The methodology used to compile the radio ratings in Australia will punish the ABC for cancelling their daily 7:45am radio news bulletins.
In June 2020, ABC management announced that they would be removing the daily fifteen minute state news bulletin that is broadcast on all ABC local radio stations in Australia.
Listeners have heard the daily 15 minute state news bulletin for decades. The morning benchmark has been on air for possibly 70–80 years in some markets. The ABC website says they started getting serious about radio news in 1936. “The ABC’s first Federal News Editor, Frank Dixon, was appointed in 1936 and the ABC’s first Canberra correspondent, Warren Denning, commenced broadcasting from the Parliament House press gallery in 1939.”
Over a long period of time, the 7:45am radio news bulletin became one of the the best-known benchmarks on Australian radio. It was appointment listening for those who wanted local and international news.
Other well known benchmarks on Australian radio include hourly news bulletins and long-standing radio shows eg Alan Jones, Jon Faine, Hamish & Andy, John Laws, Neil Mitchell, Andrew Olle, Ross & John, Jamie Dunn, etc. Listeners have been known to re-work their daily routines to be in a position to listen to their favourite ‘radio appointments.’
When I worked as an executive producer of morning radio shows in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra it was my job to develop and plan the key benchmarks on each show. Apart from the obvious benchmarks of half hour news and sport, what other segments would listeners frequently come to our radio station to listen to?
You’ll easily recognise some of the benchmarks that have been broadcast on Australian morning radio eg Battle of the Sexes, Secret Sound, $10,000 Pop Quiz, Gotcha Calls, Birthday Wheel, etc. All of these benchmarks drove audiences to radio stations every morning. But, unlike ABC radio’s 7:45am news, these benchmarks only lasted years, not decades.
The 7:45am news on the ABC was the envy of many radio programmers. Commercial radio has never had the resources of the ABC to assemble a benchmark as strong and consistent as the 15 minute news bulletin.
38,000 ABC listeners were so passionate about the decision to axe this segment that they signed a petition protesting the cancellation of their favourite news bulletin.
Removing the 15 minute news bulletin will dramatically level the radio ‘playing field’ across Australia. To understand why, you need to know how the radio ratings in Australia works.
Australian radio ratings methodology
To be a successful broadcaster on Australian radio you need to have a lot of people who listen to your station for a long period of time.
Younger demographics are a difficult radio audience to capture because they don’t have the same amount of time to listen to radio as retirees who have a long part of their day available to consume radio. AM radio has always benefited from elderly people who listen for long periods of time each day.
Radio ratings in Australia are conducted by GfK who ask a random sample of listeners to indicate which radio stations they listen to during each quarter hour of their day.
Radio programmers then strategically map each hour of radio content to encourage people to listen for more quarter hours — a successful strategy will increase the ‘time spent listening’ KPI.
The ABC’s 7:45am radio news was a quarter hour of solid radio content. The segment was strong enough for their target audience to stay listening for the whole 15 minute period. The by-product of this listening habit was that most people would then stick around for the 8am current affairs show — AM. These benchmarks, combined with local presenters, was a strong start to the day for ABC Local Radio. So many quarter hours of listening — a radio programmer’s dream.
When radio ratings are made public, the share percentage is published— this is how GfK explains ‘share %’: “Indicates a station’s relative strength within a market. It shows the percentage of total radio listening audience during a given time period tuning to a particular station. Share is a station’s average audience expressed as a percentage of the total radio audience for the same period.”
Removing a 15 minute radio content benchmark that has been consistently broadcast for 70 years will have an impact on the number of people listening (cumulative audience/cume) and their time spent listening (TSL).
The ABC has announced that, in mid-September 2020, that the 15 minute news bulletin will be replaced by a 5 minute bulletin at 8am. This program change will most likely impact ratings via lower cume and TSL — and could impact listening figures across the day.
Knowing that people have traditionally come to ABC radio for solid news at 7:45am, the best strategic move that programmers and producers can do is plan content that might keep that ‘news-seeking’ audience happy at that time of the day.
But, nothing any show producer can schedule onto a rundown will adequately replace a 70 year old benchmark that was produced by the might and legacy of the ABC news & current affairs workforce.
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