ABC head of audio content Ben Latimer ready for GfK report card on programming changes

ben latimer

ABC radio under scrutiny, local radio breakfast changes, arrival of Fitzy, Listen app and copyright fees.

Ben Latimer has been working as ABC’s head of audio content since the end of July 2023. The first radio ratings data for 2024 will be released tomorrow and will be used by some to judge his success so far.

Although ratings are important to the ABC, it is just one of the measures it uses to judge success. One thing Latimer won’t be doing is eight post-survey discussions a year with Mediaweek about every little bump in the audience data.

We took the opportunity of a pre-survey wrap of how he’s found the role so far.

New ABC local radio shows this year include Mark Gibson in Perth (left) and Sonya and Jules in Adelaide

Latimer noted the broadcaster didn’t have an incumbent director of radio he replaced. He was appointed not too long after his boss Chris Oliver-Taylor, ABC chief content officer, arrived to bring different ABC content heads together.

As part of that, radio was rebranded as audio bringing together on-demand and podcasts. Other content heads include head of screen, Jennifer Collins.

“One of the changes is how audio, screen and digital are now talking more to each other,” Latimer told Mediaweek.

As Latimer settled into his role, he looked at the internal structure to decide what other programming support was needed. “The teams were so big that I needed an opportunity to listen and then build out the structure.”

Mike Fitzpatrick was a recent hire as head of the capital city network and sport. “It’s a new role. Sport is a huge driver to the ABC Listen app from a streaming point of view. We will now integrate sport more into our local radio network. He will also bed in all the changes we have made to the various metro local radio teams,” Latimer explained.

Still to be filled within ABC audio are the roles of head of on-demand content and also head of music. Ben Latimer said: “They are the final two positions in the audio executive team. Both are really important roles.”

Scrutiny during change

There have been a number of minor changes at the broadcaster during the past few months in addition to breakfast show appointments. They include the Sydney departures of Josh Szeps and the arrival and even quicker departure of Antoinette Lattouf.

Commenting in general on coverage of the broadcaster in that time, Latimer said: “There is a lot of scrutiny on the ABC and rightfully so. The focus for me so far has been local radio, Triple J and on-demand podcasts.”

Craig Reucassel hosts local radio Sydney breakfast

Ben Latimer on local radio in 2024

Latimer certainly made his presence felt before the end of last year with breakfast shake-ups at three of the five mainland metro local radio shows. “We put Craig Reucassel into Sydney, teamed Sonya Feldhoff and Jules Schiller for Adelaide, and Mark Gibson got breakfast in Perth. It was certainly the most change in breakfast for some time.

“We also made changes to our playlist and changed the on-air imagery. Early indications from audiences have been very positive. One part of the strategy has been to get the presenters out into the community with outside broadcasts to start the year.

ABC Listen app live streams for local radio have hit record highs. There has been a focus on the core audience and super-serving them.

Sammy J hosts local radio Melbourne breakfast

“There has been significant upheaval [in radio] outside of the ABC in some markets. It takes a while for audiences to settle into a relationship with a particular program or presenter.”

When asked about more music being a part of some local radio dayparts, Latimer indicated there had been a refresh of tunes.

“We added about 1,000 new songs to the database as part of a tailored music playlist for our 45+ audience. We were looking to make sure we had plenty of familiar artists. Music on our talk network really forms a small part of the listening experience.

“It does vary though. On average our metro market stations are playing about 1.5 songs an hour across the day. Perth and Brisbane are markets that play more music. Maybe two or three an hour.

Craig Zonca and Loretta Ryan host local radio Brisbane breakfast

Radio National

On-demand is the growth area. Ben Latimer: “What we are seeing with RN is less appointment-driven linear listening, with the exception of breakfast with Patricia Karvelas. There is a huge appetite for RN specialist content in the podcasts arena.”

Triple J

At the time of Fitzpatrick’s appointment, Latimer also announced Phoebe Bennett as the new content director for Triple J and Double J.

“More than 70% of the 2.35m The Hottest 100 votes this year were from under 30-year-olds. But we can get caught up talking numbers with Triple J. That really diminishes Triple J which is leading the way as a multi-brand multi-platform offering.

“The Hottest 100 though is a great reminder of Triple J’s place in the Australian music scene.”

Triple J breakfast hosts Bryce and Concetta

ABC Listen app

As the popularity of the app continues to grow, Latimer said they will continue to use the platform for easy access to sporting events. “We used it for the Australian Open in January and it worked really well for us. We will also continue to co-host ARL, NRL, cricket and special event streams.”

Podcasts are a big part of the app experience, with Latimer overseeing the arrival of ABC Podcasts on the Australian Podcast Ranker last year. He acknowledged that part of the job with the ABC Listen app is to further educate listeners who may not be familiar with consuming all their audio through an app of the benefits associated with the change of habit.

“It’s great to finally be in the Podcast Ranker. We are the third-largest Australian podcast publisher. The data we are getting back is invaluable to us.”

Payment cap for music rights

Industry union, the Media, Entertainment, and Arts Alliance (MEAA) and Commercial Radio and Audio (CRA) have both made submissions to the Senate inquiry into the Private Member’s Bill Fair Pay for Radio Play ahead of public hearings.

If the bill passes, it would result in the removal of the cap on fees all radio stations pay to the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA) to play music.

PPCA’s shareholders are three multinational record labels – Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music, and Warner Music.

The ABC also pays for the rights to play music on its stations.

When asked about the ABC stance on the size of the payment ABC Radio makes to the music copyright holders, Latimer said: “ABC plays a critical role in supporting Australian music. The payment should be considered in the broader contribution to the Australian music sector.

We pay millions of dollars each year to use music and sound recordings across our platforms. We also support music in other ways. Initiatives that fund, commission and record Australian music. Removing the radio cap will result in an increase in the licence fee paid by us. That will impact our budget and may affect ABC activities.”

State of tech at ABC

Ben Latimer came to the ABC after most recently working for Nova Entertainment. A broadcaster with generally excellent studio facilities. How did he find the ABC facilities?

“The ABC is leading in a lot of areas from a tech perspective. There were certainly no surprises that we do have upgrade projects on the go. There is a big shopping list of things our teams are working on.

“The move of the Sydney radio HQ to Parramatta is one of the major infrastructure builds. There are some huge projects and quite a lot of them.”

See also: ABC appoints commercial radio sharpshooter Ben Latimer as head of audio content

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