rival Nova 106.9 but 97.3FM and even sister station Triple M in striking distance for No.1 status next time. The closeness of the four FM stations, which should have all been equally disadvantaged by the "flood factor" must be causing some discomfort at Austereo HQ (especially with the imminent change in ownership). The real pain, however, must be being felt at 4KQ, which fell to the bottom of the heap among the commercial stations and was leap-frogged by oldies rival 4BH (which also lost some audience overall). Owner ARN has shown some impatience with underperformers interstate in recent years but Brisbane's commercial wooden spooners are still doing much better than the also-rans in other markets, so they'll probably take a wait-and-see approach. The next challenge for the music stations is that the current political turmoil in Queensland may also drive listeners to the ABC and 4BC. If Premier Anna Bligh calls a snap election to square off against challenger Campbell Newman, the talk stations will continue to get a boost, but if the "will-she, won't-she" situation just drags on and on, people will get sick of it all and the music stations will be back in business.

Radio: second survey preview

Posted March 26th, 2011 by debritz

I love a good radio ratings survey, but I'm not so sure that the one to be released on Tuesday will tell me too much about the Brisbane market. It will be the second survey for the rest of the major metropolitan markets, but just the first for the Queensland capital due to the floods earlier this year. And it will cover only the period between January 30 and March 19, while the rest of the survey is now in "rolling" mode (i.e. the survey period overlaps with the first survey). Still, there'll be a lot of nervous people on and off air at the Brisbane stations - especially, I imagine, at 4BC and 4BH, where new line-ups are bedding in. As usual, the big interest will be in the breakfast shift. Can Peter Dick and Mary Collier do better than Jamie Dunn did at BC? Has 4BH's decision to replace Loretta Ryan and Moyd Kay with Michael Price paid off; and how will Moyd and Loretta do in the afternoon shift on BC? Meanwhile, will Triple M continue to defy the doldrums that have set in at its sister stations interstate? Can 612ABC's Spencer Howson retain the breakfast crown, or will Nova 106.9's Meshel, Marty and Tim, 97.3FM's Robin Terry and Bob, or B105's Labby, Camilla and Stav stage a comeback? Nationally, can Austereo continue to hang on to its massive drive audience now that Hamish and Andy are only on air on Fridays? Will 2GB continue to dominate in the Sydney talk scene or will 2UE's strategy of putting in a new, younger team begin to work? In Melbourne, can Triple M get any more millions out of Eddie McGuire than they are paying him (especially given the lacklustre performance of his new TV game show)? All will be revealed on Tuesday. And, while I don't expect any immediate action once the results come out, managements nationwide will be far less forgiving this year. Axes may well fall at Austereo (B105, Fox, 2Day etc), which will have to make huge costs savings once its purchase by Southern Cross Media goes through, and at Fairfax Radio (4BH, 4BC, 2UE, 3AW), which is rumoured also to be on the selling block. ARN (97.3, 4KQ and the Mix and Classic Hits networks) and DMG (Nova and Classic Rock, now half-owned by Lachlan Murdoch) are also in cost-cutting mode, and John Singleton's Macquarie Network is facing the dilemma of what to do with an extremely underperforming station in Melbourne (MTR) and an ageing superstar in Alan Jones at Sydney's 2GB. It's going to be a very interesting ride.

A league of their own

Posted March 21st, 2011 by debritz

From the London Sun's coverage of Prince William's trip to flood-ravaged Queensland:

The Canberra Rangers? Either the People's Prince - whose efforts in bringing some cheer to the flood victims I wholeheartedly applaud - was badly advised or misquoted.
PS: The Brisbane Broncos beat the Canberra Raiders 20-4.

From the glasshouse ...

Posted March 7th, 2011 by debritz

According to this item on The Drum, by 612ABC's Madonna King, before the Queensland floods, Premier Anna Bligh "couldn't turn a trick". Funny, I though turning tricks was what ladies of the night did; perhaps "win a trick"* -- a card-playing analogy -- is what was meant.

Meanwhile, refers to Newcastle as a "northern city". Well, that's true of Sydney, where a similar promo box ran on, but not of Brisbane -- unless they mean one of the two in England (or you want to keep going north until you cricle the globe to get to the one in Australia).

*Update: A correspondent on Facebook suggests "take a trick" is the more common expression in card-playing circles.

Wightman back on air

Posted March 5th, 2011 by debritz

Kip Wightman, formerly of Nova 106.9's breakfast show, has announced on Facebook that he'll be hosting the afternoon shift - midday to 3pm - on 97.3FM in Brisbane from Tuesday. Wightman has spent the best part of two years wandering the world, including time in Thailand and Boston in the US.
Fun fact: Kip's real first name is Christopher, but when he was a child his little sister couldn't say "Chris" and dubbed him "Kip". It stuck.
PS: Here's a video of him I prepared (much) earlier:

Radio gaga?

Posted March 2nd, 2011 by debritz

Barely a month after Farifax launched its new line-up at Sydney's 2UE, The Australian is reporting analysis that the diversified media group would be better off ditching its radio assets. Now, I'm not in a position to crunch the numbers on that suggestion, but I can pose a few questions about 2UE, Fairfax and radio in general.
1) Why would 2UE want to emulate the far-more-successful 2GB by hiring announcers with similar political viewpoints and on-air styles? The rationale that its younger line-up may one day draw an audience from GB, sometime after Alan Jones and Ray Hadley retire, doesn't make a lot of sense in the short or medium term. And when the long term rolls around, well the whole broadcasting/media landscape almost certainly will have changed (see point 3).
2) Why would anybody want the 2GB audience anyway? Owner John Singleton has been known to complain that his station doesn't get the slice of the advertising pie it deserves on the basis of its large listener numbers. But take a look at who these listeners are. They are over 50, and mostly over 65. Now there's nothing at all wrong with that, but -- as far as I can tell -- they mostly reside on Alan Jones's fabled "Struggled Street". They are on the pension; they don't have the money to spend on big ticket items; so the advertisers aren't especially interested in them. Wouldn't 2UE be better off adopting a more moderate and thoughtful editorial stance and try to lure well-heeled older listeners away from the ABC? Numbers don't count a lot these days, but demographics do. Because 2UE's new political stance and demographic is at odds with at least the perception of where the Fairfax newspapers stand, there is no real synergy to be had between them. If Fairfax wants to have audio on its websites, iPad editions etc., it doesn't have to own a radio network to do it -- just as it didn't need to own a TV network to put video on its sites.
3) What exactly is the value of a broadcasting licence these days? Everybody who's got a smartphone, a netbook or a tablet device also has a portable "radio" that can stream audio from anywhere in the world -- regardless of whether the person operating the "station" has a licence or not. It's as easy to listen to Brett FM broadcast from my bedroom* as it is to listen to the "real" broadcasters who, in Australia and elsewhere, have paid huge amounts of money for their licences. Quality may vary but, as YouTube has proved, dodgy production values are not necessarily a barrier to popularity. While it long been possible to be served a "local" ad on a foreign website, surely foreign broadcasters will soon have the technology (probably already being tested in the Google Labs) to insert Australian ads into their audio streams for Australian audiences. More competition for the advertising dollar, and less opportunity for radio stations to make money.
4) What next? The shape of the future is changing every day (which is why I predicted that many of the predicitions I made at the start of the year won't come true) and all broadcasters -- indeed, all media organisations -- will need to be focused and flexible. They'll also need to be considerably slimmer than they are now.
* This station does not exist -- yet.

No show without ...

Posted March 2nd, 2011 by debritz

I received this picture from B105 in Brisbane of breakfast hosts Labby and Stav with a cake to celebrate the station's 21st birthday. My invitation to the party must have been lost in cyberspace. More importantly, my inquiries as to why original B105 Morning Crew stars Jamie Dunn and Donna Lynch were apparently not invited to cut the cake was met with bemusement. At least I hope Ian Skippen -- another B105 original who celebrated his own birthday over the weekend -- was invited around from sister station Triple M to share a slice of the cake that he, Dunn and Lynch helped make so big.

Radio ratings

Posted February 24th, 2011 by debritz

The first radio ratings results for metropoitan markets in Australia is in - except for Brisbane, where flooding delayed the start of the survey*. In Sydney, talk station 2GB continues to dominate, with the new line-up on 2UE yet to make any positive impact (listener percentages slipped overall and in most shifts, but it's early days yet). 2Day again led the FM pack overall and in breakfast, where Kyle Sandilands had a rebound, although 702ABC's Adam Spencer was second to GB's Alan Jones in breakfast and the station was third overall. Nova 96.9 and Triple M Sydney both shockers, losing across the day (although the Ms had a rebound at night), but Mix 106.5 is finally moving in the right direction after a turbulent few years near the bottom of the ladder. In Melbourne, 3AW, Fox and ABC774 remain the leaders, while relatively new talk station MTR added a few listeners from its very low base. Triple M had a marginal increase overall and in breakfast, but the much-taunted and recently controversial Eddie McGuire still attracted only a 5.9pc share of the cornflakes audience (compared to 20pc for AW's Ross and John). Both 2Day and Fox suffered declines in their drive time audience, reflecting the fact that golden boys Hamish and Andy are now only heard on Fridays.
* Brisbane results will be available on March 29

It's not what you think it is ...

Posted February 10th, 2011 by debritz

This advertisement appeared in a Thai language newspaper in Bangkok yesterday. Any guesses what it's about?

Wrong, it's a celebration that almost all the apartments in a new development are sold, and the marketing campaign is ending. At least I think that's what it is.

A 'good' war?

Posted February 6th, 2011 by debritz

I was discussing the tense situation at the Thailand/Cambodia border with some colleagues, and one of us noted how some people in Thailand seemed to be relishing the prospect of war*. The conversation then got around to how many older people of all backgrounds speak fondly of wartime -- for example, I've often heard Australians and Brits speaking of the "good old days" when they actually mean World War II. Now I'm not suggesting that they actually enjoyed the killing, and certainly not the loss of loved ones. What I am saying is that war, or at least the perception of an "enemy", is a great social adhesive. (So, too, is a natural disaster, as evidenced recently in Australia.) Governments, although they speak peace, like the galvanising effect of a "good war" because it takes attention away from whatever else they may be doing. Certainly many in the media relish a stoush, real or imagined, because it allows them to foster an "us versus them" mentality that sells newspapers and drives radio and TV ratings. I've also met a few journalists who genuinley thought their life would not be complete until they could put on a tin hat (or whatever the modern equivalent is) and head off to a war zone. If they can't have a war, then they must write about other matters using military terminology ("the battle against cancer", any kind of sport reporting). Even various religious leaders have endorsed war when the basis of their belief is supposedly peace and love. Where is this largely self-evident rant going? you may ask. Well, nowhere in particular, except to say that it's something we all need to think about. If it takes an enemy for us to get closer to our friends, then we really need to stop and think about the "civilisation" we have built and where it is heading.
* Recommended reading: Voranai Vanijaka's column in the Bangkok Post Sunday.

What changes under Southern Cross?

Posted February 5th, 2011 by debritz

The big media story of the past week in Australia has been Southern Cross Media's takeover bid for Austereo. The Australian has been on the case all week,, culminating in this interview by James Chessell with Southern Cross boss Rhys Holleran. These paragraphs caught my eye:

Holleran believes there are savings to be made by reducing management and combining back-office functions such as IT and audit.
While Holleran won't volunteer his internal forecasts, he agrees with analysts' suggestions that $10-20m in saving are achievable.

There is, of course, a big difference between the two figures, but I suppose Holleran and his team wouldn't be doing the job shareholders expect of them if they didn't shoot for the higher one. So, how can you slice $20m off the combined businesses, especially when the regional network is already pretty much bare bones? I suppose there are some savings to be made in the admin and IT areas, but that won't get them close to the magic figure. So, should local managers be worried? ARN recently sacked the GMs in its state offices, and now runs the business side of things from HQ in Sydney, so that's a possibility. Again, though, it's not going to save a huge amount - and could actually cost in terms of lost revenues if the people they cast adrift, most of them from a slaes background, walk across the street to another network along with their clients*). What Holleran didn't mention - and this has to be the elephant in the room as far ass the listeners are concerned - is whether he expects savings to be made by cutting back on on-air talent and further networking (a strategy that has made the regional network very profitable). While it's hard to imagine immediate axings, you'd have to think that some of the talent is getting a bit nervous - and not just the big names. While the pressure will continue to be on to squeeze maximum value from the high-earning breakfast shows, some of the lower-profile jocks in day and night shifts at local stations may find themselves squeezed out altogether and replaced by announcers in "hubs" thousands of kilometres away. Sadly, radio will eventually go the way of television. As far as they legally can, all the networks will want to consolidate programming until it comes from a single source. Their only fear is that parochial audiences won't go for it, but I think it will work with the right talent - as it has in the drive shift with Hamish and Andy for the past few years. And, of course, almost all late-night and early morning radio in Australia is already networked, even on ABC "Local" Radio. The admirable exception, of course, is during an emergency, such as the recent floods and cyclone crises in Queensland. However, I believe a networked breakfast show on commmercial radio is inevitable. The question is: will Southern Cross be brave enough to be the first to make the leap into prime time?
* There is a precedent for this in Brisbane radio.

Shurely they can't be serious

Posted February 1st, 2011 by debritz


If you missed it, read the caption again with particular attention to the third last word on the last line.

My Oz TV predictions

Posted January 22nd, 2011 by debritz

Due to popular demand, here are my predictions for Australian TV in general, and the Brisbane scene in particular.
1. Audiences for the additional digital stations will grow slightly, but will level out during the year.
2. This will be the last year for Neighbours. Even if it is a modest success on 11, the new board will decide it has run its race (especially as it no longer commands a huge audience in the UK).
3. Ten's ambitious news strategy will be scaled back, if not abandoned altogether, before the end of the year.
4. The Nine network will continue its recent ratings gains.
5. There will be senior management changes at Seven and Ten.
6. In Brisbane, Nine news will make gains on Seven.
7. Sunrise will continue to lead Today, although the gap will narrow, and there could be line-up changes at Seven before the end of the year.
8. We will see more "blanket" coverage of major events on the main channels, with scheduled programs shifted at a moment's notice to the second and third stations.
9. Sky's experiment with Fox News-style shockjockery will be a success and may spawn imitations on network television. (Was Alan Jones Tonight ahead of its time?)
10. More, but different, reality shows coming our way, plus quite a few drama, reality and comedy/variety flops that will be pulled off air very quickly.

My Oz radio predictions

Posted January 8th, 2011 by debritz

1. More job casualties, on air and behind the scenes, at Australian radio stations, with big names almost certainly among them. In Brisbane, I think we'll see changes or programming tweaks at Fairfax (4BC and 4BH), Austereo (Triple M and B105), and ARN (4KQ and 97.3FM).
2. As part of that, I foresee the very dramatic early to mid-year departure of more than one announcer or team who's failed to live up to expectations.
3. I also see sweeping management changes at at least one Brisbane station when the big bosses down south finally start paying attention.
4. The drive-time slot will become more competitive following the departure of Austereo's Hamish and Andy. It will take some time (if ever) before there's a clear winner, but the trend towards national programs in this shift will continue. Within a decade, breakfast is likely to be the only "local" shift on some metro stations (as is already the case in the bush). Having said that, I wouldn't be surprised if there's an experiment with a national breakfast show, if not in 2011, then in the next couple of years.
5. In the radio ratings, the top end and bottom end of the ladder will become more crowded, with a clear division emerging between the winners and the also-rans. In Brisbane, this could mean one or two commercial stations dipping well below the current minimum of 6-7 points. (This is not something I want to see, but I really think it will happen.)
6. Nationally, with some prominent exceptions, I see the decline of personality-based radio. Many smaller stations will concentrate much more on music programming than on big-name talent.
7. In Brisbane, the ABC will be the one to watch. Spencer Howson will continue his winning ways in breakfast on 612ABC (and the commercial stations will continue to pretend he doesn't exist). It will also be a good year for Triple J, which will build on last year's big finish, and overtake at least one of the struggling commercial tailenders.
8. Among the commercial stations, Nova 106.9 will have a good year in breakfast, with the team of Meshel, Marty and Tim consolidating its gains from 2010. At B105, breakfast stars Labby and Stav may benefit from the increased exposure afforded by their new afternoon gig on digital TV channel Eleven, but that won't necessarily translate into radio ratings. As Eddie McGuire has discovered in Melbourne, success in one medium doesn't necessarily guarantee success in another - and fame can be fickle wherever you find it. While B105 is in a strong position, there were signs of audience leakage last year and that will have to be addressed. Triple M will also face a struggle to remain competitive in Brisbane - but nowhere near the problems it is facing in Sydney and Melbourne. If the addition of Mick Molloy to the mix in Melbourne and Sydney doesn't work, the whole Triple M brand could be scrapped to allow either for stations with their own callsigns under a loose national umbrella, or an entirely new network concept.
9. 2011 won't quite be the year of digital radio, but all the networks will need to focus on their multichannel offerings to have things right for when DAB+ gains real traction. The acceptance of the new TV channels will help pave the way, and make advertisers more receptive. Still, the existing analogue stations will continue to be the main game for a long time.
10. Only half of these predicitions will come true.

Be careful what you tweet

Posted December 20th, 2010 by debritz

Are the gloves off in the battle for Brisbane's breakfast radio listeners? One Brisbane radio station's Twitter account was used by person or persons unknown* to tweet that a new show on another station "is car crash waiting to happen". It continued:

"Too much ego not enough talent another nail in the coffin. You really do suck [name of station]"

The tweet has since been deleted -- but not before others rewteeted it.
* Update: Although I originally chose not to name either station or the people involved, The Courier-Mail has identified the tweeter as Family Radio 96.5's Liam Renton from The Family Show, who told the paper he wrote the item about 4BC's new breakfast team because they made "derogatory" comments about 612ABC's Spencer Howson on a Mediaweek podcast. He said it wasn't meant to offend anyone, and offered an apology if it did. Unfortunately, as the following snapshot shows, the C-M misidentified 96.5 as 95.5.

Spot the mistake

Posted December 20th, 2010 by debritz

I think the Daily Mail means Honecker rather than Hitler:

Update: The headline has now been changed.

Not the news

Posted December 18th, 2010 by debritz


It seems to me that most of the page impressions are coming from people who've searched for sex-related terms, not from people who are genuinely interested in the news.
Update: I relented and read the top story. Do these bras really have "invisible magnets"? The potential applications of this technology are earth-shattering.

The radio numbers game

Posted December 14th, 2010 by debritz

"You're kidding, aren't you?" That's the response I got a few years ago when I pointed out to the publicist at a commercial radio station that they had not, as claimed in a press release, won the breakfast ratings, 612ABC's Spencer Howson had. "The ABC doesn't count." Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but it does count. While ABC radio doesn't compete for advertising dollars, the fact that it drags so many people away from commercial radio does have an impact on their bottom lines. Imagine if ABC television rated as highly; the commercial stations would be campaigning for the government to nobble it (as they are in the UK, where the BBC regularly trounces ITV and is a thorn in the side of satellite broadcaster BSkyB). Of course, the radio ratings survey itself is designed to not give an accurate snapshot of what people are listening to -- otherwise all the community stations would be included by name in the diaries distributed during surveys. In Brisbane, I can't believe that the 96.5 Family FM audience is negligible, as the "other FM" figures would have us believe. As I've said before, if I was a commercial radio executive, I'd want to know exactly what people are listening to and why. If I knew more about, say 4EB or Bay FM or Logan 101 (not to mention the commercial station in Ipswich, River 949, which is widely heard in Brisbane), I'd be in a better position to steal some of their audience. In the Brisbane market of course, every little percentage point, or part thereof, can count for a lot. So if the commercial station program directors (or content directors as many of them are now called) aren't taking the ABC into account -- and that applies especially to talk stations who are getting beaten by ABC Local Radio stations -- let alone the better-performing community and non-metro commercial stations, then they aren't doing their jobs properly.

And the winners were ...

Posted December 14th, 2010 by debritz

B105 retained its overall lead, but Nova 106.9 is breathing down its neck; recently resurgent 97.3FM slipped back a little, and 612 ABC's Spencer Howson won the breakfast race. In other Brisbane radio ratings results, 4BC held steady in breakfast despite losing announcers Jamie Dunn and Ian Calder mid-survey, but slipped overall - giving it the wooden spoon* in a fairly tight field of commercial players and putting it behind sister station 4BH (suggesting the wholesale changes in next year's schedule are a good idea). In the breakfast battle, Nova's Meshel, Tim and Marty overtook B105's Labby, Camilla and Stav and claimed second place, with 97.3's Robin, Terry and Bob in fourth and Triple M's The Cage fifth. The biggest overall gains were made by 4KQ, which added 1.6 points, and is now only third from the bottom of the field of commercial contenders. One of the biggest surprises was that the last farewell for Hamish and Andy didn't score them a record rating at Brisbane - but with 18.6pc of the audience, it was still the most popular show in the market by percentage share of available audience (with Steve Austin's evenng show on 612ABC in second place). The order overall (all people 10+) was B105, Nova, 97.3, 612ABC, Triple M (down from its glory days), KQ, BH and BC. In Melbourne, the much-touted Eddie McGuire took Triple M backwards from 7.1 to 5.8 in breakfast. A blip or signs that he's not the messiah?
* On the share movement by demographic figures. BH and BC swap places on the by-session figures.
Update: I neglected to mention Triple J, which is level pegging with 4BC on 7.0pc overall. Of course, its audience is coming from a different place, and presumably at the expense of Nova and B105. All done without bus-shelter and billboard advertising.
Correction: I orignally noted here that 4BC's Michael Smith, who has just become part of the line-up intended to revitalise 2UE in Sydney, had the lowest daytime rating on 4BC. Michael tells me, and I am glad to accept it as true, that he, in fact, has the second-highest daytime ratings on 4BC, and had the highest in the previous ratings. My mis-reading occured because the start and finish of his shift do not align with those in the official survey resuts. In any case, I wish him good luck in Sydney.

More change at 4BC

Posted December 14th, 2010 by debritz

The latest word from Brisbane's Radio 4BC, which has just announced major line-up changes for 2011, is that news director and program director Chris Adams has quit to write a book. Adams has recently been on holidays and his name was not attached to the 4BC media release announcing line-up changes for 2011. I hear Tanya Grimwald is to move from assistant PD to PD while former Coast FM announcer Scott Mayman will lead the newsroom.

Blast from the past

Posted December 12th, 2010 by debritz

The latest KFC controversy (that gift cards encourage obesity), made me think of this advertisement from my childhood:

What was the ad agency thinking?

4BC and 4BH announce 2011 line-ups

Posted December 8th, 2010 by debritz

Update: A 4BC media release confirms these changes
Sources tell me that Brisbane radio 4BC has made an internal announcement today regarding its 2011 line-up, with Peter Dick and Mary Collier confirmed as breakfast hosts, Gary Hardgrave to replace Michael Smith in drive and Loretta Ryan and Moyd Kay to move from breakfast on sister station 4BH to afternoons on 4BC. Former Triple M producer/announcer Michael Price has been named as a possible new voice at 4BH. Are these the changes BC and BH need? As I've said before, I wish them well.
Update: The media release quotes general manager David McDonald as saying: “We are excited about the new 4BC line up and confident about its success as it faces the challenges of 2011 in an ever changing media environment. The market has indicated the need for change so we are confident the balanced team of ‘familiar and new’ faces that we have assembled will provide a great mix of information, entertainment and news.” Another release quotes Price, who previously worked at 4BH at the age of 25, as saying: “I love the variety in the music we’ve always played on 4BH 882 and I’m looking forward to injecting some fun in the morning, sharing the real useful info and on-time local news and ensuring we continue to put on a show that’s safe for anyone in the family to listen to." Program director Geoff Harrison says: “I’ve known Pricey for a good 17 years. He’s more then a radio man that still loves the magic of it, in his heart he’s a 4BH man. His life has been full of more of the good then bad experiences, but he’s had both and he’ll bring that and his current life as a husband and father of two pre-school aged children to Breakfast. He’s real and will be an instant friend-maker each morning."

Spencer gets the call

Posted December 2nd, 2010 by debritz

A minute after he went off air this morning, 612ABC's Spencer Howson received a phone call from 4BC asking whether he had had an offer to join the commercial station. The caller, an on-ar announcer, asked Howson, Brisbane's no. 1 breakfast announcer, "Are you coming? Are you talking [to station management]?" To that point, it was the only call Howson has had from the commercial station, which he and his 612 colleagues have been consistently thrashing in the ratings for the past few years. Of course, the person who phoned was in no position to make Howson an offer, and it seems that staff (even those with perceived influence) at 4BC are just as much in the dark as everybody else about what the station's final 2011 line-up will be.
PS: Meanwhile, I have deleted a comment from a previous item in this blog that made quite seriously allegations about 4BC which I cannot confirm at this time. I did so because I take blogging seriously and, despite what some people may think, this is not a forum for letting loose at a particular station or at certain people -- especially when it is done so anonymously. This blog is a source of news, gossip and the exchange of information on a number of topics, including radio. As I have said on many occasions, I love the medium and I want to see all stations, especially those in my home town of Brisbane, thrive. At the moment, I'm especially keen to see 4BC reach its full potential, and I am puzzled why commercial talk radio is not succeeding as well in Brisbane as it is interstate. I have many friends who now work, or have previously worked, at BC and its sister station 4BH, and I wish everybody there well.

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