BOTW: Rich, talented arseholes
Welcome to Best of the Week, mostly written on Friday evening at the Sydney Airport Ibis, ahead of a 5.40am boarding call for my trip home to Tasmania. (Narrator: There was to be no trip home to Tasmania.)
Due credit to the Ibis customer experience team - based on the menu below, they set themselves achievable expectations on the food front.
And credit to Qantas for coming in below expectations again. They cancelled this morning’s 6am flight to Melbourne, which meant I missed the one flight of the day to Burnie-Wynyard. Best case, I’ll be home Sunday night. Still, there are a lot worse things than a bonus day in Sydney.
Today: Why ARN can’t do anything about Kyle Sandilands; why the ABC won’t do anything about its demographic bomb and will Elon Musk go through with the Twitter purchase this time?
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You can if you’re Kyle
You might have heard this one at regular moments over the last dozen years.
Half of the media industry has spent the week putting out fires as a result of offensive on-air behaviour by Kyle Sandilands. Again. We could be back in 2009 with the lie detector incident. Or 2013 for the “piece of shit” incident. Or 2019 for the Virgin Mary incident.
What started as a spot fire involving ARN’s Kiis FM spread to the Seven Network. And yesterday saw Australian Radio Network send out one of the stranger emails to the media that I can recall. I’ll come on to that in a moment.
First, I should point that my own views on Sandilands have softened over the years. I used to detest him or, rather, detest his angry on-air persona. I gather those are two different things.
Gradually, like many in the radio industry, I developed a grudging, then genuine, respect for Sandilands’ abilities. He’s never boring to listen to. You don’t spend more than a decade as Sydney’s top FM breakfast show by fluke.
As Sandilands began to receive recognition as one of the world’s great broadcasting talents, his insecurities eased. Once he and on-air partner Jackie Henderson defected from 2Day FM to Kiis in 2014, his behaviour improved. Incidents, and the accompanying advertiser boycotts, became rarer. As the novelty of the social media outrage machine wore off, campaigners’ ability to pressure advertisers to drop support for outlets they don’t like also faded. I can’t remember the last time I saw a tweet from Sleeping Giants in my timeline.
In recent weeks though, Sandilands has gone off course again.
Last Thursday, he took a crack at his colleagues, complaining about the PR team and the “spazzes” on the commercial team responsible for scripting his live reads. I’d be curious to know how the show’s in-house censor, sorry “content advisor” let that one go to air.
One of his complaints was that the PR team has not been promoting his show’s achievements in delivering its biggest ever cumulative audience in the last set of ratings. On ratings day, all the networks usually send out an avalanche of press releases touting their best data.
Sandilands may have a point, albeit badly made. Since ARN changed its PR arrangements earlier this year, it’s communicating a lot less, with this corner of the trade press anyhow. For instance, I can’t find anything in my inbox at all from ARN from the day of the most recent ratings survey release. That’s unusual. Not that ranting on air was the best way for Sandilands to address his concerns. (Update: ARN tells me it has still been sending out ratings releases, but I’d dropped off the distribution list.)
As Media Watch reported this week, the blowup also came after a number of homophobic comments from Sandilands on links between monkeypox and lifestyle.
This week saw a couple of news stories suggesting a couple of advertisers might be pulling out from backing the show. But those stories seemed to have been generated by calling up brands and asking them specifically, rather than there having been a genuine stampede by advertisers. In years gone by, outrage about Sandilands seemed to genuinely threaten the security of his show, or of the station. There’s no real peril this time - not from the advertisers and certainly not from the supine regulator the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
Brands are more prepared for backlash when associating with Sandilands, and more ready to weather some short term criticism within social media bubbles, so long as it doesn’t go mainstream. The bandwagon moves on faster than ever.
Nonetheless, the row was a piece of poor timing for Seven, blowing up just as the network announced Sandilands would be a judge on Australian Idol. Ironically, he was dropped from the show when it was on Ten more than a decade ago because of the lie detector scandal.
And it doesn’t just affect ARN and Seven. Yesterday I received a badly timed invitation from industry body Commercial Radio Australia to their Audio Unlimited event at the end of the month, with Sandilands the first face on the invite. It will be intriguing to see if the industry sticks with Sandilands as its drawcard.
What made this occasion more uncomfortable for Kiis this time was Sandilands’ attacked those inside the building. That creates a new type of problem for management around duty of care, plus a possible defamation risk around the criticisms.
Late yesterday afternoon came that curious email from ARN to its press list. It was labelled as being for background, rather than for direct quoting, which I’ll respect.
Headed “clarification and apology”, it went into lengthy detail about the transition away from Bec Brown’s PR agency The Comms Department to DDB’s consumer PR agency Mango at the start of the year. Ratings stuff is handled internally rather than by Mango. Not that the apology came from Sandilands himself of course.
The note emphasised that TCD had always done a great job for the network, and that it was Brown’s decision to move on for reasons nothing to do with the client relationship. It was indeed her decision, and was without rancour at the time. Presumably some people may have wrongly connected Sandilands’ words with the exit of TCD.
And imagine the anger within the commercial team about the behaviour of their well paid colleague towards them.
Yet there’s an absolute truth. Parent company HT&E’s market capitalisation is $400m - which is $150m more than that of 2Day FM owner Southern Cross Austereo. It used to be the other way round. Sandilands is the biggest single reason why HT&E’s finances are as healthy as they are
The CEO’s first duty is to the shareholders. Sacking Sandilands is not an option. While he delivers ratings, and in turn advertising revenue, he actually is untouchable. SCA never recovered from his departure.
A long time ago I was in some sort of hospitality green room at a gig at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I can’t even remember who the band was.
Rockstar Paul Weller was among the guests, and lit a cigarette. Somebody came over and told him he couldn’t smoke in there. Completely without rancour, and matter-of-factly, he told her: “You can if you’re me.”
It turned out he was right. Nobody dared kick him out.
While the TV and radio industry does contain plenty of individuals who are as pleasant to deal with behind the scenes as they are when the red light is on, there are also plenty who are not. If they rate, they are tolerated and sometimes even enabled.
Not everybody can get away with Sandilands’ behaviour. But you can if you’re Kyle.
Elon Musk’s Twitter game
Speaking of talented arseholes, it looks like Elon Musk is going to end up as proprietor of Twitter sooner than expected.
Musk, the genius entrepreneur behind Tesla, SpaceX and Starlink, had made an impulsive, binding offer to buy the platform for US$44bn. Then when the share market slumped, he tried to wiggle out of the deal. Twitter took him to court to force him to make good on his commitment, and it was due to come to trial this month.
It now appears that rather than face the embarrassment of being asked hard questions under oath, Musk would rather pay up. He insists that he will fulfil the deal. It’s worth noting that until it’s complete, it’s not complete. But it’s looking a bit more likely.
Whether that’s good for Twitter remains to be seen. For something so impactful on society, the platform has never been particularly commercially successful. Musk will force innovation. But he’s also threatened to put coup plotter Donald Trump back on the platform. That’s dangerous for society. And breaking democracies is usually Facebook’s job.
ABC - not for the young
There was a terrific opinion piece from Osman Faruqi in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday afternoon.
His issue was with chair Ita Buttrose’s claim on ABC News Breakfast yesterday morning that the broadcaster gives lots of opportunities to young talent.
I happened to be watching the same interview myself and even snapped a screenshot. At the time, I was puzzled why the chair of the ABC couldn’t be bothered to go into a studio and was instead Skypeing in from her office.
The latest flare up has come over criticism of the decision to give former RN breakfast presenter Fran Kelly a Friday night chat show. Frankly aired for the first time last night. It rated a metro audience of just 305,000 on what was a not particularly competitive night.
Critics had suggested it would have been better to give that type of opportunity to an up-and-comer. This was dismissed by the ABC as ageism.
As Faruqi put it: “Unfortunately, Buttrose and Kelly’s Breakfast replacement Patricia Karvelas dismissed this critique as an example of “ageism”, as though the ABC should be immune to good-faith and well-intentioned pleas to think more about younger audiences, who are far less likely to engage with its content than older Australians. Buttrose patronisingly discarded the criticism as the “ignorance of youth”.
As I’ve written here before, the ABC does have a problem of young audiences turning away which it is showing no signs of trying to solve. It was an issue former MD Michelle Guthrie started to address during her short and messy stint at the ABC.
In any other country it would be deeply weird that the boss of the youth radio network is 58 years old and appears to be in a job for life. But that’s the case with Richard Kingsmill at Triple J.
If the ABC wants to go on justifying its public funding in the medium and long term, it’s crucial that it finds ways to connect with younger audiences, not just the boomers.
Faruqi makes an excellent point that the ABC doesn’t seem open to reasonable feedback. It has become so embattled by years of confrontation with a hostile Coalition government and News Corp, that it struggles to differentiate between constructive criticism and idealogical attacks.
After the traumatic sacking of Guthrie, her successor was long time staffer David Anderson. As an insider, status quo has been his watchword in the three years since. Upheaval has been avoided even at the expense of moving the organisation on in a changing media landscape.
Yesterday The Guardian reported that plans to move staff from Ultimo to Parramatta have been hampered by resistance from Radio National staff who don’t fancy it.
If RN was a radio network that was drawing large, or even okay audiences, the fear of not damaging a winning formula would be worth bearing in mind. But as I’ve written before, audiences for RN have dried up. It desperately needs a shake up. It’s a symptom of a wider malaise.
From the outside it looks a lot like the ABC is being run for the staff, not the audience.
Back on the down elevator
After a couple of days of recovery this week, the Unmade Index of ASX-listed media and marketing companies has started to fall again, dropping another 1.66% yesterday.
This biggest fall was Nine’s Domain which lost 4.35%.
Time to let you go about your Saturday while I decide how to enjoy that unexpected extra day in Sydney. As usual, the long suffering frontline staff of Qantas have been lovely to deal with while figuring out my 31 hour delay.
I’ll be back on Monday with Abe Udy for Start the Week.
Have a great weekend.