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Controversial Kyle steals the day, but don’t blame new radio ratings

The first radio ratings results of the year have seen big changes, with new station KIIS climbing to the top of the FM listenership rankings. AAP/Warren Clarke

Today’s radio ratings results were greeted with an unusual amount of anticipation.

Not only did they mark the first results for 2014, and the first ratings produced under a new measurement system, but they were the first test for a number of new breakfast shows that debuted in Sydney this year.

Sydney radio duo Kyle & Jackie O were poached by ARN to launch KIIS 1065, with their former station and competitor 2Day FM installing Merrick Watts, Sophie Monk, Jules Lund and Mel B in the breakfast slot.

And ARN’s gamble worked. Kyle & Jackie O managed to take their enormous audience across to KIIS, pushing the station far above 2Day FM.

For Southern Cross Austereo, owners of 2Day FM, the result is bad, but not unanticipated.

It still has Melbourne’s highest rating FM stations, Fox FM and Triple M, and is still one of Australia’s biggest media companies so the loss in listenership and advertising revenue isn’t an immediate disaster.

The question is, how much more of a downward slide can it weather?

Old habits, new shows

Southern Cross Austereo’s head of content, Craig Bruce, has been preparing his clients and stakeholders for these results for some time.

He told advertisers that through the Southern Cross advertising platform, there was potential for advertisers who were looking for a “partner, not just a platform.”

He said these first ratings would be an “indication of how those shows have launched” and would be followed by more audience research and tweaks to the breakfast show – which has already come under criticism.

But while he was clearly expecting a drop, telling advertisers he “can’t think of a single new radio show that’s gone up (in the ratings)”, it’s doubtful whether he was expecting such a drastic decline.

Indeed, listeners don’t always follow announcers across stations. It didn’t work when Angela Catterns went from ABC 702 to the now-defunct Vega. It did work when Alan Jones and John Laws switched stations.

The common element is these presenters – Alan Jones, John Laws and Kyle Sandilands – are controversial and polarising. But their listeners are passionate in their support and devotion to the shows, as much as those who don’t listen to them hate their work.

Radio is very much a habit, and listeners usually have a show they listen to every day. When this show changes or a presenter leaves, listeners begin to look for alternatives, often trying a number of different programs and stations they wouldn’t have considered previously.

It’s important to remember there have been a raft of changes in Sydney’s radio market leading up to these ratings, and the number of moves may have something to do with the volatility of the numbers.

WSFM tweaked it’s music – trying to create “a more contemporary feel” – and moved presenters around.

2UE also changed its direction and marketing, as well as making changes to its line up, which seems to have worked for them, with a slight rise in listeners across the station.

And Robbie Buck replaced Adam Spencer on the high-rating ABC 702, which saw a slight drop in listeners.

The new guy

For those wanting to spin their way out of a bad survey, blaming the methodology is a favoured approach.

After 66 years, the industry body Commercial Radio Australia engaged a new provider to compile the radio ratings. The move meant ditching former provider Nielsen, and its paper diary system, in favour of GfK.

While the old survey recruited people off the street, the new methodology will have a greater focus on finding people online.

This seems to have addressed some of the criticism of the old diary system, which involved recalling what had been listened to and when. This “recall” system is also blamed, according to industry lore, for the ubiquity of radio station billboards in capital cities.

But a change in research agency can’t be blamed for the variations seen in these ratings. The new system had been tested in parallel to the old system to “ensure validity of the new processes”, according to Commercial Radio Australia.

ARN CEO Ciaran Davis will be the happiest man in radio today, having achieved his goal of having the two highest-rating FM stations in Sydney in just one survey.

Now ARN will be looking to recoup its investment in Kyle & Jackie O by increasing advertising revenue. At the end of the day, that’s what these ratings are for.

Ultimately though, it’s back to work on tomorrow’s program and the six week wait for the next survey.

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