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KIIS goodbye to Mix FM as ARN rebrands, takes it to Austereo

ARN has taken a big gamble in wooing away Austereo stars Kyle and Jackie O, as part of a whole scale rebranding of Sydney station Mix 106.5. AAP/Tracey Nearmy

ARN’s poaching of Kyle Sandilands and Jackie Henderson (known an Jackie O) to host the breakfast show in their soon to be rebranded Sydney station is an audacious move. It will involve rebuilding the station’s identity from Mix 106.5 to KIIS 1065. And it’s risky.

Already 2Day FM have announced a high-profile team of replacements, including Spice Girl Mel B, singer Sophie Monk, former TV host Jules Lund and former Nova DJ Merrick Watts. They haven’t wasted any time releasing promotional material.

There are question marks over whether Kyle & Jackie O’s enormous audience will follow them from 2Day FM, their home for 14 years. Is it worth the risk? Will the rebranding work?

These are crucial questions because for every rating point gained or lost, hundreds of thousands of advertising dollars are at stake.

And ARN is aware of this. As chief executive Ciaran Davis said: “Kyle and Jackie are one of the world’s biggest radio shows… It’s unprecedented to have the country’s No. 1 radio team move networks to create a brand new station.”

“This is another step forward in our plans … we’re now in the best possible place to take out the No. 1 and No. 2 FM positions,” he said. Are they?

Listeners are a fickle sort

A look at the listening patterns in Sydney shows that all stations share their audience with others. But it follows a pattern where smaller stations share a larger proportion of their audience with bigger stations.

The radio market is known as a “repertoire market”, because listeners share their listening between several stations, with their main station having a 40% to 50% share of their listening time.

An average listener will listen to around three or four stations each week – younger listeners tend to have a slightly larger repertoire than older listeners. To paraphrase veteran market statistician Andrew Ehrenberg, your listeners are someone else’s listeners who occasionally listen to you.

In Sydney, 2Day FM is sharing its listeners with all other radio stations in the market, but the most significant portion is shared with former smooth hits station Mix 106.5, its main competitor top 40 station Nova, and its Austereo stablemate Triple M .

Mix 106.5 also shares the most significant part of its listeners with 2Day FM, Nova, Triple M and classic hits station WSFM. But as a smaller station, it shares a proportionately greater number of listeners with 2Day FM than 2Day FM does with it.

The strategy for KIIS is to draw 2Day’s current audience, and hopefully keep some of its existing audience. Given that the two stations are already sharing listeners with each other, listeners will have a familiarity with each station and with their presenters and will continue to switch back and forth between them.

Those listeners who specifically listened to Kyle and Jackie O may shift their share of listening requirements to KIIS, but that will just be a readjustment of the stations in their repertoires.

For Austereo, it will all be about getting their new breakfast team on air as quickly as possible. Getting the new hosts on air before KIIS launches will help familiarise them with their listeners and minimise any audience leak to the new station.

KIIS is no Melbourne Talk Radio

The radio industry, throughout the world, regularly sees stations being rebranded and Australia is no different. But, of course, they aren’t always successful.

One of the most recent examples of a rebranding failure was the former Melbourne station MTR. MTR was launched in April 2010 with the well-recognised journalist Steve Price fronting the breakfast show.

The station promised to be “in your face, controversial, opinionated”. It aimed to “shake-up” the Melbourne talk back market, but within two years the station was closed. Ratings had been much lower than anticipated.

Will the same happen in the Sydney market with KIIS? It’s doubtful that KIIS will fail like MTR did as it already has an established listenership and a place in Sydney audiences’ listening patterns.

Traditionally radio stations have concentrated on a long term strategy of building up a listener base – attracting new listeners and increasing their cumulative audience over time.

But with the pressure for ratings and commercial returns becoming increasingly paramount, the industry has starting to see a greater number of stations rebranding. It seems that it only takes a few bad surveys before a station needs to rebrand.

The major difference with KIIS is the acquisition of existing high-profile talent in the belief that they will drag their audience along with them. That doesn’t always happen. Angela Catterns left the high-rating breakfast show on ABC 702 for DMG’s new Vega station in 2005, but audiences didn’t move with her.

It’s possible the same could happen to Kyle and Jackie O. The first couple of surveys in 2014 will be very interesting and closely watched by all within the radio industry – success will depend on how ARN promotes the new station and how Austereo responds.

KIIS-FM in Los Angeles brings in the second-highest revenue of any station in the United States. ARN will be hoping their gamble lives up to its namesake.

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