Paul Jackson on how smooth and Nova brands are positioned for 2019

• Adelaide overhaul, Brisbane challenge, Sydney & Melbourne champs

All of a sudden the first radio survey ends this Saturday, March 2. The first ratings results will then be released 10 days later.

Mediaweek has been previewing the 2019 radio year so far with major interviews with executives from the FM networks ARN and SCA.

Today we hear from Nova Entertainment’s group program director Paul Jackson.

There are plenty of women guiding Nova Entertainment, just not in this photo! [L-R] Luke Minto, Fayad Tohme, Tony Thomas, Paul Jackson, Peter Charlton, Peter Colosimo and Nathan Reay

smooth operator: Can champ be toppled from #1 in Survey 1?

smoothfm is well-positioned to start 2019 after a stellar end to the 2018 ratings year. The Sydney and Melbourne smoothfm stations both ranked #1 for the first time together in 2018 in survey seven. Things were even rosier in survey eight when they did it again, but with increased audience share in both markets.

Paul Jackson told Mediaweek it is nice to be #1 because you get a few headlines. “What is equally as nice is when you look at the demos and look at the shape of the audience. We have never had higher 25-39, 25-44 or 25-54 ratings. Whichever way you carve it we have never had bigger audiences.

As to how the stations matured in 2019, Jackson said: “smooth evolved in the year to be a little bit more uplifting and a little bit brighter.”

The success of the newest FM music brand has not gone unnoticed elsewhere with Jackson telling Mediaweek that some of the elements that make smoothfm great have been taken by other stations. “We have not researched certain songs and we play them because we like them. When you hear it on another station they can only get that from us. That is a compliment ultimately. We will keep running our own race and give smooth its own tone and style. You can try and lift a few songs, but you can’t recreate the magic of smooth.

As to the challenges ahead for 2019, the brand will be in its seventh year with time to reflect on its achievements. “When we started we were playing a slow, easy set of tunes with a lot of 60s and 70s based tunes that were very unique. Over the years we have evolved and stepped more into the 80s, with less of the 60s and 70s and a few more contemporary.

“If we looked at our music logs from seven years ago until now it would be very different. It has been a consistent product that nevertheless has evolved over the years. We are now much more of an 80s pop station with lots of 90s and contemporary music. We also like playing new music and breaking some recent tunes.

“smoothfm started by talking about emotion, not identifying an age target, but instead a lifestyle. We are now very much targeting an under 50 audience and it has worked very well.”

Jackson said the marketing strategy for the band has been the same in Sydney and Melbourne where Nova Entertainment has used the successful Michael Bublé and Sam Smith ads. “One of the main differences between the markets was the Festival Of Chocolate in Sydney which hasn’t happened yet in Melbourne.

“Predominantly we have the same product with the same presenters and the same music. Ultimately that has been giving us the same result.”

The major difference on air in the markets are different breakfast shows. Both finished the year strongly with Melbourne close to a 9% share with Sydney up near its best, just over 7%.

“The audience know and trust Mike and Jen in Melbourne and Bogart and Glenn in Sydney.”

There is a perception that the audience is largely women, but Jackson said it is evenly split now 50/50. “When it comes to the music I am very conscious of songs both sexes will like with lots of songs we know that men love as well. Maybe not too much disco for the men!” [Laughs]

Nova’s stable year – except for overhauling Adelaide breakfast

While it is the local breakfast shows that drive ratings and revenue, Jackson first paid tribute to the national hit brands.

Nova’s Kate, Tim & Marty ended 2018 the #1 national drive show in share 13% and cume 1,662,100.

Drive champs Kate, Tim and Marty

Nova’s Smallzy’s Surgery celebrated 43 consecutive wins in December as the #1 national nights show in share 11.5% and cume 778,700.

Those two programs helped contribute to Nova’s metro network cume of 3.53m. A number that Nova claims is over 400,000 in front of its nearest competitor.

During 2018 Nova Entertainment didn’t fiddle much with any of its flagship Nova stations – except for Adelaide.

Mid-year it was Lewis to stay and Lowe out. Jackson: “The breakfast show is now Dylan Lewis and Hayley Pearson with Jarrod Walsh who is well known in the market as the anchor and making a good contribution too. It has gone well to date and we are happy to see the uptick.”

Adelaide’s Dylan and Hayley

Shane Lowe departed the station and has since turned up at ARN’s 96FM.

Nova 919 ended the year in Adelaide back in double figures on 10.2% with the new breakfast show narrowly behind the station average on 9.8%.

We will use Perth as a template for ultimately what we want to achieve in Adelaide. Both Dylan and Hayley have been at the station for a long time. They are very strong, much-loved performers and we have a very strong station with the potential for growth. The cumes have been very competitive with Mix, which indicates things are going well.”

There were less concerns at Fiveaa in Adelaide, the sole AM talk station in the Nova Entertainment portfolio. David Penberthy and Will Goodings had a strong year in breakfast. However a surprising slump in drive in survey eight saw Fiveaa end the year with only a slightly larger 10+ share than AM music competitor Cruise 1323, a station that is not unlike smoothfm, although the brand pre-dates smooth’s 2012 launch.

Nova 969 in Sydney had a strong year with Fitzy and Wippa on a best-ever share of 8.4% while the station was on 8.6%. “The station has been performing very well and there are many times, especially on weekends, when smooth is #1 and Nova is #2, or the other way around.

“We have the #1 share station with smooth and the #1 cume station with Nova. When you look across the four stations in Sydney and Melbourne these are the highest numbers we have ever achieved.

While Nova 100 is very competitive in Melbourne, Jackson admitted he would like to see it lift in 2019. “The marketplace there is top class with so many good shows. Many of them are doing a good job and it is good to see [Gold’s] Christian O’Connell with a good number, which will give him lots of confidence.

“Nova breakfast with Chrissie, Sam and Browny is the funniest show in the marketplace and the chemistry is brilliant. When you look at the numbers we are double where we were a year ago in key demos. There is a lot of choice for listeners though with a lot of good shows. A show has to be right on it every morning or else people will choose something else. It is hard to see any one station dominating in 2019.”

Nova is playing a greatest hits workday music mix, which seems to have fixed a problem it was having in morning in Sydney. “The Sydney station is a more dominant product than Melbourne where Fox probably holds the high ground heritage wise and it is harder for Nova to get going beyond breakfast.”

Brisbane was a hard market to read during 2018, with Triple M the late mover, putting a big gap between it and the other three commercial FM brands.

Brisbane challenge for Ash, Kip and Luttsy with Susie O’Neill

Jackson: “You need to look inside the demos to see who wins where. The breakfast show ended the year off the pace and we are looking at it. We have done well, but the last two surveys were not our best books.

There is no secret why Jackson likes using Perth as a model for other stations. It had its best year ever with a brilliant breakfast show ending the year a clear leader, although 10+ the station again swapped spots with Mix 94.5 in survey eight.

“The breakfast show has been doing 15% shares which is incredible. They are the model for consistency with a great offering with the audience wanting to hear what they are doing every single day.

“Nova 937 is best in class and world class.”

As to retaining audiences, Jackson said the challenge is engaging listeners who have less time and more choice than ever.

“What that does is drive the standard higher and you go over everything with a fine tooth comb. It motivates the presenters to deliver great content and to be as engaging and as relevant as they can be. They know there is another radio station down the dial that people can flick to easily.”

Top Photo: Paul Jackson

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