New Commercial Radio Australia CEO Ford Ennals forecasts online listening growth

Ford Ennals

Our newest UK radio import has been listening to Kyle and Jackie and Hughesy, plus a little bit of country too!

After being appointed in March to succeed Joan Warner as Commercial Radio Australia CEO, Ford Ennals relocated to his new home in April 2022.

On how he is finding life in his new city, Ennals told Mediaweek: “How can you not enjoy a commute to work by a ferry that takes you past the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.”

There are several reasons Ford was attracted to the Australian job. “I found that Australia has a very dynamic and competitive radio marketplace after working on an international assessment of radio around the world as part of a government review of radio in the UK. Radio here has been very resilient and introduced much innovation.

“My role during my decade in radio in the UK was to digitise radio consumption which we did. Now 65% of all radio listening in the UK is digital. Radio in Australia looked like it was on a very interesting development path.

“And also my mum’s Australian. I thought it was time perhaps to spend some time in the motherland.” Ennals’ mother hales from Armadale in NSW. “Her dad was a sheep farmer,” he explained.

Digitising radio and online growth

When he talks about digitising radio, Ford Ennals emphasises he is talking across all platforms. “Of that 65% of digital radio listening in the UK, 45% is DAB+ and there is now about 20% online.

“The rate of growth of what you call streaming in Australia is the same as online listening in the UK. The two countries are neck and neck in terms of the growth of online. When it comes to DAB+, the ability to cover what is really a tiny island [the UK] is much easier than the challenges you face with distance in Australia. In Australia the economics of trying to get national DAB+ coverage aren’t tenable.

“In the UK we expect online listening to perhaps double over the next 10 to 15 years and we could see that same growth in Australia. The question is how do you maximise the opportunity that provides.”

Ford Ennals

Some of the stations attracting the new radio boss

Ennals the radio consumer

The new CRA chief executive explained he had been doing quite a lot of listening to Australian radio this year. He admitted much of it was what people had been directing him to.

“Because KIIS FM is doing very well in Sydney I’ve been listening to Kyle and Jackie O. After working at the Siren Awards with the very funny Dave Hughes I have also had a listen to him on The Morning Crew on 2Day FM.

“I don’t admit this to many people, but I am a big country music fan so I’ve been listening to Triple M Country and KIX Country.

“Because you have an election this week I have also been listening to a number of the news stations including of course 2GB.”

Another UK radio hotshot

Working for a decade in the UK radio industry, Ennals is well versed in the achievements of Christian O’Connell in the UK and now in Australia.

“I have been speaking with ARN chief executive Ciaran Davis about Christian. He brought Christian across and it’s very impressive how well he settled into the Melbourne market and how well his show has been received. He was of course a leading light in the UK market. Christian is a very fresh voice for this market and he is unique that he doesn’t polarise the audience. A lot of the big radio personalities polarise the audience.”

Broadcasters have a strong grip on podcasting

When asked about the perception that radio broadcasters have invested quicker and more heavily that perhaps those in the UK, Ennals agreed. “In the UK, US podcasts are more dominant than they are here. Part of that is delivery with Apple to date the most prominent distributor of podcasts. More lately Spotify and BBC Sounds have become bigger players.

Australia was ahead of the curve in terms of broadcasters investing in distribution and content. Australians also seem more ready to listen to time-shifted shows than the UK is.

“In the UK, the view is if a listener misses a show then they have missed it. There is much more time-shifted listening to shows in Australia.

“Australia probably has the highest awareness of podcasts in the world. It is 79% which is higher than the US and the UK. All markets have a similar percentage listening to podcasts, about 30%.”

Ford Ennals and Hughesy

Ad funding models

There have been several notable departures from the traditional ad break models in radio. When Paul Thompson launched Nova, he promised and delivered never more than two ads in a row. More recently when Chris Evans moved from the BBC to Virgin Radio in the UK, the show was sponsored by Sky TV and carried no other commercial spots until recently.

Ennals said there is scope to experiment and trial innovations.

“We do know that certain audiences have issues with advertising if it is presented in a certain way. The sponsorship model and presenter reads is an alternative. It’s interesting how some people are much more accepting of advertising in podcasts than they are in commercial breaks. Sometimes because there is less of it and sometimes because of the way it is delivered.”

CV: Ford Ennals

Ford Ennals was founding CEO of Digital UK and most recently was CEO of Digital Radio UK. Digital UK was a consortium of British commercial and public service broadcasters including the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel Five where Ennals was responsible for working with broadcasters and the UK Government to convert UK homes to digital TV.

At Digital Radio UK, Ennals led the UK radio industry’s transition to digital listening, working with the BBC, Global, Bauer and Arqiva, as well as with the automotive and tech organisations the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and techUK, the UK Government, and media regulator Ofcom.

Ennals previously worked with global brands in C-suite positions in both the UK and the US. He has worked as brands director for Mars, vice-president worldwide marketing for Reebok, and president of global commerce for Nike’s luxury division in the US. In the UK Ennals was chief marketing officer at Lloyds Banking Group and CEO of Universal Music’s direct division.

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