By James Manning
The executive refresh at Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) is happening at different places within the broadcaster. Last week we heard from incoming chief executive Grant Blackley and this week we spent time with the man taking over as director digital following the departure of Clive Dickens to Seven West Media earlier this tear – Vijay Solanki.
The chief of the fastest-growing part of SCA spoke to us in week five at his new home after relocating from Amsterdam where he was working for Philips looking after innovation and investigating opportunities that the internet of things had thrown up.
“I am spending my time learning the business, and reviewing all the great things we have been doing in digital,” Solanki told Mediaweek. “I will then be making my own recommendations of how the company moves forward.”
Asked why he gave up what sounded like a great job in Amsterdam, where he could cycle to the office in just 15 minutes, he said it was connected with his love of music and sport. “When I look back on my career to-date the most fun I had was at Capital Radio in London and the greatest sense of achievement I had was being one of the early employees at Shazam. The real sweet spot for me is where consumer technology and content around music and sport come together. That is this role…and what’s not to like about living in Sydney?”
The new SCA executive added he has a strong emotional connection with Australia after spending his honeymoon here many years ago. “The other attraction is the energy toward digital and innovation that I am finding in Australia. The country seems at a real tipping point and there is going to be explosive growth in digital and it is exciting working at the forefront of that.”
As to due diligence he did before arriving, he replied: “I am very excited about Hamish and Andy coming back. Their product is global and they are strong in digital and very funny and cutting edge.”
When asked if he had come to grips yet with the size of the audience listening digitally to SCA content, Solanki said the potential is huge, “Take Dan and Maz for example. A significant group of their fans are using Snapchat, Instagram is huge in Australia and Twitter is important too. Digital radio is growing quickly and we will see digital ratings released quite soon.”
As to the recent spate of digital-only radio station launches at SCA, Solanki said it was a response to identifying opportunities in the market. “Things like More Digital absolutely fill a gap. As do Stardust and The Range. Digital radio is an amazing canvas. If you take the partnership we have with Kindling, it is not just targeting music-based content for kids. There is really important parenting-based content as well. It is a very cleverly thought-through consumer offering using digital radio as the communication vehicle. There are other opportunities in digital radio – watch this space.”
Solanki said perhaps the biggest opportunity for digital radio is to get into data. “That is one area I am particularly excited about as there is a massive opportunity to start understanding your consumers in the same way that a bank knows its customers. It is a tall order, but it is a journey we need to start as it will open up new commercial opportunities.”
[blockquote style=”3″]SCA’s RadioApp: Could it become industry standard?
One of the innovations announced since Solanki arrived has been the launch of RadioApp which will grab all radio from across the nation and put it in one place. As to why the new RadioApp from SCA allows users to tune into competition stations too, Solanki said: “In digital you need to be clear about when is the time to compete and when is the time to collaborate. It provides the opportunity to create a platform where different types of content are available and you let the consumer decide. That’s not to say we don’t want people to listen to our products, but the opportunity is bigger than just us. There is value in trying to do a radio player for Australia where the goal has to be to make it easy and simple for the consumer.” SCA sees the opportunity to make RadioApp the industry standard. “We would love other players and partners to be part of this and to genuinely collaborate. We launched it as a BETA because we are pretty happy with the technology and we think we have a decent product, but it is a bit like giving birth. It is still a baby and it has the opportunity to grow and evolve.” As to what operating system most SCA digital consumers are using for their radio, Solanki said the answer was complicated. “Android is bigger than iOS. Since the launch of the iPhone 6 Apple has seen a big resurgence. It is not fair to look at all Android versus iOS. Active app consumption and app purchase tends to be higher on iOS versus Android.” VIJAY ALSO SPOKE about the partnership with Triton Digital to bring a2x, the world’s first online audio advertising exchange to Australia this month. a2x enables programmatic buying of targeted online and mobile audio ad inventory. The platform’s automated, exchange-driven method of buying and selling ad impressions facilitates precise targeting, elimates waste and promises highest efficacy for advertisers.[/blockquote]
[blockquote style=”3″]CV: Vijay Solanki
He has Indian parents and was born in East Africa. Solanki grew up in North Yorkshire and told us he is familiar with both rugby league and rugby union. After arriving in London he found himself working on the Dove brand at the time they launched the campaign for real beauty. His first job in a media company was at Capital Radio in the marketing department. “My memories from there were launching one of their first digital radio brands, a female adult contemporary brand called Life.” His love of music then took to him to NME and its online product NME.com. “That is where I started to cut my digital teeth.” Other spinoffs from NME during his time at the UK music brand included a partnership with MTV for video and also the launch of an NME radio station. Solanki also spent time at Shazam where he was employee number 20 long after a prototype first appeared. He explained how the first music database was built by an army of students who built a one million-tune music archive one by one, ripping the music from bought CDs into a digital archive. “Shazam really transformed after the iPhone was launched.” One memorable story he told us about his time at Philips was developing an app that would show how a hipster beard would look on a consumer which would then recommend the Philips products to maintain that look.[/blockquote]