Craig Hutchison: Covid a speed bump for SEN, but it didn’t stop 2021 growth

Craig Hutchison

Switching on New Zealand and exploring new sports ownership opportunities

Since Crocmedia and Craig Hutchison first appeared on the radar as a US-based entertainment and news syndication business, Mediaweek has had a bird’s eye view of how the business has grown and evolved.

Under co-founder and chief executive Craig Hutchison, the business subsequently set up shop in Australia, first acquiring sports rights and syndicating the content.

Four years ago, Crocmedia was involved in a reverse takeover of Pacific Star Network, the operator of Melbourne sports radio station SEN 1116. The company expanded the SEN brand around Australia via the acquisition of narrowband licences, changed its name to Sports Entertainment Network and launched the SENtrack brand – “the new sound of chasing, pacing and racing”.

Covid did impact expansion plans…but not by much. Speaking to Craig Hutchison during a visit to SEN’s two floors in a Southbank office tower, he paid tribute to his team.

“Given everyone has worked under challenging circumstances in the last 18 months we are pleased we have been able to diversify and add depth to the business,” Hutchison told Mediaweek.

Hutchy and Eddie McGuire in 2020

“It’s been a pleasing year and we are delighted to be able to expand the platforms. SEN is a brand that can resonate everywhere and growing it across two countries has been an opportunity.

“We have taken a while to expand like that because we have syndication relationships and we needed to be really respectful of those. The ability to find some strategic distribution of our own has been great.”

New Zealand investment: Turning on SENZ

In March this year, SEN announced an ambitious plan to launch a sports network in New Zealand. Despite Covid lockdowns, just a few months later the service launched across 28 stations around the country.

“New Zealand has got off to a great start,” said Hutchison. The chief executive managed to dodge border closures and be on hand mid-year for the launch day.

“The recent New Zealand Test Cricket we have covered was hugely popular and well-received. We have 28 stations in New Zealand now and six different ad clocks, but we still have a long way to go.” The “ad clocks” deliver unique ads, news, promos and content windows per station broken into geographical regions.

While Hutchison was on hand for the launch, he hasn’t been able to get back in the five months since.


Hutchy with the SENZ team at the launch earlier this year

“Our team there has done an unbelievable job unlocking the frequencies, getting on-air and building a team. The shows grow and grow by the day.

“There has been a real demand for sports there and hopefully we have tapped that need.”

In addition to Auckland, SEN now also has offices in Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and a presence in Greymouth and Hawkes Bay.

“We are also building a new office and studio complex in Auckland which will be open soon. We will keep investing in people and products.”

Serving regional Australia

Hutchison noted that SEN has been successful in engaging with sporting communities this year in places as diverse as Hobart and Darwin as it looks to monetise overlooked markets.

SEN has also seen an opportunity in targeting larger regional cities and has opened sales offices in places like Warragul and Wodonga in Victoria, plus Gosford and Wollongong in NSW.

Craig Hutchison

SEN’s Melbourne breakfast show Garry and Tim, best consumed via the SEN app

Building digital products

Audiences wanting to engage with SEN can do so via several platforms. The most impressive bit of tech they have is the ever-expanding SEN audio app. “It’s all been built by an in-house product team who are very talented. It has been a significant investment where we have tried to curate audio for the sports fan differently. In just the past few days it has evolved further and is now masthead led. Users get a different app experience in every part of Australia.”

Showing off the app on his phone, Hutchison demonstrated how people in Victoria would have the option of first listening to the 13 stations in Victoria with the shows currently being broadcast getting pride of place on the app.

Digital video part of the SEN model

Hutchison: “In digital video views we have grown from 2m views a month to 10m.

We don’t see ourselves as just radio stations, even though we own 50+, we see ourselves as a content experience. Whether that be linear, radio, app, streaming, podcast, snackable video, longform video or social.

“We are trying to connect differently as we dominate sport and offer an integrated experience for advertisers that they are not getting elsewhere.”

Hutchison said SEN could have a 24/7 video channel running now if they wanted, but he noted: “Shortform snackable content is more popular than longform linear and we want to dominate shortform video.

We have nine breakfast shows that are filmed every morning which gives us an opportunity with video. South Australia’s breakfast and drive shows are live-streaming that video as a test and it is working really well.

“A lot of the SENtrack content, probably about 20 hours a week is filmed. People watching people watch the races! It is working super well.

We like to think differently and look at how we can solve an advertiser’s challenges in multiple environments.

wildcats united nbl

Sports ownership in Aust and NZ, what’s next?

SEN started in sports ownership with a shareholding in NBL team Melbourne United. It pushed harder in 2021 with two new investments.

“We have bought a basketball team in Otago which supports our Dunedin office,” said Hutchison. The NZ investment followed the mid-year acquisition of the Perth Wildcats.

“The Perth Wildcats have had a terrific start this year and [at the time of writing] are 4-1. They are much-loved in their community and are very good for our media business.”

Because of the Wildcats acquisition, SEN had to sell down its share of the Melbourne United NBL team, choosing to settle on keeping 5%. “We retain the commercial rights for Melbourne United and sell the sponsorships. That allows us a two-team strategy on commercial sales, or three if you include Otago Nuggets.”

When asked if SEN could be acquiring further sporting teams, Hutchy answered: “Sporting teams and leagues remain of real interest. We would look at women’s and men’s opportunities. We are looking at how we would build that area out. Ownership fits our model and media and ownership goes together. Look at our Perth Wildcats app. It includes the WSEN feed calling the game and you can also buy a ticket to the game.”

Tomorrow: Hutchy on SEN and podcast leadership, SENtrack, cricket, AFL and Rainmaker

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