SWOT: Is the Trade Press Having a Renaissance?

Thankfully, the trade press seems to be in a growth phase in a number of verticals relevant to Australia’s entertainment sector.
SWOT: Is the Trade Press Having a Renaissance?
Photo by Heath Vester / Unsplash

Welcome to SWOT by Sound Story, your weekly inside track on the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats looming for the entertainment industry.

⚡️ Trending: The Los Angeles Times said it was laying off 115 journalists the day after members of Congress warned in a letter that sweeping media layoffs could undermine democracy in a high-stakes election year. Words by Lois Beckett. Source: The Guardian

🌏 Global: Netflix signed up 13.1M customers in the final three months of 2023, the streaming giant’s best quarter of growth since viewers were stuck at home in the early days of the pandemic. Words by Lucas Shaw. Source: Bloomberg.

💰 Money: From the streaming glut to super fans, here are 5 numbers that will define the music industry in 2024. Words by David Salazar. Source: Fast Company.

🌶️ Spicy: Australia's Federal Arts Minister has been labelled "close to cool" in the Facebook comments section after revealing his votes for the triple j Hottest 100 on the weekend. Words by Tony Burke. Source: Facebook.

📰 Media: Kim Williams is set to be the next chair of the ABC. For staff, and the ABC audience, things are about to get very interesting indeed. Words by Tim Burrowes. Source: Unmade.

Strength: The Ongoing Power of Triple J’s Hottest 100

On Saturday, from 12pm (AEDT), triple j will start broadcasting its Hottest 100 Countdown. Despite all the recent chatter and debate about Australia’s broken charts and diminishing opportunities for local artists, the Hottest 100 continues to be a genuine cultural story for Australian artists, Australian music fans and the Australian national broadcaster.

📌 Zanda Wilson: Despite recent churn at the ABC’s youth station, triple j’s Hottest 100 remains a genuine cultural moment for Australia. A good result in the countdown can catapult a lesser-known indie band into the public consciousness. Brands wanting to take advantage should keep high-performing tracks in mind for sync deals, while the ABC would do well to look more closely at what the Countdown does so well, and look to apply those lessons more broadly across the network.

📌 Vivienne Kelly: The Countdown was previously inextricably linked to ‘Australia Day’. Years ago, the ABC revealed a new date would be announced in 2017. It has since unlinked the iconic Countdown from the divisive public holiday – keeping it close enough for it to still capitalise on the final dregs of the “Silly Season” and Australia’s celebratory summer vibes, but no longer endorsing the colonial connotations and consequences of January 26. There was, of course, backlash when they announced the move, but from a comms perspective, they held the line, and people have largely moved on.

📌 Maddie: Koczanowski: The Hottest 100 stacks up a whopping 3.2 million+ unique votes each year. From accidentally leaking the top artist in 2010 to tactfully changing the air date in 2017, it’s held up against the test of time despite attempts by rivals to replicate its success. No matter how much music taste changes, the Hottest 100 continues to be one of the best collections (and therefore Spotify playlists) to emerge year-on-year.

📌 Jake Challenor: Hottest 100 historian Tom W Clarke has referred to the Hottest 100 as “the greatest example of music democracy in the world”, with the Prime Minister even jumping online to share his votes. The way listeners and social media users engage with the Countdown is constantly evolving, but it dominates social media conversations, media and music commentary and event planning on the day it’s held.

Weakness: How Do You Fix a Problem Like Podcast Measurement?

Despite the vast amounts of data available to measure digital audio, debate continues around how we should measure consumption. 

👉 Last week, Apple tightened its reporting on how many people listen to podcasts by switching off automatic downloads for users who haven’t listened to five episodes of a show over the previous two weeks. The knock-on effect on its podcast charts was immediate, with long-running high-frequency shows the most impacted.

👉 Closer to home, changes continue on Commercial Radio & Audio’s Australian Podcast Ranker, which is powered by Triton Digital. The ranker finally welcomed the ABC to its list of opt-in publishers in late 2023. Two of the top 20 podcasts are now ABC podcasts, and the public broadcaster catapulted into third place among podcast publishers.

👉 The Ranker has grown over the years, but due to its nature as an opt-in, pay-to-play measurement system, it is likely to remain a snapshot of podcast performance in Australia rather than a complete picture. This is despite changes to its metrics since it launched including the addition of ‘monthly listeners’ in addition to ‘downloads’, which can be problematic. It has also been criticised for including – and, at times, being dominated by – radio catch-up ‘podcasts’.

👉 Podcast players are also making their own measurement and information tools. Spotify launched its own ‘Ad Analytics’ platform for advertisers, and pure podcast players like Acast continue to develop more advanced targeting on its self-serve platform.

👉 With some key, high-performing Australian podcasts still holding out on joining the Ranker (and marketers freely admitting that they don’t buy based on downloads), questions remain about its value. Not least of which: What is the problem it’s trying to solve? And has that problem already been solved by podcasting’s top tech players? Regardless, Ranker has proved useful as a sales tool for the big four commercial radio networks.

Opportunity: Is the Trade Press Having a Renaissance?

“The industry gets the trade press it deserves” is a popular throwaway line in the entertainment, media and music industries – particularly when close-watchers and industry insiders feel like big, important stories are being missed. It’s an interesting take on who should be accountable when the industry isn’t being held to account.

Thankfully, the trade press seems to be in a growth phase in several verticals relevant to Australia’s entertainment sector. There are new product launches, impressive hires and expanding remits across the board. 

👉 Mumbrella – long billed as “everything under Australia’s media and marketing umbrella” – is delivering on its promise to start covering the entertainment and music sector more widely. Stories this week such as snubs in this year’s Oscars nominations, the ACCC issuing a warning to Taylor Swift fans and Mushroom Group hiring former triple j host Ebony Boadu as an A&R manager are just the beginning, we imagine.

👉 Although we do note a comment from “Ignorant guy” has asked the (as yet unanswered) question “What’s A&R stand for?” So perhaps the rusted-on Mumbrella audience might need some explainers and education about the nuances and newsworthiness of these industries. If you’re out there “Ignorant guy”, A&R stands for artists and repertoire.

👉 Mediaweek has taken a different approach, and is using its entertainment chops to push more into the consumer space. Its podcast The Entertainment Hotline, hosted by Anita Anabel, holds appeal for both the B2B and B2C sectors. The podcast is a joint project between Mediaweek and its B2C publication chattr, which covers Australian reality TV, streaming, movies, celebrity interviews and Awards season content.

👉 Mediaweek has also hired former Unruly ANZ Managing Director, Ricky Chanana, as Chief Growth Director, which it said will “help deliver a new era of growth and innovation”.

👉 Mi3 is being transparent with its experimentation with AI. Its Fast News section covers news, moves and campaigns and is framed “Automation with Editor curaton. And oversight. Always”. Executive editor, Paul McIntyre, said the project is “terrifying, intriguing and not without some hope”, and seems to be the most consistent and transparent use of generative AI in the trade press at the moment.

👉 TheMusic.com.au is also covering both consumer and industry music news, with exclusives, important appointments and ongoing industry columns.

👉 With news that Vinyl Group is buying The Brag Media (both Sound Story clients), all eyes are also on the exciting future for titles such as The Music Network.

Threat: Talking Too Much in a (Non) Crisis

In the past few weeks, the national conversation has been hijacked by segments of the media which love a wedge issue, noisy social media commentators, and those who need a divisive distraction tactic.

👉 We all know by now that Woolworths announced it wouldn’t be stocking additional Australia Day paraphernalia ahead of January 26.

👉 The Outrage Machine was quick to activate and it dominated panel shows, social media comments and water cooler conversations.

👉 Woolworths CEO, Brad Banducci, did the media rounds on Wednesday “admitting the company could have handled things better”.

👉 Some see this entire debate as a debacle from a comms and branding perspective, but there’s also a compelling theory held by the Sound Story team that the supermarket giant was using distraction and deflection as a comms tactic.

👉 The Australia Day move came right as attention was mounting on Coles and Woolworths over allegations of price gouging in a cost-of-living crisis. That’s not what the panel shows and social media comments were fixating on though – was it?

👉 So did they talk too much, or too little? The real results that Woolworths cares about are its profits and shareholder returns. So the proof will be in the profit pudding!

The Fun Stuff

Quote of the Week: “There aren't many people who have gone from studying composition in Italy to being an AFL commissioner like Kim [Williams] has. And it's that range of experience, along with his energy and passion, that mean Kim is someone who just gets the ABC.” – Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister, on the appointment of Kim Williams as the next chair of the ABC

🎧 Podcast of the Week: This week’s episode of The Betoota Advocate Podcast features a Hottest 100 deepdive with Tom W Clarke. Tom is a music journalist, comedian and author of Shoulda Been Higher, a celebration and exploration of “the greatest example of music democracy in the world”. It’s well worth a listen! 

🎂 Team Tidbit: It’s Maddie Koczanowski’s birthday today! Maddie joined Sound Story this year as our Communications, Culture and Events Specialist. Maddie will bring a special set of skills to the Sound Story team, but they’re hard to demonstrate with just one photo – so here she is holding a 12-year-old oyster! 

Written by
Sound Story
Sound Story is Australia’s leading strategic communications consultancy for the creative industries with clients spanning music, media, advertising and technology.
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