Mediaweek Industry Awards: CEO of the Year

• Winner: Grant Blackley, Southern Cross Austereo

It wasn’t easy being a media company CEO in 2019, if it ever is.

The continued fragmentation of audiences across a diverse market of options is a challenge for all media businesses. This puts pressure on revenues as marketers chase the biggest crowd. Also putting pressure on revenue has been the economy and the lack of confidence in where Australia might be headed.

The main broadcast media chiefs all faced challenging years. Seven flipped Tim Worner for James Warburton mid-year, new 10 owner ViacomCBS promoted Paul Anderson to run the combined business, while Hugh Marks had the challenge of bolting on the Macquarie Radio business to his already-bulging cupboard of assets.

Foxtel’s Patrick Delany continues to find ways to keep customers subscribing in a market being flooded with free and low-cost streaming options.

The radio chiefs have had it relatively easier in recent times. But by the end of the year they too were buffeted by revenue challenges as retailers in particular held back.

This had implications for leaders including ARN’s Ciaran Davies and Nova’s Cathy O’Connor.

Mediaweek readers voted for Southern Cross Austereo’s Grant Blackley as CEO of the Year perhaps in part because he has to manage his revenue across two main platforms – radio with Australia’s biggest radio network (now rebranded nationally as Triple and Hit) plus TV via affiliation deals with various broadcasters, but mainly with his former business partner Hugh Marks at Nine.

Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) owns and operates 96 commercial radio stations, 12 DAB+ radio networks, 105 TV broadcast signals (with affiliation to both Nine and Seven), Australia’s PodcastOne platform along with a myriad of digital consumer product extensions.

Much was made of a number of retrenchments during 2019, but SCA still employs 2500 talented people – operating from 65 offices around Australia. The staff impacted came from various divisions, and it included the cutting of the small Brandworks team which surprised some.

However SCA’s connection with its regional audiences was confirmed during the year as it was the driving force behind the Boomtown initiative.

SCA is able to reach and engage with 95% of Australians every week and boasts a localised operating model with teams positioned in 65 key locations across Australia.

Blackley told Mediaweek: “SCA has in the last three years completed a number of critical activities including but not limited to a considerable reduction in company debt, rebranding of 76 radio stations, deployment of 8 new DAB radio networks, a change of TV affiliation to Nine, the sale of the Northern NSW TV asset , the sale of 43 Transmission Towers, along with the long term outsourcing of our TV playout and transmission services to specialist providers.

“Whilst the market has been challenging and difficult to navigate in recent times – SCA has continued to invest and develop new audio products evidenced by the success of Podcast One. In addition SCA has invested in the development of an Addressable InStream advertising business which combined with the power of an exclusive new contract with global music streaming company Soundcloud will create a scaled and meaningful new revenue opportunity.

“Finally, SCA has been hard at work considering new products and investments which will be announced and released in the year ahead. These set of strategies are designed to ensure that SCA is stronger, fitter and capable of being curious and invest in new products and services both now and into the future.”

Important initiatives in addition to Boomtown last year included the acquisition of the Redwave radio assets and the achievement of 200 million podcast downloads for PodcastOne since launch two years ago.

During 2019 SCA restructured its national executive group, adding Nikki Clarkson (promoted to chief marketing & communications officer), Dave Cameron (promoted to chief content officer) and Annaliese Van Riet (who joined as chief people and culture officer).

The busy Blackley is also the chairman of Commercial Radio Australia and a director of Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA).

Nine’s Hugh Marks was the winner of this award last year.

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