Comment by Peter Saxon
I was at the launch of LiSTNR 17 months ago in February 2021.
It took place in a vacant warehouse in the once-industrial suburb of Alexandria, in Sydney’s south, which is currently undergoing a massive transformation into middle-class, dog-friendly apartment blocks.
The interior of the warehouse had been designed to stage an extravagant series of live tableaux that began with guests entering a long, narrow tube that could be interpreted as a birth canal or, perhaps, rebirth, or maybe an ear canal. Either way, the tube served as the gateway to a sumptuous ‘spirit theatre’ experience.
We walked into a football locker room where a legend of the game was pouring out his heart to Mark Howard for the Howie Games. After a few minutes of observing them, we moved on to a real murder scene as told by adam shand followed by a few more genres illustrating the depth of possibilities podcasts have to offer before we found ourselves seated at a beautifully laid table where we enjoyed gourmet treats.
Yet for all its buzz, flashy props, and art direction pushing the promise of more content than you could shake a stick at, the whole show somehow lacked context. I came away feeling there was more sizzle than steak.
Fast forward to last Thursday and another former industrial site, the historic and beautifully refurbished Campbell’s Stores at Watersedge, Circular Quay. Again, the entrance was through a tunnel, a little more spectacular than the previous one, which opened onto a series of paintings. Was this déjà vu back?
Well no. Guests walked through a day in the life of a typical LiSTNR user, in SCA’s primary target demographic of 25-39, from waking up in the morning listening Steve Price on Australia todayheading to the gym listening Abbie Chatfieldit is It’s a lot podcast, taking the train to work while being entertained by Triple M’s The Marty Sheargold Show to cook dinner in the evening with the Hit Networkthe national training show, carrie and tommyJust to name a few.
In other words, all the exposition had shifted from the content of the podcast to how LiSTNR actually works and interacts with the listener as it integrates with smart speakers and other devices such as smart phones, while being able to seamlessly switch from live radio to on-demand radio and all genres of podcasts.
For advertisers, the integration offered by the LiSTNER application now directly competes with other online platforms in terms of audience measurement and purchasing habits. For example, it can follow a listener on a train to work and play a specific ad to make a personalized offer that the listener can accept on the spot by simply shaking their smartphone.
What’s remarkable is that the platform for all of this and the technology that drives it was built entirely here in Australia. SCA CEO Grant Blackley told us that he has already garnered interest from multiple parties to use LiSTNR’s software and business model internationally. If that happens, we hope that at least a majority stake remains in Australian hands. And why not? if a small country like Sweden can own a global organization like Spotify, Australia could own LiSTNR.
But we are getting ahead.
There is one more difference between the launch of LiSTNR 17 months ago and the presentation last Thursday. And it’s a big one. It’s in everyone’s attitude. BTW, “everyone”, in terms of staff at LiSTNR has grown from four 17 months ago to 85 today.
Since the day in 2013 when you-know-who went to you-know-where, SCA has endured more than the biblically allotted seven years of famine. The promise of seven years of celebration is long overdue. Indeed, from a radio network that was once the leader in nearly every aspect of broadcasting, it has at times struggled to post a number one survey result in any metro market.
While that may or may not change anytime soon, LiSTNR stands as both a game changer and a much bigger game that has grown exponentially for SCA over the past 17 months. Suddenly, the company finds itself in the game in direct competition with the global giant iHeart thanks to its partnership with ARN.
It is clear that as radio moves inexorably towards digital broadcasting, it will evolve in the same way as television where the web takes over from satellite and transmitters as it is much cheaper to maintain while offering more features. As smart TVs now have a myriad of content apps on board, from Nertflix to iView and each of the local commercial channels that offer both live and on-demand shows, viewers have moved away from terrestrial broadcasts.
The radio will follow the same path. It will be delivered as part of an augmented audio ecosystem of on-demand replays and a host of podcasts which, like Netflix and Stan, provide a wide variety of content beyond imagination.
Grant Tothill, Jen Goggin, Mark “Howie” Howard, Abbie Chatfield and Grant Blackley
SCA, along with most Australian radio networks, placed a big bet on this horse some time ago and it is starting to pay serious dividends. So much so that Mr. Blackley confidently predicts that SCA may at some point change its name to LiSTNR.
Of Tuning Tothill, who runs LiSTNR, and Grant Blackley at the bottom, the enthusiasm is palpable. Everyone seems to have a newfound spring in their step. Last Thursday they were selling more sizzle with more enthusiasm than I’ve seen from SCA in a long time. But this time there’s plenty of steak to back it up.