Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Car Crash Radio

People like to watch action-disaster movies; the slow detailed and often preposterous unravelling of a plot where a single, unlikely hero leads a group of misfits to a miracle survival, defeating the bad guys along the way. Just how many times can Bruce Willis save the world? (At least once more, it seems!)

From the televised insanity of OJ Simpson’s car chase through the Los Angeles freeway system, to September 11, to scout troops of eager weather reporters getting blown off over and washed away just to prove that…well, I never knew what they were trying to prove. It’s a hurricane, you fool! Get inside!

Even better, if there is any chance that we can experience the disaster first-hand, we’ll chase the ambulance. It’s a race to get the best pics on your mobile phone and post them on Twitter before anyone else does.

The point is, when something bad is happening, we watch. If nothing too bad is happening, we watch fictional substitutes. Somehow, within the last century, we’ve become a society of rubber-neckers, always on the lookout for the next disaster.

Today is radio ratings day, that day when the results of the most recent metropolitan radio surveys are released by Nielsen. In Australia’s biggest radio market, and around the country, eyes are on Alan Jones, whose ratings have gone up 0.5%. Up. Half a percent. Jones.

But that can’t be right, can it? Surely all of this agenda-setting joint-destroying activity has had an impact? Hasn’t it revealed Mr Jones as the disgusting woman-hating right wing spokesman for all that is wrong with society? That’s an exaggeration, although just how much of an exaggeration varies, depending on my mood (and his).

How on earth could Alan Jones audience have increased during a time when his very right to exist as a broadcaster is being questioned?

It’s not that hard to fathom, if you look at the detail.

Firstly, take into account the dates of the survey. The Survey released today covers two distinct periods: July 29 – Sept 1 and Sept 16 – Oct 20. Overlay that with the dates of Alan Jones’ two major faux pas, and you get this.

There’s no doubt that the “destroy the joint” comment was not well received, and stirred up some media attention. Out of that emerged #destroythejoint – one of those annoying internet memes that are a Big Thing for about two-and-a-half minutes, while the hipsterest of the hipsters play with them, then the rest of us cotton on and meme away happily for another few hours before never thinking of it again.

Except Destroy the Joint is still going strong two months later, with a national and international profile. Destroy the Joint has a flourishing Facebook page with over 20,000 Likes, and they have spearheaded the campaign to encourage advertisers away from Alan Jones. DtJ is not just about Alan Jones though – it’s the new expression of female pride in Australia. The Destroy the Joint Facebook page was established on September 2nd, and highlighted crass behaviour by men towards women for almost a full month before Mr Jones’ “died of shame” comment became public.

Logically, if there was going to be a fall in Mr Jones audience, it would’ve been during the weeks after the “died of shame” comment, when Destroy the Joint actively campaigned to major advertisers to remove the Alan Jones Breakfast Show from their advertising schedules. Of course, a fair number of non-traditional 2GB listeners would’ve tuned in to hear what all the fuss was about; some may even have found Mr Jones’ style of talkback to their liking and stayed. Some listeners may have been attracted to his bombastic style of bigotry and dominance.

Mathematically, the Destroy the Joint Campaign was only active from September 29, and the ratings period closed on October 20. That’s 22 days out of a 63 day ratings period. 36.5%. On that basis alone, anyone who thought that Destroying the Joint would destroy Alan Jones ratings is living in fantasy land.

Let’s go back to why ratings are measured: it’s a way of providing a number, a commercial convenience that says is B has more listeners than A, then B is a better vehicle for advertising than A, and therefore B can charge more than A. Alan Jones ratings are up 0.5%, so accordingly, 30 seconds of his airtime is worth more than 30 seconds on opposition station 2UE…except that there are no major advertisers who are willing advertise on his show. Only small, local businesses are safe – and they aren’t the businesses with the big dollars to spend.

2GB took a financial hit close to half a million dollars per week during the period when the Alan Jones Show went to air with no advertising at all, and their parent company’s share price dropped significantly, although it’s now bounced back.

What we don’t know from the radio survey results is the week by week breakdown of the audience, so we simply can’t map numbers against specific events.

What we do know is that Alan Jones credibility is increasingly in doubt. More people may be listening – or the 0.5% increase may reflect a larger increase earlier in the ratings period, followed by a decrease. In any case, he’s not worth what he was as a radio property, and he has lost his influence, which was always his power base.

He’s just preaching, loudly, at the converted.

As unpalatable as Alan Jones’ opinions and bombastic style are for many of us, he is one in a long and distinguished history of commercial radio in Australia. It’s like listening to a toddler commentating on a slow motion car crash every morning. If you’ve never listened to one of his broadcasts, put it on your bucket list for sooner rather than later. I doubt that Mr Jones will be broadcasting much longer.

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