What we learned from Listnr yesterday
Southern Cross Austereo boss Grant Blackley is thinking about taking the company overseas - and changing the name
Welcome to a quick Friday edition of Unmade, knocked out on a disrupted (of course) flight back to Tasmania. I’ll say this for the Qantas staff who remain - they try extremely hard in difficult circumstances to get you where you’re going.
Yesterday’s trip to Sydney was for the Audio Amplified event, organised by Southern Cross Austereo’s digital audio arm Listnr.
It was a slick, upfronts-style event, which took over the beautiful sandstone Campbell’s Stores at Circular Quay. It’s the first time I can recall SCA doing something at this scale. The presentation ran several times this week for groups of marketers, media agency personnel and the trade press. We moved between different parts of the building as Listnr told its story, before hearing from a panel of execs and presenters.
Rather like News Corp’s Come Together upfront a few years back, actors portrayed consumers going through their daily routines, consuming Listnr’s products
It was (relatively) high stakes stuff. That chopping knife clutched by the woman listening to Carrie Bickmore and Tommy Little looked sharp enough that I winced every time she glanced up. And I worried for the stamina of the actor on the treadmill listening to her workout podcast.
On the substance of the event, there was at least one medium that this event was definitely not about. If there was any question about SCA not seeing its future in owning TV stations, then that was removed. The company may not have been able to get the price it wanted for its regional television assets just yet, but strategically, the management has already moved on. Their hearts belong to audio alone.
And the event wasn’t that much about radio either. This was all about the incremental growth the company is beginning to find from streaming, with the emphasis on podcasts.
The meat of the event came in the panel, which included SCA CEO Grant Blackley. As is regularly the case, he was refreshingly less guarded than most of his peers. He actually told us some of what he was thinking about the company’s future direction.
It included acknowledgement that the day will come when the transmitters will be turned off, and all audio is delivered digitally. While an obvious observation, there was a time not so long ago when that would have been sacrilege coming from the person who is also chairman of Commercial Radio Australia.
And there was more.
Slightly to the surprise (I think) of his colleagues, Blackley also confided that he is thinking about making Listnr the main company brand. “One day you might no longer see us called SCA. You might see us called Listnr. I could see a world where if it is in fact at the centre of our universe and it is driving all of our growth and ambitions, and it houses all of our product, maybe there’s a natural extension there… who knows?”
He knows. Given that he told the audience he’d made the same point on stage at the Radiodays conference in Europe a few weeks back, I think the answer to that is that he’s already decided.
And there was an additional, slightly more fully formed thought bubble. Fresh from what had been a grand tour of European and US audio conferences, Blackley has formed the view that Listnr, which has grown to 80 staff since launching just a year and a half ago, is a model that those in other markets are taking note of. That could potentially mean partnering with overseas players, or even launching it internationally.
“I’d like to see Listnr at some point move from just an Australian model to possibly an international model. We’ve built the infrastructure. Unlike many of our peers and unlike many in the world, we own and operate the product.
“We built it from scratch because we couldn’t find a product like Listnr anywhere in the world. There’s really only one other which is iHeart, globally. iHeart is a radio product which has morphed into developing podcasts etcetera but we started with an audio entertainment brief, not a radio brief and not a podcast brief.
“The amount of interest internationally is nothing short of outstanding. Do we want to move onto markets with a partner or do we want to go there ourselves? This tech, you don’t need regulation, you don’t need towers, you don’t need infrastructure. We’ve fundamentally built the base of what is a global product and in many ways a global brand. The boundaries are beyond our shores.”
An SCA even contemplating northern hemisphere expansion is a new, and intriguing development. It’s the first time I’ve heard suggestions of a strategy that suggests realistic, serious ambitions around growth for the company which has spent the best part of a decade digesting the culture clashing merger of Southern Cross Media and Austereo.
The next three months will see Blackley and his team fleshing out those thoughts, ahead of the SCA board’s annual two-day strategy meeting in October.
It’s an intriguing thought. The company has built up an expertise in creating podcasts beyond spin-offs from its radio division, at scale. Why not try to take that international, particularly as it moves into fictional and drama content which lends itself better to a longer lived library format?
And implicit in this is another hint: Blackley does not see his time as done yet. That counteracts the drumbeat since the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the board is succession planning for its CEO.
There’s not a lot to lose in making an international push The company share price is languishing. Its market capitalisation is only just over $300m, down nearly 40% for the year to date. In part that’s because all media stocks are down, but SCA has fared worst than most of its peers this year.
Even with the costs involved, the market might well like to hear a story of international expansion - particularly if it’s got half a chance of succeeding.
It’s obvious the direction Blackley wants to go in. He’s experienced enough to know that floating - and expanding upon - the idea in front of a room full of trade press will start a train running. I think he’s already decided the destination.
Unmade Index - On the up
Speaking of the share market, it was a strong day for the ASX-listed media and marketing stocks.
Enero, owner of creative agency BMF among others, had the best day, with its price up by 8.77%. Seven West Media wasn’t far behind with 7.06%
Tassie road trip
Time to let you go about your Friday. I’ve a couple of meetings in Hobart, then I’m hitting the road this afternoon for the four hour trip back to Sisters Beach. I’ll be back tomorrow with Best of the Week.