Hutchy’s Crocmedia update: How COVID-19 impacted broadcaster

• Plus SEN Track launch, live sport revenue, Footy Record, podcast strategy

Having no AFL to cover is hurting Crocmedia’s SEN stations in Melbourne and Adelaide when it comes to advertising revenue. But it’s not going to silence them. “Like everybody we are doing it tough, and we are eligible for JobKeeper,” Crocmedia CEO Craig Hutchison told Mediaweek. “I don’t think we are any different to the rest of the industry – it has been a big challenge for everybody.”

Hutchison said diversification had been an important strategy since they took over the radio licences in 2018. “About 20% of our radio business is live sport with 80% programming. I feel very bullish that we will emerge a better business after COVID-19.”

When asked if Crocmedia could survive 2020 if there was no return of AFL, Hutchy replied: “Yes we could.”

SEN Track launches

Crocmedia’s bold plan to establish a national network of racing radio stations is still underway despite the ad revenue hammering media companies, including Crocmedia, have been taking from COVID-19.

“It is the first full independent racing (harness and greyhound) network. We have long worked in those sectors – we have built long-term relationships and we are long-term fans of those codes.”

SEN Track doesn’t yet broadcast thoroughbred racing meets, but Hutchison calls it “the new sound of chasing, pacing and racing” indicating there is still discussion about thoroughbreds. “We want to be an advocate for all three. Our product is designed to be different. Most of the racing [media] assets are owned by industry or by code or wagerer. We are the first independent in the radio space. We will be more fun, more social, we don’t want to be just wall-to-wall racing. We want lots of discussion, interview content – we have been going to country race meetings for 14 years with Country Racing Victoria and we see how the towns come to life and the reliance on the track in those towns.”

Hutchy likened SEN Track to the audio version of a WhatsApp group on a Saturday morning with your mates with games and punter’s clubs. “We have launched the stations a bit earlier than we planned. Crocmedia covers 17 sports and 16 of them are off at present. That gave us an opportunity to throw our energy on the new stations plus 1116 SEN and 1629 SEN SA.

“We have been blown away by the huge audience reaction. People are enjoying all the different elements and we have stumbled onto a really good formula.”

SEN Track now broadcasts seven days a week after building up from one day a week. The company has used existing staff, some redeployed from other sports.

“There are new shows starting all the time and we have been industrious with partners about we create content for them. It is designed to be a national network.”

The regulations governing the broadcast licence mean SEN Track can’t simulcast too much of the main SEN feed because it is registered as a racing network. “We have a lot racing interviews and discussion programs, including overnight. We are celebrating the industries and getting right behind them. There is so much content we offer from animal health, to celebrating the participants – drivers and jockeys to syndication, breeding and owning.

“The racing industry is a massive driver of the economy with about 160,000 employees contributing billions. We started as a pop-up station thinking we might be only on air for three or four weeks if racing got shut down.

“We are adding to the model every week and tweaking the content every day.”

SEN Track’s biggest programming play will be later this year when cricketer turned broadcaster Ian Healy and Brisbane sports commentator Pat Welch host a breakfast show initially running Monday to Thursday into Brisbane and the Gold Coast. “We already have turned on two FM licences in the north of that state in Atherton and Ingham.”

In NSW there are existing SEN Track stations broadcasting into Wollongong and Gosford, with more to come.

In Perth the SEN Track station takes SEN 1116’s Gerard Whatley as its breakfast show because the time zone works and it is also broadcast on other stations.

We have been slowed down a little about how aggressive we can be by the circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

In Adelaide the SEN breakfast show with Kane Cornes and Andrew Hayes broadcasts on both stations. In Melbourne SEN Track is on 1377.

SEN 1116 Melbourne

Hutchison on the company’s flagship: “We are very happy where we are this year. We have a great breakfast with Gary and Tim and a great morning show with Whateley. Dwayne Russell has been a winner in afternoon and we are thrilled with what Bob and Andy have been able to in drive.”

Any discussion with Hutchy about radio success leads him to highlight the growth of the digital business. “Gary and Tim and Whateley will probably be the two biggest sports podcasts in the next Podcast Ranker. They did just under 1.1m podcasts between them in March with the footy off. They did even better in April.”

Hutchy is not the biggest believer that GfK radio ratings data accurately portray how the business is performing. “Our average time spent listening on our app is 308 minutes a week. We own five hours of people’s time and our digital audience is growing at 80% YOY. Either our digital numbers are not real or our radio numbers are not real. One is real and one is predictive.

Recent initiatives at the Melbourne stations has included SEN Small Business Grants, a Police Appreciation Day for Victoria Police, a version of Better Stay Home Please which had about 160,000 views in its first week with Bob Murphy singing with SEN talent. “We have a campaign with imar Insurance starting this week called ‘Be Good to You Hood’.

I am really pleased where the content is and our head of content Sam Thompson has done a fantastic job.

AFL Footy Record

Crocmedia acquired the AFL Footy Record from the AFL for $8.1m in 2019. “It was structured in a way that is highly attractive,” said Hutchy. “The first year was really good for us. It is 108 years old. There will be one year where it was hugely impacted because its major revenue source is sales to football fans at the grounds. The other revenue source is still active which is ad sales.

Crocmedia has a Footy Record digital version which is being distributed while the football is on hold. There has never been a digital version before because the AFL wanted to keep it print only so as not to compete with the League’s digital properties, however that changed because of COVID-19. The digital edition is attracting more readers than the hard copy did even though the football in on hold. Crocmedia is hoping it might be able to also offer a digital version to fans when the print edition returns.

Podcasting strategy

Hutchison: “We get a big audience out of our existing content on podcasts, but we have only two unique podcasts – The Sounding Board and Don’t Shoot the Messenger. I’m not a big believer in podcasts for podcast’s sake. I want any content to be very clear about what the product is and what you are trying to achieve with it. Our existing podcasts are very clear about what they do and they speak to very different target audiences.

“We have added a third podcast, The Sport of Gardening, just last week. This is a podcast-led strategy in that it airs on radio two days after being first released.”

Hutchy said it is possible they will release more podcasts, but only after careful analysis about the potential audience.

Crocmedia is quick to release its radio shows as podcasts, recognising much of SEN 1116’s audience want to choose when and how to listen. “If you look on our app you will find about 35-40 podcast titles for radio shows we make.”

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