“We’re very ambitious”: HT&E’s Ciaran Davis on ARN’s national network


• HT&E is coming off announcing a 16% increase in revenue to $225m

This week ARN (listed as HT&E) announced its full year results which saw revenue from continuing operations at ARN (listed as HT&E) grow 16% to $225m across calendar 2022.

Highlights for Australian Radio Network included:
• #1 broadcast ratings
• Audience growth in key markets
• Sydney duopoly continues to deliver with KIIS 106.5 and WSFM
• ARN remains the #1 podcast publisher, a position it has claimed for 20 consecutive months
• Advertising revenue on podcasts continues to grow with monthly podcast billings close to $1m

See more: ARN full year results: Revenue, profit and audience up as footprint grows

Mediaweek caught up with the managing director and CEO of HT&E, Ciaran Davis, to talk about these results, and what the future holds for the company.

“The result shows the level of robustness and relevance of the radio industry,” said Davis. “The quarter-four revenues for the market were in line with 2019, which is always something that we guided to. This means that audiences are still engaged and listening and growing. Also, radio advertisers understand the role of the medium, it’s complimentary and has a multiplier effect with primary channels, like TV, out of home, and digital. As we moved towards the end of the year, we were not affected by cancellations with the extended lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne that we were back in 2020. So overall, very pleased, and very encouraged by the early signs we’re seeing for 2022.”

The results saw audience growth in key markets, including at 97.3FM in Brisbane and KIIS 101.1 in Melbourne. Davis said that ARN isn’t satisfied unless it is number one and number two in each market.

“We’re very ambitious in what we do, and we want to be number one and number two, in every market that we’re in. We’re not happy when we’re not. We have a content team that is equally as driven or as ambitious as the management team. If things aren’t right then we work very hard to solve the problem. We research the market a lot and we research the audience a lot. Now we’ve got great talent both on and off-air, who are able to implement the strategies that we want to do.”

Davis said that he still sees several areas for potential growth in ARN’s radio portfolio and that the company has begun to explore that with new lineups.

“I look at KIIS Melbourne and I think there’s still opportunity there. Jase (Hawkins) and Lauren (Phillips) are working hard to realise that. They are a really good pair who have developed great chemistry together. I am really excited by the new breakfast show that we have in Adelaide with Ali Clarke, we brought her over from the ABC and she sounds terrific at the moment. We have a new addition to Robin (Bailey) and Terry (Hansen) on 97.3FM in Kip Wightman in Brisbane and already that’s made a huge difference. If I look across the suite of assets that we have, I am very excited about what the opportunities are.”

See more: Why the switch to ARN has made Kip Wightman happier than he’s been in a decade

Grant Broadcasters Deal

In November of last year, HT&E announced the acquisition of Grant Broadcasters, giving advertisers the potential to reach over 90% of Australians nation-wide.   

The acquisition includes radio and digital operations across 46 Grant’s stations which was combined with ARN’s existing 13 stations.

“It creates a national network for us. 58 stations in 33 markets,” said Davis. “It allows us a real opportunity to expand our national revenues. Grant broadcasters do great local revenues, but thev’re probably always under indexed from a national revenue perspective. So the bringing together of our two businesses should really see growth there. This year, we’re targeting somewhere between $6 and $8 million, we only took the keys on the fourth of January, so we’re still early on in. Over the next three years we think there’s an opportunity to generate about an extra $20 million a year. And the cut-through of that in terms of margin growth and and EBITDA should be really strong.”

Although one downside of the Grant Broadcasters deal is that ARN has to sell 4KQ, which Davis said was unfortunate but necessary. 

“I’m sorry to have to say goodbye to 4KQ but unfortunately it’s an ACCC stipulation that we have to. And we’re very encouraged by the level of interest that’s been shown already.”

Podcasting at ARN

The Grant Broadcasters deal isn’t just a boost for the radio assets at ARN but it also bolsters the companies approach to podcasting, which Davis said was a bedrock of everything that the company does.

We’ve got a great opportunity to roll out iHeartRadio into regional markets. Eight of the 10 fastest growing centres are in regional Australia, the population growth is going to continue to expand, Covid has seen to that. We have a great opportunity for using our radio assets to promote iHeartRadio and our podcasts and extensive content slate that’s on the app, and to encourage people to listen to the live radio on the mobile app. We’re working through it step by step. But the early signs are good, briefing activity has already improved, we’re seeing briefs that we wouldn’t have got up to now. We already have all of the Grant Broadcaster stations integrated into the iHeartRadio app. Next week, we will start rolling out all the promos and promotions to get people to understand the app and to get listening.”

Davis said that despite the growth of radio audiences, ARN still plans to invest heavily in the podcasting space.

“We’ve seen the advertising market returning back to broadcast radio because advertisers know the strength of the medium. It’s a great cash-generating business. We are committed to that 60% to 80% payout ratio as dividends back to shareholders. Because of the strength of our balance sheet, we’re in a position whereby where we can invest $8-$9 million in our digital audio strategy, which we think is the path to future profitability within the next three years and another form of growth for shareholders.”

Another upside of podcasting according to Davis is that it can be a great breeding ground for talent.

“We’re very much working with our podcasting partners, and using our broadcast assets to promote them. There’s a very, very strong podcast called Life Uncut. The girls have a huge profile and we just started a Saturday morning show with them on the KIIS network. We’re seeing the benefits of that already. You’ll see a lot more of that cross-promotion between podcast and broadcast, as the year goes on.

“We’re building up three super brands in our network. We have The Edge, which we’re investing in a lot this year, KIIS, and Pure Gold, and across that we’re using podcasts to try and develop the next wave of talent. The other thing about the Grant Broadcasters acquisition is that we’ve already promoted two people within Grant Broadcaster into a more national role. Our ability to look at new talent both on and off air, succession planning, provides career paths for people in a very exciting radio and audio industry.”

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