ABC Digital Radio audience strong: Kate Dundas at Broadcasting Summit | radioinfo

ABC Digital Radio audience strong: Kate Dundas at Broadcasting Summit

Friday 26 March, 2010
Kate Dundas

Director of ABC Radio Kate Dundas spoke this week at the Australian Broadcasting Summit. She talked about ABC Radio’s audience strategies, particularly for digital radio, as well as the importance of the ABC’s authentic brands and gave an insight into ABC Radio achieved 32 million podcast downloads last year. Dundas also says the anecdotal evidence for strong digital radio listening is evident in talkback calls to digital only programs.

This is some of what she said in her presentation.

ABC Radio is, and has been for a long time, a true multi channel broadcaster, providing numerous channels, with very different content offers, both local and networked.

ABC Local Radio is across all capital cities & Newcastle. . . We have 51 regional Local Radio stations on a mix of AM and FM. ABC Classic FM and triple j, which I will talk about later in a little more detail, are broadcast nationally on FM, digital and online. NewsRadio broadcasts a news service, Parliamentary sessions including question time, and a mix of the best of overseas news and current affairs programming. Radio National broadcasts on AM in the capital cities and FM in regional Australia. [You can get] a feel for the richness of the content on Radio National, [it has] programming on science, religion, ethics, philosophy, politics, law, health, technology, society, parenting, literature, music, the arts. This sort of content lends itself to podcasting more than any other. RN’s dominance in podcasting has been quite extraordinary. Overall, last year, 32 million podcasts of ABC program content were downloaded and roughly half of those were Radio National programs. Our listeners have taken to streaming and podcasting our services far more than we could have anticipated.

Which brings me to digital radio. You are all aware of the combined effort to put digital radio on the agenda and secure the future of our industry, so there is no need for me to go over that again here. One of the challenges we faced in encouraging our audiences to adopt digital radio was having a simple message which cut through the complexity of our offer on analogue, digital radio and online.

We know from overseas experience that in order to attract and build audiences we need to offer the same on digital radio as on analogue, with some additional new and interesting channels added on. This was our starting point and from a technical point of view it means providing for national and local channels. We also wanted to make some of our current content offers clearer by taking advantage of multiple channels to split programming which we know might be a turn-off or a turn-on factor for our current audiences. We also wanted to exploit the luxury of having new channels to play with - without the resentment of rusted on listeners - who do not traditionally like us mucking around with their favourite programs or formats.

We started preparing in a content sense for digital radio in 2002 by developing internet radio stations, our dig services, to be market ready for launch as digital radio stations. We launched Dig Music in November 2002, Dig Jazz in October 2004 and Dig Country in April 2005. Each was launched as a website with audio stream.

When they became digital radio channels we rebuilt the websites to be highly innovative, interactive and media rich. This is an important element of our strategy for our digital radio services – our current radio services all have longstanding websites and our new services need to as well. So apart from these 3 new ABC music services on digital radio, we have our analogue services - local radio and the 4 national networks. But this is where we deviate slightly from the concept of just faithfully simulcasting on digital, and instead alter the programming to creatively match content with audience needs.

For example - on digital - NewsRadio continues with a news service instead of broadcasting Parliament. On digital - ABC Classic FM continues with classical music instead of broadcasting its normal jazz programs. Jazztrack and Jazz Up Late are heard in their same familiar timeslot for listeners but on ABC Jazz on digital radio. We think about these types of changes as providing our listeners with a much clearer content offer on digital radio.

We are also using digital radio to offer our local radio audiences an alternative to sport while also offering more sport than we currently can on analogue. ABC Grandstand offers digital only coverage of major sports events. Last year we launched a new Grandstand website SLIDE 6 to coincide with the debut of the Ashes, where for the first time we could offer uninterrupted, ball by ball commentary on Grandstand digital.

You may have noticed on the banner slide a service called ABC Extra. It was very important to us that we kept a channel for new, experimental, perhaps overflow content where we could schedule programming as events, content or audience interest demanded. For example we mounted special broadcasts to celebrate the 40th anniversaries of Woodstock and the 1969 moon landing. Other examples of deploying the channel according to priorities at the time have been national coverage of the Melbourne International Arts Festival and dedicating the channel to triple j unearthed during Australian Music Month in November last year. We think of about ABC Extra as innovative and highly flexible way of providing new, different and compelling content to listeners.

Digital Radio Listener Response.

Before I leave digital, the program mentioned I would talk about listener response. You’ve heard from Joan on audience measurements so I will touch on anecdotal feedback which does give us a positive feeling about the penetration of digital radio with ABC audiences, whom we know are early adopters.

For instance, we know when we continue with our Local Radio evening format on digital (while Friday night football is on analogue and Grandstand digital) that we don’t have a problem getting talkback callers; we know when the digital transmission hits a problem as it has in Melbourne lately, we get lots of calls. I know from going on national talkback sometimes to answer questions from our Local listeners all over the country, that they are using digital radio or asking when it will come to their town. And I also know from doing the same thing when I’m in one of our regionals or Hobart that, without fail, I will get asked when they will receive digital radio. None of this is hard audience data but we do draw good conclusions from it.

In terms of hard data on our analogue services by the way, according to Nielsen, in 2009 ABC Radio had a share of 24.0%, its highest share on record and almost 3 share points up on 2008 which itself was a record high. Our reach is also at an all time high with 4.3 million listeners a week in the 5 cities or 36% of the population. This is up by 12% or almost half a million on last year’s record high.

Now to something completely different – triple j’s hottest 100.

The Hottest 100 is one of ABC Radio’s most enduring and robust brands. I believe the reason for this is the time, effort, resources, commitment and passion poured into it by triple j over the years.

The Hottest 100 of All time, which we run every decade. . . tells you the longevity of the brand. . . It showed very different results to the music poll in Rolling Stone – possibly because triple j wanted to know what our audiences loved, not what they dutifully thought were the greatest songs. Joy Division’s Love will Tear us Apart topped the poll in its first 2 years and Nirvana’s Teen Spirit topped the third year, with LWTUA coming in second. It was at that point triple j knew Nirvana would be number one for the next 10 years and the list would be too predictable. So the Hot 100 was rested for a year and came back as the Hottest 100 songs from the previous year in 1993.

This year (for 2009) UK artist Mumford & Sons ‘Little Lion Man’ took out the number one spot by the largest margin in history. Days before countdown the number one result was inadvertently revealed on our shop online site as a promotion for jmag before being taken down quickly, but not fast enough to avoid it being leaked on Crikey. triple j guards the list very tightly with only a handful of people knowing right up until the broadcast. The most interesting thing for me about the whole episode, besides how unfortunate it was, was that our listeners let us know that they didn’t want the surprise spoiled. Music blogs and forums were full of people, angry with the journos that leaked it. And it was noteworthy that most media outlets reported only that it has been leaked but not the result.

And that’s because the Hottest 100 is not only the largest music poll in the world, but it has also become an Australia Day tradition. I would argue it is the biggest radio event of the year, one which pretty much takes over Facebook and Twitter for the entire day. People plan their day around the Countdown, getting together for Australia Day barbeques and picnics all over the world. We ask people to tell us whether they are having Hottest 100 parties at licensed venues or private parties here and overseas and invite them to upload their info to the website. . .

Another of our key brands is Unearthed, which turns 15 this year. Through its Unearthed initiative, triple j has been discovering and supporting new Australian music in the form of unsigned bands, helping to kick start careers of artists such as Killing Heidi, Missy Higgins and Grinspoon. 2009 was a huge year for Unearthed artists in the Hottest 100. Of the 36 Australian songs in the final countdown – 7 were Unearthed songs with Art vs Science taking out 2nd spot and reappearing at number 74. This is a virtuous circle of discovering young talented musicians, supporting them through solid airplay and seeing then succeed in the biggest music poll in the world.

The latest incarnation of Unearthed means that artists can now upload their tracks to for everyone to listen to. The music on the website continues to grow with over 55,000 live tracks from over 23,000 live Artists. The site has over 174,000 users who have downloaded an amazing 3.7 million tracks since the site launched late in 2006. Overall streams from the site were at 12,470,243 when I last asked.

As with everything we do we have extended the triple j brand and various facets into social and multimedia. triple j has long had the maxim that we need to be where our audiences are. On 10 January this year we released our triple j unearthed iphone app, with no on-air promotion it made its way into iphone’s top 10 free apps within 10 days. When we did begin promoting it on air during the Hottest 100 countdown, the following week saw another 50,000 people download it to their phone and carry triplejunearthed around in their pocket. . .

This is the future for all our services. We need to be everywhere our audiences are, whenever they want us and on whatever device they choose. Our future is also making and sharing content with our audiences, not broadcasting to them.

Click below for the latest initiative in making radio programming with audiences, called ABC Open.

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