BOTW: A new low for Radio National ratings; Your part in the AI debate; Job cuts at The Market Herald
Welcome to Best of the Week, written at marvellously mild Sisters Beach, Tasmania, on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.
Happy International Client’s Day for tomorrow. In adland, that’s every day.
Today: Digging deeper into the radio numbers, job cuts at The Market Herald, The great debAIt
Today’s writing soundtrack: The Cure: Disintegration
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ABC Radio National’s ratings oblivion
The first radio ratings of 2023 landed on Thursday. There were a lot of milestones for ABC Radio National, none of them good.
I hate that lazy criticism of public service broadcasting, suggesting that being insulated from the realities of commercial media means that nobody is ever fired for failing to attract an audience.
That said, what does it actually take to get fired from the ABC?
ABC Radio National, the pinnacle of public service audio output in Australia, now has so few listeners that the situation has gone from an embarrassment to a disgrace.
Even on-a-shoestring, rip-and-read news service ABC News Radio has overtaken its sibling Radio National on both of the key metrics of cumulative audience and average listening.
Across the five capital cities, the average number of people listening to Radio National in any given 15 minutes across the day was just 25,000. ABC News Radio’s number was 26,000. That’s the first time News Radio has been ahead of the better funded RN.
That’s in a survey which estimates that in those five cities there was an average of 1.6m people listening to the radio in any given 15 minute period. Radio National is attracting about one-in-70 of the radio audience.
In cumulative audience - the number of people who tune in at least once during any given week, ABC News Radio is even further ahead, with a five city cume of 921,000 to RN’s 466,000. Cumulative radio listening across all stations in the five cities amounts to 14m.
I’m going to stress that number - across the five capital cities 14m Australians are estimated to be tuning in to the radio at some point each week. And only 466,000 of them are listening to RN, even once, just for eight minutes.
It’s not fair to land the blame on the presenters. They deliver the content the producers present to them, against the schedule the management puts forward.
With that caveat, let’s look at how things have declined in RN’s flagship breakfast timeslot. The data covers 5.30am to 9am which in RN’s case mainly features RN Breakfast with Patricia Karvelas, from 6-9 (with AM from Sabra Lane in the middle).
The decline in listening to RN Breakfast has been steady since the departure of Fran Kelly. This week’s results were the worst ever for the show. It lost another third of its already small Sydney audience.
Across the five capital cities, the breakfast timeslot averaged a total of just 48,000 people for RN.
The situation for RN Drive, hosted by Andy Park is even worse. It’s averaging 29,000 across the five capital cities.
When the problem stretches across the whole day, it’s fairer to blame the the people behind the scenes, than it is the presenters. Both Park and Karvelas had shown themselves as good broadcasters before taking on those shows.
By the way, to clarify a common question about the ratings: they do include people who listen live on streaming services, on phones and on smart speakers. The ABC is also due to belatedly join the Podcast Ranker, and we should see the first of those results in about two months’ time.
So what is going wrong at Radio National? Partly because of funding challenges and mainly because of institutional inertia, it’s no longer one radio network. It does live news and current affairs at breakfast and drivetime, and for most of the rest of the day, it consist of somebody in a control room pressing play on a series of pre-recorded shows across multiple genres that might as well be podcasts.
Given the pay and audiences to be found in commercial radio, I wonder whether RN is struggling to attract the best and brightest behind the scenes.
There are questionable decisions which it’s hard to understand in the context of speaking to everyday Australians
I’ve found myself thinking about a single segment on RN Breakfast, which I happened to hear when it went out live last November which crystallised my thinking about the content decisions being made. You can hear it here.
It featured the British comedian, actor and activist Eddie Izzard. For context, I adore Eddie Izzard. You know that saying “I laughed until my sides hurt”? That was my experience the first time I saw Eddie Izzard’s comedy more than 20 years ago. Back then he was out as a transvestite. More recently she’s identified as gender fluid trans woman. Either way, she’s very funny, and a good actor too - it was such a pity that The Riches only got one season.
I give that context, because I’m a fan, and yet the whole conversation seemed irrelevant to the audience.
They put Izzard on the air to talk about the fact that she wanted to be an MP, potentially representing the Labour Party in the British city of Sheffield (she later lost the selection battle to be the candidate).
The first half of the eight minute conversation focused on the minutiae of the politics of the parliamentary selection system in the UK, the local politics of Sheffield, and expected the audience to know that when they talked about Keir Starmer, he was the British opposition leader.
It took five minutes for Karvelas to even attempt to bring a wider lens beyond Sheffield politics by asking about the representation of trans people in politics.
The editorial decision making process was just baffling. Why ask a performer not particularly well known to an Australian audience to come on air to talk about her political ambitions in a British city they’d be unfamiliar with?
Was it to talk Sheffield politics? Was it to get somebody (almost) famous on air? Or was it to really motivated by boosting representation of trans people? If it was the latter, then why not frame the conversation that way to the audience?
It felt like an indulgence based on the tastes of somebody on the production team rather than being driven by the concerns and interests of the audience.
One of the rules of editing is that your audience judges you by your best and worst decisions. You need to understand their concerns and interests, and find ways of bringing the content back to that.
A while back, I swapped messages with somebody who’s worked at RN, who I’d imagine to be sympathetic to progressive causes. As this person put it to me: “It pains me to say it but maybe ABC is just a bit too woke for a middle ground audience.”
A heated debAIt
Cat McGinn, curator of humAIn - human creativity x AI writes:
Today we can share the first part of our plans for humAIn, our event focusing on the impact generative AI is going to have on the media and marketing world.
We’ve inviting potential participants in our debate (or debAIt if you prefer) on the benefits and risks of the technology’s arrival.
AI is such a hotly contested issue right now that it’s almost impossible to open social media or read the news without being bombarded with hot takes about the salvation or damnation ahead.
The early phase of any significant technological shift is typified by these polarising perspectives.
From Plato’s hatred of writing, to the Luddites’ loathing of the innovations in factory machinery, change creates dissent and resistance. The attitude that ‘new’ is synonymous with ’threat’ means we can miss out on the benefits (and risk being left behind).
Without a commitment to examination, discussion and curiosity, how can we figure out how to make the best use of generative AI, what guardrails or protections we might need; what to watch out for and what to invite over the threshold?
That’s the overarching intention for humAIn: to understand nuance, to be curious and open to many perspectives as we scope the opportunities and the stumbling blocks.
The stakes are high: if we get this wrong, jobs, privacy, security, bias and freedom of information hang in the balance. If we get it right…boundless creativity, connections and benefits for all of society could be on the cards.
So we’ll be tabling a debate, with the following question:
“Generative AI is not a threat to media and marketing jobs, but a much-needed tool to expand what’s possible at speed and low cost”
We need you.
We’re looking for opinionated and persuasive people with some skin in the game to argue both positions.
At the close, we’ll invite the audience to decide, based in the strength of the cases you make.
You don’t need to put forward a whole team - we’ll put them together. We’ll be looking for individuals from all parts of the media and marketing world.
So if this sounds like you, please drop me a note to email@example.com and let’s have a heated debAIt!
As you were on the Unmade Index
The Unmade Index finished the week pretty much where it started, thanks to a modest rally on Friday, delivering a jump of 2.48% to 652.3 points.
Seven West Media saw a late surge in its price, with most of yesterday’s 6.02% rise coming in the last hour of trading.
Meanwhile, Southern Cross Austereo saw its shares sink again, just as the ASX was about to close, falling to a new all time low of 87c.
Yesterday also saw another strategy update from the beleaguered The Market Herald. The company is beginning to dismantle elements of the strategy put in place by ousted CEO Jag Sanger.
Yesterday TMH said it was closing its German version of the Market Herald masthead and other publications which are not ”material contributors” to the business. The AFR reported yesterday that this includes the luxury vertical. That likely signals the end of the company’s plans to launch a printed newspaper which was an attempt to capture luxury advertising.
Time to let you enjoy your Saturday
I’ll be hitting the road tomorrow, via Evandale Sunday market, for a quick trip into Sydney for News Corp, Ooh Media and Snapchat events next week.
Have a great weekend.
Publisher - Unmade
The RN of 15-20 years ago often sounded to me like the sort of network where it would be more cost efficient to send recordings of the programmes directly to the listeners than broadcast them, so niche was the content. Now that Podcasting effectively does that, I'm not surprised that the broadcast audience figures are dropping. Who's going to make an appointment to listen to their favourite/relevant shows (and then hang around for the flagship shows) when they can listen to what they actually want to hear whenever they like?
I'm also not sure about the comparisons of RN to the BBC, and Radio 4 in particular. The political federation of Australia, along with the geography and the history of broadcasting here, mean that you can't do a direct comparison (just as you can't between ABC Local Radio and BBC Local Radio in the UK, which is also going through a period of decline).
Quite an interesting analysis Tim, particularly the data comparisons made.
In particular I found that "I’m going to stress that number - across the five capital cities 17m Australians are estimated to be tuning in to the radio at some point each week. And only 466,000 of them are listening to RN, even once, just for eight minutes."
Now THAT is some achievement. The ABS has the sum of the five 'Greater' capital cities (e.g. Sydney includes Newcastle) as 16,179, 072 in the 2021 Census and their latest estimate is now 16,398,470. Close to your 17m, but no cigar.
In fact the GFK reports provide the 'Potential' for each of the five capital cities and in Survey 1 they total 14,861,000. That is the MAXIMUM if everyone in all markets listen to radio at least once for at least eight minutes in the survey period. They also report the Cume, and that totals across the five markets at 13,729 (92.4% of the Potential).
But why are the data much lower than the Census (your roughly "17m)?
Because CRA only measures 10+ and in the five capital cities ABS' count is 3,049,955 are under 10.
How about we settle that it should read "across the five capital cities 14m Australians are estimated to be tuning in to the radio at some point each week."?