When Southern Cross Austereo launched LiSTNR, a curated and personalized free app offering radio, podcasts, music and news, it was well-positioned to take advantage of Australian listeners’ shift toward digital audio. SCA’s CEO and Managing Director, Grant Blackley, explains the logic behind a digital audio-first strategy.
RedTech: Where do you see opportunities to secure the future of radio?
Grant Blackley: Radio is a resilient medium. During the coronavirus pandemic, most Australians worked from home. This led to increased listening during the day and an inexorable shift to digital platforms, such as desktops, smart speakers and smartphones, to listen to radio shows via live streaming or on catch up. The growth in digital radio shows and music has been nothing short of remarkable. Because we embarked on our digital audio transformation journey five years ago, we were well-positioned in the launch last year of LiSTNR to capitalize on this shifting media consumer behavior.
As lockdowns eased and people returned to offices, “traditional” radio listening enjoyed a remarkable return. Australia’s first radio survey of the year saw audience grow by almost 8% to 7.67 million listeners. In tandem, the number of Australians accessing digital audio has doubled since 2016, and is projected to reach 80% by 2024.
We are no longer a radio industry, but an audio sector. This is the future for radio.
RedTech: What inspires your company to innovate?
Blackley: Innovation has always been at the heart of SCA. For example, we built and funded LiSTNR entirely in-house with support from 65 executives, across 15 offices with 120 technical support experts.
Five years ago, we recognized the rapid adoption among consumers of digital products, such as smartphones and smart speakers, and with that, digital audio. This meant we had to envision a new future for our business and the industry.
Our audiences also inspire us to innovate. They’re demanding more immediacy and content distribution options. We’re responding by offering greater distribution depth coupled with more premium on-demand content that is bespoke, relevant and timely.
To stay ahead of the curve, we have invested in Australian and U.S. AI and machine-learning tech companies. This has demonstrably changed the workplace and enabled LiSTNR to be relevant, scalable, more effective and efficient. Data has become core to our business — to observe and measure technical and physical trends for identifying the most potent genres to invest in.
RedTech: How do/es your product/s make radio increasingly resilient, relevant and competitive?
Blackley: In short: by adapting to meet the demands of listeners. Our digital audio-first strategy meant we had to invest in the re-education of our people and upskill to develop more digital natives. We changed workflows and organizational behaviors with a clear, laser focus — while you can’t stop delivering for linear, you can lean into a digital mindset. For example, our radio show talent contracts stipulate the need to create other unique audio content that resides exclusively on LiSTNR.
We are investing, and will continue to invest, in our radio shows, focusing on trusted, local voices and premium content. We have purposefully crafted a series of strategies, employed a new way of operating and invested in the right technology in the pursuit of creating a forward-facing digital enterprise.
Importantly, our digital marketplace allows SCA to be proudly national and fiercely local — it is a hard-to-replicate attribute that differentiates us from our domestic and international peers.
To stay ahead of the curve, we have invested in Australian and U.S. AI and machine-learning tech companies.
RedTech: What one piece of advice would you give those running radio stations today?
Blackley: Invest in the digital transformation now. Audio does not have a consumption problem — in fact, audio consumption is growing. We are obliged to adopt a digital audio-first model fast. This will encourage and allow audiences to listen to radio across the platforms and devices they want, at a time of their choice.
This understanding has meant our strategy has been very measured and layered, and has turned SCA into a completely different organization, successfully converting an analog model into a digital marketplace.
RedTech: How do you imagine radio by the end of this century?
Blackley: The media landscape is in a perpetual state of change and innovation. Radio has the ability to focus on driving deeper connections and greater scale within the sector. Audio more broadly will continue to expand and iterate, generating new opportunities to embrace the young and young at heart.
As an audio industry leader, we can grow this great medium, but we must believe in ourselves; we must experiment and innovate. That will lead to higher consumption, more relevant products and services and potentially new and exciting monetization models. In short, audio will grow and become even more engaging and meaningful to audiences in our own markets and abroad.
This Q&A was published in the special edition, The Innovators. Read the entire issue here.