Is podcasting a boom or a bubble?; Nine doubles down on digital; Aldi astroturfing

Nine's CEO Mike Sneesby wants to go faster in the move from analogue to digital; And Australia's radio players have finally started taking podcasting seriously

Welcome to Unmade, written in the UK while you were asleep.

I finally glimpsed some blue sky today. It was quite exciting. What is this thing they call Vitamin D?

Happy Homemade Bread Day.

Sneesby’s digital doctrine

I wrote a few days ago that Nine’s new CEO Mike Sneesby has taken his first steps towards outlining his overarching strategy for Australia’s largest locally based media company.

His predecessor Hugh Marks focused on a handful of strategic goals: 1. Playing out the consolidation game with the Fairfax merger; 2. The launch of streaming service Stan; 3. The shift from cricket to tennis, as the company’s key summer sport; 4. Addressing the threat of the digital platforms.

Sneesby, more than half a year into the top job, had not said a lot about his agenda, but it is now beginning to firm up, and it’s pretty simple.

After last week’s annual general meeting, he participated in a conference call with trade press journos and, when asked, nominated the shift to digital as his central strategic theme.

He returned to the topic yesterday, speaking to the investment community at UBS’s annual Australasia conference. The Australian Financial Review reports:

Mr Sneesby pointed to the group’s digital future, on Tuesday noting that across the group the business in general is in a “relative stage of infancy” from a digital perspective.

“We have a digital footprint in every part of the business, but I think what’s important to think about particularly in media is in every one of those categories, the growth opportunity is still at a relative stage of infancy,” Mr Sneesby said.

“It is developing at a quick rate, but still a significant amount of opportunity. For that reason, our top strategic priorities continue to be in our core businesses around how we shift and take advantage of those digital opportunities.”

The temptation is to dismiss the point as being so patently obvious that it should be the strategy of any media company boss.

But what’s worth considering is that Sneesby seems to be saying that this will be the primary filter which he applies to his decisions. Any investment by the company will be considered against the question: How does this address our digital ambitions?

It puts into context the move to a conversation about “total television”, encapsulating broadcast and streamed viewing. More than half of the company’s $2.3bn in revenue in the last financial year still came from its traditional broadcasting operations. Only $504m came from its digital and publishing arm. And indeed, some of those publishing dollars would have come from old fangled newspapers anyway.

So the question changes. It’s not one of how long can the company hang on to its analogue TV dollars, but how quickly can it move them across to total viewing dollars? And it’s not one of how to be a player in the traditional radio landscape, but how to be a player in the emerging streaming and podcasting game. And maybe it puts the move away from newspapers, and into digital-only subscribers back on the fast track again, after their stay of execution under Marks and former publishing boss Chris Janz.

Good CEOs set priorities, and invest according to them. That may mean Nine only spending on its traditional assets when it can be justified as a route to the other side of the digital transition.

It’s a theme to watch.

The second (or is it third?) coming of podcasting

Over the last decade or so, I’ve watched a few media booms and media bubbles. On each occasion, I struggled to tell them apart while they were occurring. It was something I wrote about in my book, Media Unmade. In a couple of weeks, by the way, I’ll be uploading the media bubble chapter as I gradually share the content of the audio version of the book on the Unmade podcast.

The group buying craze (remember that, when everybody was going mad for two-for-one Tuesday pizza coupons?) was a bubble. Those who launched and sold quickly got rich. The media companies who bought lost their money.

Content marketing was over-hyped too. Remember Isentia’s King Content disaster? Or the rise and fall of the world’s least charismatic accountant, CPA boss Alex Malley?

I’m not sure it counts as a full bubble, but the idea that tablet publishing was going to save newspapers and magazines seems rather quaint now too.

But other trends stuck around. The digitisation of outdoor advertising undoubtedly made the outdoor companies more valuable.

Which brings me to the latest hot new thing: Podcasting. I say that with tongue in cheek. We started the Mumbrella podcast more than ten years ago now, and I still make occasional contributions when they’re kind enough to invite me.

There have been definite podcasting waves. I still remember the last episode of the regular Guardian Media Talk podcast in 2014, when they called a halt after eight years. The former Guardian Unlimited editor-in-chief Emily Bell somewhat ruefully told listeners that they were axing the podcast just as the medium was going through its revival, as publishers’ pivot to video began to falter.

She was correct. Later that year, the StartUp podcast from Gimlet Media, in which founder Alex Blumberg, charted the launch of his podcasting company, was a huge hit.

Later he sold Gimlet to Spotify for $230m. Australian venture capitalist Jax Vullinghs explained the rationale better than I could:

Making Connections by Jax
Why I'm Buying
I’m not the first to write the bull case for Spotify, but I wanted to do the work on whether to invest and if I’m going to do the work, I may as well write about it. What I found is an underestimated market opportunity, where Spotify has a unique product advantage, the potential to improve every lever of unit economics and can build in a sustainable com…
Read more

And also in 2014, the true crime podcast, Serial, was another step on podcasting’s walk into the main stream.

The challenge was always one of scale. For an advertising supported medium, niche audiences were hard to monetise. Only the podcasts with big audiences, or those subsidised by bigger media companies, could afford to pay their presenters.

But even in Australia, podcasting’s moment has been creeping up. If it’s a bubble, it’s been a decade in the making.

An important factor more recently has been the embrace of podcasting by the local radio players. Initially, it was mainly as a way of repurposing broadcast content. But increasingly, the radio players have embraced it.

It’s become a new argument for dowdy radio companies to be assessed by investors as growth players. Southern Cross Austereo is signalling as loudly as it can that its future is as an audio company, including with its Listnr app. SCA is desperate to go pure play and offload its regional TV stations, as soon as it can get a half decent price.

And I’m sure this month’s purchase of Grant Broadcasters by HT&E plays into the streaming dynamic. I suspect the Cameron family recognised that Grant lacked the production engine to embrace the streaming disruption.

Certainly HT&E is going ever harder on podcasting. Just this week it unveiled a “Podcast to broadcast” strategy. It’s giving a nationally networked Saturday radio show on Kiis to Life Uncut podcasters Brittany Hockley and Laura Byrne.

According to the new October numbers for the radio industry’s Australian Podcast Tracker, the duo have the third most popular podcast in the country. With 459,778 monthly listeners, that podcast has proper reach. Although the methodology of the podcast ranker and the radio ratings are different, it’s interesting to note that the entire monthly cumulative reach of Triple M Radio in Sydney is also 459,000.

If I had to take a guess, we’ll look back at 2021 as being the tipping point for Australia’s audio industry.

HT&E and SCA are already serious about it. I hear less about streaming from Nova Entertainment, but they’re in the game. And for the fourth commercial radio player, Nine Radio, I suspect that boss Tom Malone will be rapidly coming around. Previously he was sceptical about the opportunity in podcasting, saying that his priority was radio - “fishing where the fish are”. But with his new boss Mike Sneesby wanting to go all in on digital, I’m sure that will change quite fast too.

Dr Spin: Campaign Grief - Aldi

Welcome to a semi-regular new spot in which Dr Spin highlights the most awkwardly astroturfed comment of the day about a piece of advertising work.

Today’s candidate comes for the not-at-all-toxic Campaign Brief community, passing judgement on BMF’s Aldi Christmas ad.

Take a bow, “Aussie Bingo” who writes in the comment thread:

BMF is encouraging Aussies to swing big this year,
Australians have been separated from families, again.
ALDI wants Aussies to have the Christmas they deserve.
We know Australians deserve it,
ALDI is calling on Aussies to push the gravy boat out
ALDI is giving Aussies inspiration to turn Christmas up to 11.
Aussies are getting back out into the real world

If you want to hide the fact that you work for BMF, Mr Bingo, at least move away from the style guide of completely capitalising the word Aldi.

If you spot a more egregious example of shameless astroturfing, please do drop Dr Spin a line to

And feel free to drop me an email on any of today’s comments, or below.

Leave a comment

Time to let you go about your day. As you receive this, I’ll finally be watching the James Bond movie. I still haven’t forgiven a certain Illawarra Mercury journalist for posting (and, later, wisely deleting) a late night spoiler on Twitter six weeks ago.

Have a great Wednesday.


Tim Burrowes

Proprietor - Unmade