Digital media is growing its presence in WA's mass market as familiar names fight to stay relevant.
February 7 2015 will mark a watershed for media in Western Australia. On that Saturday next year, Seven Perth will move to offices of The West Australian, making the site Australia’s first media bureau to house the four major media platforms – television, newspapers, radio and digital.
But the physical combination is merely the last stage in a dramatic bundling of media assets that has resulted in increased domination of the WA market by the state’s biggest player, Seven West Media.
The group is streets ahead of its nearest competitor, News Corp, in the waning daily newspaper game; still leads the local TV ratings and, perhaps a major chink in its armour, appears to be a distant third in the major growth market of online.
Nevertheless, the relocation of the broadcast operations from Dianella after 55 years at the site where Seven Perth became Perth’s first and most successful television broadcaster highlights the lengths traditionally rival media groups must go to survive the damage wrought by digital disruption.
In part, Seven Perth can be accommodated at The West’s Herdsman headquarters because newspaper growth plans were shelved long ago and, more recently, further space has been created by severe staff cuts across the organisation as print circulation and advertising revenue has slumped.
Together with its sister GWN Perth outfit, it will join The West Australian, thewest.com.au, The West Australian Regional Newspaper Group, The Quokka, and Redwave Media (Red FM, WAFM and The Spirit Network) in Osborne Park.
Seven Perth has been collaborating with The West Australian since Kerry Stokes’ West Australian Newspaper Holdings merged with the Seven television network to form Seven West Media three years ago.
“We’re working on joint projects editorially. We’re also working very closely on the advertising and promotions side of the business,” said Seven Perth managing director Mario D’Orazio.
“It’s not as simple as a TV channel moving to a new premises. This is a media company that’s blazing a new trail in Australia.”
Management is still working on operational details but the company expects the move will provide it with operational flexibility.
For instance, Mr D’Orazio said going down the track of ABC with a 24-hour news channel is not out of the question.
“It’s not yet practical to suggest we’re going to have a 24-hour news channel because there’s no room for it with 7, 7Two and 7mate, but we don’t know what future technology will bring,” he said.
“We’re positioning for growth in the future so I wouldn’t rule it out. I’m not saying we’re going to have one tomorrow but hopefully in the future, who knows.”
Much like the ABC’s East Perth news studio, Seven’s news studio will be much smaller, featuring robotic cameras, cancelling the need for studio floor camera operators.
Seven said there will be a couple of smaller studios too.
Veteran Seven News presenter Susannah Carr said there was no need for big studios like they had when she began reading the news at Seven in 1985.
“We used to do programs and news played a smaller part but now news is the main show,” she said.
“There’s so much being done on the road now, there are many more live crosses, so it’s more important to have a really good control room.”
Next year, Ms Carr and Rick Ardon will mark 30 years co-anchoring Seven’s Perth news in what Seven believes is a world record for news reading partnerships.
Channels Nine (Nine Entertainment) and Ten (Network Ten) will also be moving from Dianella to much smaller sites because there is no longer the need for each station to house large, unobstructed satellite dishes.
There are plans for about 20 hectares of land to be developed into a residential area featuring city views.
Nine Perth managing director David Mott said the network was looking for premises within the fringes of the CBD and would move by Q1 2016.
Ten sought expressions of interest from the property sector in early November. It has leased back the land in Dianella from an undisclosed buyer until the end of 2016.
While digital broadcasting provides the opportunity, moves by commercial stations are part of massive downsizing to leaner operations which is now being forced on rival ABC by its owner the federal government.
Despite the cost-cutting, free-to-air channels have clawing back market share from subscription television group Foxtel in WA. Figures late into 2014 show free-to-air’s market share has increased 2 per cent, while subscription television has fallen 7.8 per cent.
Notably, Foxtel recently halved its entry-level connection price to $25 a month at the start of November. Foxtel is also thought to be reacting to the impending arrival next year of US streaming service giant Netflix, and Stan, being launched by Nine Entertainment Co and Fairfax Media.
The latest figures for media consumption in WA confirm Seven West Media’s dominance in television, print and magazines, with The West Australian’s average readership (Monday-Friday) higher than that for The Sunday Times, and Channel Seven currently capturing 19.5 per cent of Perth viewers.
Reality television continues to win undeniably high ratings since the format first screened in Australia in the early 2000s with Survivor and Big Brother. My Kitchen Rules and X Factor are the highest rating shows for Channel 7 with the final of My Kitchen Rules winning 364,000 viewers in Perth, according to OzTAM television ratings figures. Seven’s AFL Grand Final is the highest rating single screening of the year with 377,000 Perth viewers.
The SBS brand is a distant fifth against the other network brands. Its three channels – SBS ONE, SBS 2 and NITV – appeal to regional WA viewers more, capturing 5 per cent of the market share compared with 3 per cent in Perth.
SBS executive producer Andrew Clark said while television was still the dominant platform, audiences wanted to be able to view content online after the initial broadcast.
“We employed an engagement editor to help drive content to social media which helps to deliver audiences back to the online product,” he said.
“We’re seeing an overall trend in television news that audiences are consuming more online. We had a record month (October) in unique audience which is a real measure of people getting access to the content online.”
This year, Nine News Perth launched an innovative strategy to win over viewers from Seven’s top-rating morning show Sunrise and its 6pm news by introducing news programs live from Perth at 7am, 8:30am, 4:30pm and an hour-long news at 6pm. For the week beginning November 2, Nine News averaged 79,000 for the first half hour and 81,000 from 6:30pm, while Seven News averaged 170,000 viewers.
Channel Nine has increased its viewers across the state so far this year, up 2.8 per cent in Perth. Nine is the nation’s dominant channel, ranking second only in Perth. Nine and ABC news also began live streaming their programs online earlier this year.
Radio and print
Radio is on an upward trend for 2014 with most stations having already surpassed last year’s weekly cumulative audience figures. Mix 94.5 has almost reached a 10 per cent increase so far this year in market share, currently sitting on 14.4 per cent, according to Commercial Radio Australia.
For 18 to 39-year-olds, Nova and Triple J are consistently the top-rating stations. In the latest survey ending November 1, 25-39-year-olds listened to Nova the most with 23.3 per cent of the market, while Triple J drew 16.9 per cent. Nova’s drive session 4-7pm weekdays with Kate, Tim and Marty (4-6pm) was the most listened to session with 16.6 per cent. Triple Js evening session (7pm-midnight) rated higher than departing favourite Lindsay ‘The Doctor’ McDougall’s drive program in the five weeks ending November 1.
In talkback radio, ABC 720 won the morning sessions until midday when 6PR took over with Peter Bell’s Afternoons and Paul Murray’s Drive. Paul Murray announced his retirement from full-time radio in October and will be replaced by Victorian crime journalist and writer Adam Shand. ABC’s market share for this year is 20 per cent up on 6PR, 10.6 per cent to 6PR’s 8.6 per cent.
The weekday The Australian Financial Review is the only major daily paper to have increased in print readership in WA this year. The West Australian Saturday edition remains the state’s most popular newspaper despite readership falling 1.5 per cent. WA readership of News Corporation’s flagship The Weekend Australian fell 9.8 per cent year-on-year.
Saturday’s circulation of The West Australian is 270,541 according to ABC audit figures for the three months to June 2014, while The Sunday Times distributes 218,000 papers a week according to Enhanced Media Metrics Australia (emma) survey data for the 12 months ending December 2013. Back in 2004, Saturday’s West was selling about 380,000 papers every weekend. The West Australian’s circulation for the Monday to Friday editions was 164,107 in the three months to June 30 2014. Ten years ago circulation was just over 200,000.
As print figures decline, digital figures are experiencing high growth. Across Australia, access to newspaper media sites on smartphones was up 22 per cent over the past financial year according to The Newspaper Works Q4 2014 report.
In WA, News Corporation’s online community is winning computer-accessed online news ratings with news.com.au and PerthNow in the top two spots, according to Nielsen Online Ratings. News.com.au is the highest rating news website with 410,000 unique readers in the four weeks to June 30 2014.
The West Australian sells more physical papers but The Sunday Times’ online platform PerthNow outperforms its Seven West Media rival on the internet. Despite posting a $7.5 million loss for the 2014 financial year, the two-year-old Guardian website rates number seven in WA.
Magazine readership is increasing in WA with Pacific Magazines/Seven West title Better Homes and Gardens Magazine topping the list in the latest emma poll, logging 259,000 average readers every month. In contrast, the Perth quarterly lifestyle magazine from Scoop Publishing has an average of 158,000 readers according to self-audited figures.
*Figures are a general marker for ratings. The survey pool and parameters vary with each ratings agency and platform.