RAJAR Q2/2022

Another quarter, and another deluge of data. With both Radio Today and Adam Bowie taking a Summer break, you’re stuck with my analysis! Yes, it’s RAJAR day – the UK radio ratings are out. For overseas visitors there’s going to be some specifics about radio stations you’ve never heard of, but taken together it’s an interesting snapshot of changing listener behaviour and hopefully that’s useful wherever you are in the world.

And snapshot is the right word. This captures a moment in time. With stations either reporting on 3 months of data, half a year of it, or a full year, the insights roll together listener consumption. It’s always the thing to slag off RAJAR, where the majority of listeners record their listening 15 minutes by 15 minutes over a week – either on paper, on their phone or on the PC. However that data is now combined with apps that hear what you hear and some panels too. Taken together, they’ve included over 40,000 people this quarter – a survey bigger than the UK election exit poll. If you’re a national station, it’s pretty robust! And one of the ways you can see the robustness, is that though the vast majority of respondents change each quarter, the figures stay pretty similar.

This RAJAR there’s quite a few stations that have dropped down, now whilst this may be down to listeners’ habits it could also be down to the big number at the top – that’s total UK radio listening. Since RAJAR returned after the pandemic, total UK listening has been pretty consistent – 49.4m, 49.4m, 49.7m people tuned in each week – but this time it’s dropped 750k to 48.9m. So everyone is sort of down before they’ve started. They’re playing in a smaller pool.

This drop isn’t massively demographically driven. Quarter on quarter 15-24s are down a bit, but 65 plusses are down some more.

Now, in RAJAR, trends are what you want to really look at, rather than snapshots. This drop in all listening might be a blip, or the start of a trend. We won’t know until we’ve got more data in the future.

The Young

Some other broad radio facts, that still surprise people.

Demographically there is no massive decline in the number of young people listening to the radio. Here’s radio reach across different demographics (bear in mind there was a methodology change in Q3/2021 and a pandemic sized gap before it).

It’s down a bit, but isn’t precipitous. Where there is more of a marked change is in the amount they listen to:

Three years ago, 15-24s listened to 85m hours, now it’s 65m. 25-34s listened to 126m hours, now it’s 115m. The charts would suggest that perhaps the drops may have levelled off.

Digital Listening

As a country, we listen to radio predominantly digitally.

AM and FM radio is consumed by 30.6m people, DAB digital radio 32.4m people, and streamed radio by 20m. If you combine analogue vs all the digital platforms, analogue is the aforementioned 30.6m and digital has 40.7m listeners.

When we look at the volume of radio people listen to – it’s share – digital radio accounts for 67.6% of their hours listened to (broken-down DAB: 40.8%, Streaming: 22.3% and DTV: 4.5%) and analogue is the remainder – just 32.4%.

The Big Commercial Stations

The key change seems to have been the recovery and consolidation of Bauer’s Hits Radio network – this includes Hits Radio, the old Bauer ILRs, the ones they acquired and Gem. They’re now bigger than Capital in reach and hours, and Heart in hours too. A big success for them. Greatest Hits is also giving Smooth a run for its money. It’s closing in on reach and pretty neck and neck on hours. Sat between Heart and Smooth, GHR seems to have blown a bit of a hole in both.

Big Commercial Networks

Most of the stations above are part of broader brand networks which includes spin-off services. Heart includes Heart 90s etc, and Hits Radio Brand includes Hits Radio and Greatest Hits Radio networks. Historically the network effect has given all the networks growth, as digital listening has risen and new launches have appeared. As digital penetration is starting to max out though, this benefit is receding.

I would probably wager that Hits & Greatest Hits has enjoyed some success partly as they’ve stabilised relatively newly launched products, but also through introducing products with content as marketing (adding Simon Mayo to GHR) and spending some money on general marketing too. Meanwhile the digital spin offs have little in the way of talent or specific marketing. Their uniqueness and musical focus in the market was their selling point, but perhaps we’ve reached the limit of any growth that can deliver now.

Groups

Of course, the brand battle is important, but the big groups are mostly concentrating on their share of the commercial market and how many impacts they can deliver national advertisers. Over the last year Global’s added around 6m hours and Bauer’s added 8m, whilst Wireless has stayed broadly the same. For all three groups, they’re reaching a similar number of listeners they did 12 months ago.

Wireless Group

Over at News UK, it’s interesting to look at their more recent station launches.

Times Radio’s really bounced around reach-wise, whilst pretty stable in hours. This probably suggests its found a core audience but isn’t really growing that fast. Talk Radio on the other hand is seeing steady growth quarter on quarter. After years of not really knowing what it was, it’s ideologically a pretty consistent product now and is definitely building an audience.

Talk made a big change to its evening programming when merging with Talk TV, which launched at the end of April. Now that’s not entirely shown in this data, as Talk rolls its data for six months, so we’re seeing average figures from Jan to June. However, having a sneaky look into the system suggests that the new evening shows are having a positive effect for Talk Radio – we’ll see the scale of that next quarter.

Virgin Radio’s decline will be disappointing after the talent investment that it has seen. I see very little marketing for the station and things that Chris Evans or Graham Norton do, don’t seem to have much cut through to non-listeners. I think it’s predominantly a PR & Marketing problem, rather than a content issue – though some of that does go hand in hand.

The BBC

Nationally the BBC’s stations are, in the most part, remarkably stable. Taking an ongoing hit has been Radio 1. Having a quick look at other youth stations, Capital is following a similar pattern, whilst the slightly more specialist stations are a little more consistent.

Pop music flow for younger audiences is very split at the moment. Research is tending to suggest people are part of more specific genre tribes. When you combine these different genre types, that’s annoying to listeners, they like one, but not the other. This poses more of a challenge for stations like Radio 1 or Capital which have previously been about mixing pop genres.

The other BBC station that faces challenges is Five Live. Its combination of news and sport has always been slightly annoying for people who are either in the news or sport camp, the other one is always seen to be interfering in what they like. I think this is more of an issue now, when there’s stations like Times, LBC or Talk Radio that can scratch the news itch, and a more consistent talkSPORT and talkSPORT2 seemingly with an ever increasing range of sports rights that can do sport pretty well too.

Internally the BBC have wanted to split Five Live into two stations but have been stymied by regulation (and pressure from competitors). With the upcoming switch off of Five Live’s AM service and its re-emergence as a digital only brand, is it time for Sports Extra to become a full time Five Live Sport, and the regular Five Live to becomes Five Live News?

Regional Shows

We’re probably moving closer to some further deregulation of commercial radio. A reminder that it’s the government’s intention to remove most programme-related regulation, so networks would be free to network all programming, providing they have a commitment to localised news and travel. Of course the government is in flux at the moment, but we could see that legislation next year. Whether the radio groups that have local shows will remove them is still an unknown. Whilst the opportunities for costs savings are there, having regional shows to deliver more localised S&P is seen as valuable for the relative cost, particularly now many stations have been regionalised. I thought it might be interesting to look at the scale of some of these shows.

The London shows aren’t as strong as you would assume, though clearly they have more competition in those markets. The share figures in some of the regional markets are also pretty impressive for the localised shows. Now we don’t know what putting a ‘high quality national’ show in the regions could do to ratings – good or bad. But if you were looking at some of these you maybe wouldn’t want to mess too much with the big ones.

Rich Clarke’s Drive show in the South on Heart currently beats every regional drive and breakfast show across Capital, Smooth and Heart, other than Heart London (it’s even got a bigger reach than Capital London Drive). It’s also a reminder how strong the Smooth breakfast shows are around the country.

That’s it for my quick look through. If you’ve noticed something interesting, why not leave it in the comments.

I’m able to do all of this as a subscriber to Octagon, from Hallett Arendt, which is my invaluable RAJAR analysis tool.

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Who’s up and who’s down?

In Praise of the Story Arc

Most of what we all do is the day to day. It’s somewhat repetitive. But often it’s the consistency that your listeners/customers/users buy into. If someone likes your politics podcast and then one day it’s all about Love Island, they would be a bit shocked. Similarly with radio shows, benchmarks in a breakfast show are essential as people arrange their routine around your features. It’s mad when you think about it. But it’s the consistency that bends the listener to your will. If a family know to be in the car on the way to school when you do the Secret Sound, you can’t keep moving it around.

However, saying all that, mixing things up a little is never a bad thing. Providing there’s context for it. You can break the rules to mix things up if you understand the rules and why they are there. If you know about your listener, care about how they use you and provide all the right context, there’s nothing to stop you doing new, fun and special things.

The UK’s Radio 1 had recently gone off-plan and done something special, a stunt with their breakfast DJ, Greg James. The station sent Greg off to Brighton on Monday 18th July and stole his breakfast show off him. The only way he could win it back was to find 20 jigsaw pieces that would form the Radio 1 logo. They were hidden around the UK and listeners had to find them and transport them to Brighton. It took them six days to complete it.

Greg remained ‘on’ the breakfast show as a guest across the week (Scott Mills and Chris Stark took over) and the jigsaw piece discovery ran across daytimes each day.

Radio 1 partly choose this week as they understand their listeners – as for many it’s the start of the school holidays. This means a decent chunk of their audience’s schedule shifts, and that they’re around to potentially listen more and join in. Radio 1 has also changed quite a bit of their schedule recently with lots of new people. This was a good opportunity to introduce them through the different challenges.

Throughout the week the main structure of the radio station stayed the same. Mostly the same people, on at the same time, doing their regular things. But that was overlayed with a story that listeners could follow along with.

The producer, Chris Sawyer, who designed much of it, explains their planning in a recent tweet thread.

What I like about it is that there was a story arc. They knew mostly what would happen over the week, with key moments planned out, but it also had enough ‘give’ to allow some surprises (to everyone) along the way.

The other great story arc over the past couple of weeks is that of the Lionesses. As a football tournament it has a natural story – how far will they go, but layered on top was that the fact this was the England Women’s team playing against the well-worn storyline of the country’s decades long failure to take home a trophy – until now. The end point is a match against long-time rivals Germany, that goes to extra time – and when we would usually fail at likely penalties, the team instead won! Extra time on the arc was the great invaded press-conference and a Trafalgar Square finish.

For me the key media thing with any good story arc, is that it needs to reinforce your core brand. Radio 1’s puzzle leaned into the presenters, the listeners and doing a fun thing together (which is much of their programming). The Euros success clearly delivered on the brand they wanted it to be, and has obviously done a great job of rounding out a number of years of building for the Women’s Team.

Over in politics-land the Conservative Leadership battle is a great example of zero forethought in building a compelling narrative and storyline for the candidates (or the party).

The inevitable defenestration of Boris Johnson still seemed to leave challengers a little on the hoof, even when they had registered their domain names and made their videos in the previous months.

The clash of the competitors instantly meant any benefits their history had, or ‘successes’ of the previous administration were immediately trashed. The ‘blue on blue’ action left somewhat bruised competitors. The Labour Party’s video using their own words to demonstrate how bad a job the Tories had done over 12 years is telling:

Down to the final two, they now have six weeks of time that is unlikely to have any pre-planned moments. The hustings process is repetitive and the competitors will continue to clash. At the same time they have to target their policies at a small sub-demographic (old, white, mostly male Conservative party members) that’s not representative of the country, or the people they need to keep on board (red wall folk).

It’s like most political campaigns that you see in America, where Republicans go hard right to win a primary and then rush to the centre to try and win over their local area. The trouble for Liz and Rishi is the victor will have strongly positioned themselves in a place that’s harder to win a General Election.

Fundamentally they are not thinking about their core audience. Their ‘doing something different’ (campaigning etc) doesn’t re-enforce their brand values, it drags away from it. Non-political centrists who didn’t mind Rishi now get ten weeks of him as a hard-right figure. All the work he put into his previous brand, signatures on social media and all that, has been superseded by being off-message for over two months.

If Liz Truss wins, at the next election, all the Labour party comms will be her own words saying that the government (that she was one of the longest serving ministers in) had done a bad job of loads of things.

All of which is a long way of saying how consistency is essential to build audiences, and if you break away from that, it’s got to be true to your brand and your listeners.

Podcast Fun

It’s been a busy time at Podcast Awards HQ. The British Podcast Awards was a huge success, crowning lots of brilliant winners, including the BBC World Service’s Dear Daughter as Podcast of the Year. Idris Elba even turned up!

Over in Ireland, we announced the nominees for the inaugural Irish Podcast Awards. Again, a great list of shows to check out if you want to freshen up your podcatcher. Tickets are now on sale for the ceremony on Friday 16th September in Dublin.

AND, we’re now firmly into Australian Podcast Awards planning. I know there are lots of Australian followers here, if you want to get involved or your company fancies partnering, get in touch by hitting reply and we’ll tell you more.

Spotify’s Rowan Collinson speaking at Grow

The day before the British Podcast Awards we held a new conference event – Grow. It brought together about 200 people looking to grow their podcast with loads of great speakers from Apple, Acast, Audiboom, Spotify as well as production companies and entrepreneurs. It was a great day.

If you missed it, the next big conference is going to be Podcast Day 24. On October 4th there will be in-person events in Sydney, London and New York. As part of your ticket you’ll also get access to videos of all of the sessions worldwide.

The Coronacast session from Podcast Day 24 in Australia, last year.

We did the first Podcast Day 24 last year and it was an amazing bunch of speakers and sessions. We’ve announced a few of the speakers, with lots more great people to announce.

We’re expecting most of it to sell out, but you can grab an earlybird ticket for the next two weeks. If you want to know what’s happening in podcasting in your territory, and around the world, you need to come along. You’ll save £100 if you buy your ticket now.

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Why story planning is essential for success

Talent Changes at Radio 1 & 2

The success of a radio station is usually down to a combination of music selection, talent and marketing. You don’t need all three to win, but it sure does help.

Historically, radio stations have generally been able to have the upper hand with talent as the limited supply of frequencies meant there were only a few places to go if you were a presenter that wanted to make it ‘big’!

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Of course our now nearly infinite radio dial, both linear and on-demand, means that isn’t always the case any more. It’s definitely not entirely gone away – there are still limited numbers of big outlets – but what’s new is that there are companies where seemingly business rules don’t apply – who are happy to open their chequebooks.

Whilst more premium opportunities for talent is good, the danger is that taking the money, or jumping to somewhere new that’s fun – may also result in you disappearing to a media no man’s land and the value you have as a star wanes.

Since Charlie Sloth and Dotty left Radio 1 for Apple Music 1/Beats 1, have they been part of the cultural zeitgeist?

The challenge for talent is balancing a home that gives them fame, money and allows them to grow and develop their act. The downside is that it will almost be impossible to find a perfect fit – your new home will always want you to do things that, given the choice, you wouldn’t want to do.

For some talent, their own accumulated scale means they can create their own new home.

Adam Buxton, Peter Crouch, Fearne Cotton have made their main audio homes podcasts rather than radio stations – staying front of mind with consumers whilst defining their own brand and doing the content they want.

Other previous radio stars like Danny Baker have done this too. Danny’s show now exists purely for Patreon subscribers – 1,800 of them subscribing for between £5 and £7. It probably nets him, after fees, about £8k a month. The challenge though will be how he brings new people into his subscription treehouse. There’s no free version, and he lacks much media oomph to bring him to new audiences. I imagine he may not care and that he finds it worth it for the control.

The chart above looks a little more dramatic than it probably is, as the y axis is quite truncated, but it does show the problem dealing with expiring credit cards and unsubs. In this space, as a creator, you have to do the marketing as well as the content.

Radio 2

The big recent radio shift is that Helen Thomas, the Head of Radio 2, has decided to pull a key plaster off, by replacing the erstwhile Steve Wright in the Afternoon with Radio 1’s Scott Mills.

The big show started on Radio 2 in 1999, though after a run from 1981 to 1993 on Radio 1. He had a good innings on daily national radio. It may seem odd to retire Steve when his figures are still strong. As the chart shows, his numbers generally rise and fall with the station.

Where it is different though, is around average age. Radio 2 is keen to re-position with more appeal to 35-55s, but since 2004 the station’s average has creeped up from 50 to 54. Steve’s average age exceeds the average of the station, so is gradually pulling it even older. For Radio 2 to re-align the station, it has to make some big changes.

For Steve this raises an interesting question. His audience scale would make him an in-demand person, but does he want to give up his remaining Radio 2 shifts (things for BBC Sounds and Sunday Love Songs) to pick up a bigger gig at somewhere like Smooth? Whilst it would definitely salve the ego, it would probably push him closer to the end of radio’s relevance conveyer belt.

Over at Virgin Radio, Chris Evans isn’t the boss, but all the bosses are forced to listen to him (on air and his corporate ideas). Chris was keen to extend an invitation for Steve to join the station. There is some form with this, obviously Chris moved from Radio 2 and pulled Graham Norton over as well. Their audience additions – 1m for Chris, 500k for Graham are solid, but probably at significant salary cost. Kisstory manages the same hours as Virgin at, I imagine, far less than the cost of a Mr Norton.

Will Virgin want to do their talent grab again for Wright? I’m not convinced it’s great for the Virgin Radio brand which still retains something of the risk-taking/rule-breaking Branson genesis, but would be further diluted with Steve joining the ship.

Whilst I’m sure a lot of Steve’s listeners will be grumpy, Scott Mills actually shares many similarities with Steve – particularly the focus on content and ‘show’ – rather than style. It won’t be such a big transition as many think. Radio 2 whilst losing some die-hards will probably attract some older Radio 1 listeners as well as some lapsed Radio 1 listeners who hadn’t found their way to Radio 2 yet. It’ll almost certainly help drag their average age younger.

Scott over the last ten years, has been presenting on Radio 1 with Chris Stark. Chris is a talented presenter and ideas generator and has contributed hugely to the Radio 1 show and acted as a youthful foil as Scott gets older. His persona though would make it difficult to transition with Scott to Radio 2.

Chris is also the co-host of one of the country’s most successful podcasts – That Peter Crouch Podcast – as well as doing a few other podcast things. I was a little surprised to see him announced as a producer-presenter for Global. He’ll be appearing on Capital Breakfast with Roman Kemp where he’ll be the “Creative Executive Producer” alongside some work growing Global’s sports podcasting output.

He’s a very talented producer, but it will be interesting to see how they integrate him into the show and how he’ll find the more structured commercial radio output.

Radio 1 meanwhile have not gone for a big hire to replace Scott, instead plumping for Dean McCullough and Vicky Hawkesworth – both relatively new presenters at Radio 1, and without much media profile. The challenge is to balance the opportunity of renewing the station with presenters living a lifestyle closer to the listeners, whilst hoping that the cocoon of Radio 1’s music and brand counter-balances the lack of familiarity that listeners will face when deciding to tune into the pair.

It also means that Radio 1 has transitioned to a very content-heavy daytime schedule with Rickie, Melvin and Charlie in the mornings, Dean and Vicky in the Afternoons and Vick and Jordan at Drive – double or triple headers all day.

What it certainly does do is mark Radio 1 out as being different from commercial radio’s output, which is pretty much all music-intensive during the day. However, combining that with a new music position, makes it difficult to attract and retain mass audiences. But does it matter if Radio 1’s audience drops a little, if it’s doing something different?

Chess

Moving the talent around radio’s chessboard generates big opportunities for the stations in the middle if it. However, by forcing listeners to make decisions about what they should listen to, now that their old faves have swapped around, it also generates opportunity for everyone in the audio sector. Using the shift to sell your own benefits to listeners with their fingers on the dial could also create decent returns.

AOB

A return to in-person discussions on The Media Podcast this week as I talk to the Press Gazette’s Charlotte Tobit and radio producer/technologist Ann Charles at a rooftop bar next to Television Centre. We catch up about the merging of the BBC’s news channels (and whether Five Live should have been part of that) plus how the PM machinations will affect the media bills and even a quick look at the Nation Broadcasting changes. Take a listen!

Apologies for the lack of updates recently, I got married! Thanks for all of your kind wishes!…

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What’s happening on radio’s chessboard?

Do you help listeners find your show?

We revealed the 2022 nominations for the British Podcast Awards, powered by Audible, on Monday, at a really fun party in East London (pics here). It’s always great to be exposed to a raft of new shows, or be reminded of podcasts I haven’t got round to yet.

The Awards has always been about discovery, and a third of our nominees this year are independent shows, not backed by big businesses – which is a huge proportion of new voices that can get lost in the chatter about the latest Spotify signing or big BBC Sounds release.

Do check them out and find your next favourite show!

The lead up to the British Podcast Awards nominations announcement is a busy time. Not only do we reveal the nominations, but a lot of tweets and Instagram posts get fired, event tickets go on sale, we open the Listeners’ Choice public vote and we send emails to all of the nominees about the processes.

Once we get the judges decisions (and there are 130 of those) we have a very big spreadsheet that lists all of the nominees, the contact names, the social handles, the podfollow links plus copies of all the artwork. This year the effort increased as there were 230 nominees, as we’ve expanded the shortlist to 10 for most categories.

Much of this data comes from the submissions, as it’s all things that we ask for. We don’t necessarily get it though. So we go through finding missing links, finding higher-res artwork (or newer artwork if the podcast’s had a refresh), searching for social handles and trying to have the right thing for every nominee.

We try and do all of these things as the purpose of the Awards is to aid discovery, so we want to position all of our shows in the best light. The other reason we do it is otherwise we gets loads of emails asking why we hadn’t including something, or that a link doesn’t work. When you submit an entry you aren’t necessarily thinking about how the nomination social videos are going to look and whether it’s going to tag the right people. Naturally, you’re just worried about making it by the deadline!

What it does mean is that I’m doing a lot of searching for our shows to find (or check) all the bits I need. Now, of course, I need these things for a reason, but then so do lots of other people who might want to contact your show and offer you a great opportunity! So, if you have a podcast, or even a radio show, here’s a few suggestions.

Firstly. Get a website. And make sure the right things are on it.

It’s amazing how many shows don’t have a website. A website can answer nearly all the questions that someone would ask.

What should it include? Firstly an About page that describes your show in a paragraph or two. It should list who your hosts are – their real names rather than their in-show nicknames – and links to their social media. Bonus points for their email address.

Next up a Contact page, ideally with an email address rather than just a contact form. I’ve tried forms that don’t work (no one ever re-checks them) and then there’s no way to get in touch. Yes, you might get some spam, but we all get spam. I’m sure you can deal with it.

Somewhere between an About and a Contact page do you have something that describes how you can advertise, or suggest a story, or just outline what you want to hear about?

Geoff Lloyd on his late night radio show used to have a list of 101 topics that listeners could always call in on. Thank you Wayback machine. It’s a great invitation to get involved.

Next, an audio player with your latest episodes. I want to be able to hear your podcast. Also please have links to all the main destinations – Apple, Spotify etc – as well as a link to your RSS feed. Any podcaster that doesn’t use one of the main apps will like to be able to easily grab this.

I’m amazed how many people get in touch with us across all of our Awards saying their show isn’t in Apple Podcasts. It should be. Having a link to all the destinations is a great way to check you’re actually there too.

Finally, do you have a press section, or something that could be used as a press section? As well as bio details, are there some good downloadable pictures of your team and show artwork? Do you have stats about your downloads? Do you list notable moments?

If someone wanted to write about you, could they get enough information on their own from your site? If someone’s writing a Top 10 Comedy Podcasts feature they’re not going to get in touch with you, but they could include you if they can have access to enough information there and then.

Do you have a credits page for your team? If you have one, do you show any love to your producer or editor?

It isn’t just small shows that don’t have this information, some of the biggest shows in the country have no way to get in touch with them.

Secondly, social media. You should have an account for your show on all the main platforms, even if you don’t update it.

Huh? Social media is many people’s search engine. If they’re looking for someone they use the one that they use – Twitter, Instagram, TikTok. It might not, of course, be the one that you use.

“We don’t use Twitter” (or similar) isn’t a suitable response. It’s fine if you only like Instagram, but still create a Twitter profile with a decent name, a decent handle, the right imagery (probably your Apple Podcasts square imagery) and use the bio to make people know it’s the right profile for you. Also use the link to link to your website. Then do a tweet with how to listen and pin it to the profile.

If you want to be cleverer, then there are services that can autopost new episodes etc.

If you mainly use personal social accounts, still make a show account and link out to the profiles of your hosts etc. But include all the important details.

Lots of people ask how can they get more people to listen to their show – well, make it findable and listenable is the first job. Then you can use that base to reach out to people. Just think how much time you research a new purchase, reading reviews, checking out prices etc. All without talking to someone.

If someone’s been recommended your show, they need to find it. They may not just do this on a podcast app. In fact you want them to do a web search so they can find out more about you and your show, so when they hit play they already feel some connection.

A podcast, or radio show, is a mini-brand, so you need to treat it like one.

If podcasting is a part of your job and you want some more tips like the above, then you should come to Grow, the British Podcast Awards’ one-day conference to help your podcast, er grow. Meet people from Apple, Spotify, Acast, Audioboom and the BBC and get tips on growing awareness and audience. It’s just £50+VAT per ticket.

AOB

On the Media Podcast this week I do a great deep dive with Nick Wallis. Nick’s been at the forefront of the Post Office Horizon Scandal, he talks about that process and his recent sojourn to the US to cover the Depp/Heard court case. A really interesting take on journalism today. Listen here.

The brilliant photos for the Awards nominations were taken by Daria Agafanova, who until recently lived in Mariupol, Ukraine and has now found herself in London. So if you’ve thought recently “what can I do to help Ukrainians” well, it’s a small thing, but if you need a photographer, give Daria a buzz!

How a website might be the most important thing you’re not doing

Audio Tours and Changes

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me, and as always much of it is audio-related, alongside a decent chunk of wedding prep!

The big thing I’ve been working on is forming a partnership with Haymarket Media Group to acquire our podcast awards business – including the British, Australian and Irish Awards alongside our work on the conference Podcast Day 24.

Matt Hill and I created the British Podcast Awards six years ago as we felt there was an opportunity to help the discovery of great local shows. As we launched it, what we realised was that there was also a huge demand for a space to celebrate success and bring the whole industry together. Podcasting is so broad from people creating shows in their kitchens to the involvement of publishers, companies, charities, broadcasters and tech platforms. Not everyone’s objectives are the same, but the Awards are designed to be a ‘big tent’ that brings everyone together. We think we’ve managed to do that.

We’ll be revealing the nominees for this year’s British Podcast Awards, powered by Audible, on Monday and you can join us in London for a drink, if you’d like to be there. Getting all of our nominee lists ready, I’m always really proud to see the breadth of great shows and creators featured, and this year’s going to be no different.

We’ve always been focused on trying to support all creators, no matter what size. Alongside the Awards we’ve done training events, webinars and conferences for the industry. It’s also grown internationally with us taking on the Australian Podcast Awards and launching the Irish Podcast Awards too. What hasn’t really expanded is the team behind it – it’s mainly been just me and Matt H keeping the show on the road.

We were keen to ensure that not only could we keep doing what we’ve been doing, but also that we can do even more things for the industry, with more resources and less of the worry too. Haymarket, who run over 50 awards ceremonies a year, will help us do that. We’re also very much not going anywhere and will be a key part of all of the Awards’ activities for many years to come.

It’s also a good time to remind you about our Grow event, supported by the BBC Sounds Audio Lab on Friday 22nd July. If you have a podcast, or you’re a publisher that creates podcasts, this is an event focused on growing your audience, impact and revenue. It’s very inexpensive, at just £50+VAT. You can get your tickets here. There will be lots of case studies and take-aways to help your podcasts grow.

Oh, Canada

We announced the deal when I was in Canada, taking part in a radio conference that was part of Canadian Music Week. It was my first visit to Toronto and I loved what I saw of the city and country. It was also great to catch up with Ex-XFM presenter and now storytelling business coach – Marsha Shandur. Marsha’s a great example of how skills you develop in one industry are super-relevant to another.

Like any trip, you compare the differences to home and it was no different when watching many of the sessions. What struck me was the numbing effect of regulation on the market, and a lack of digital broadcast developments. What this means is a predominantly analogue environment, with little venturing to new brands or spin-offs. Radio is still healthy in Canada, with around 90% of the population listening, just like here and Australia, but the lack of competition means there’s some complacency.

Regular readers will know that I often talk about ‘radio as a product’ – that being all the stations available, packaged up for listeners. The steady growth of DAB here, and in other markets like the Nordics and Australia, has meant we’ve all built out a much broader, richer, product for listeners. Radio is full of lots of high quality choice (from commercial, community and public broadcasters) and that’s got a better chance of keeping listeners interested and engaged – for all of us.

What is similar, in all markets, is how radio can compete and co-opt, the growth in podcasting. Often radio broadcasters think they’re firmly got a foot in the the podcast world. In reality, they often have made much of a mark.

I remarked at the event that on that morning in both Canada and Britain, only one of the top 15 shows in both countries (in the Apple Podcasts chart) was from a radio broadcaster – one BBC and one CBC. Today, if you take it out to the Top 100, commercial radio broadcasters are only appearing twice in each country. Over in Australia, it’s marginally better, but seemingly just five appearances from the commercial radio stable. All around the world, if commercial radio wants to play meaningfully in this field, then it’s going to have to up its game.

Gaming

One of those UK shows from a commercial radio broadcaster, was an original from Global – Spencer and Vogue. Over the past year Global have made a concerted effort with their originals, alongside repping other podcasters and of course their own radio podcast output. Having built out their digital ad exchange – DAX – a middle man that connects ad agencies with digital audio content, they’re in a good position to monetise their own, and other people’s audio content. Indeed, at the moment, DAX does the ads for stations like Boom Radio and music streaming services like Soundcloud.

Yesterday they announced they would be providing digital audio advertising to (and taking an equity share in) Odeeo, a company that offers game developers the opportunity to make money from audio ads. It’s hot-ish on the heals of a similar deal where they acquired Remixd, who provide ads in spoken world versions of articles.

The challenge for DAX, and competitors like Bauer & Wireless’ Octave, is ensuring that as well as providing all this ad inventory, that they have enough customers to fill it. Whilst the digital audio ad market is growing, there’s a real need to get more brands using the technology, and then publishers can get their fill-rates up. Otherwise the existing money will end up being spread very thin.

Premium

In Canada, there was another local speaker, well a Dane that’s currently residing in Britain at least. Tobias Nielsen is the Director of Premium Projects at Bauer – responsible for the roll-out of their subscription service. Here in the UK it means that listeners who stump up £3.99 a month get ad-free, and music-skip-able access to Scala, Planet Rock, Kerrang, Jazz FM and as of last week, the Kiss stations. Absolute Radio’s suite launches soon too. The same service has rolled out to some of their other markets too.

When I’ve used it, the tech works pretty flawlessly – no mean feat. If you’re a big listener to one or two of the stations, and you’re in an IP-friendly environment most of the time, I think it will work well.

Both Tobias, and Kiss’ Content Director, Rebecca Frank, who spoke to me for an upcoming Media Podcast, were both on the same wavelength by saying it’s the result of some listener insight, but also an experiment to see what can work in that space. I think subscription for audio – both for linear and podcasts – is a fascinating thing to keep an eye on.

AOB

And speaking of the Media Podcast, in the latest edition I talk TV with Gold Wala’s Faraz Osman, Edelman’s Karin Robinson plus I swap streaming recommendations with Scott Bryan. Listen and subscribe.

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Visiting Canada and audio deals

The digital challenge for broadcasters

Here in the UK, the BBC is consistently under pressure from the government and a combative press, before they have to do the regular worrying about being a legacy media operator grappling with the future. It’s something you see many public broadcasters face, including those in Europe and things like the ABC in Australia.

The current Conservative government are not really a fan of any popular, free and independent media so generally use their levers to make their lives much tougher. At the moment Channel 4 is likely to go through a bruising privatisation process, and the BBC has had its income free frozen (handy during a period when there’s spiralling inflation) whilst still having a large amount of restrictions placed on it.

The BBC’s short-term task is to find around £285m in savings, some of the results of which it announced last week. As the saying goes “never let a crisis go to waste”. Instead, it’s using the need to make big changes as cover to re-orient the corporation into being ‘digital-first’. It’s actually going to find £500m of savings and then re-direct £300m towards digital things like more iPlayer programming, money into product development and more online news.

It also used the announcement to talk about some to-happen-in-three-years network changes. The headlines are that BBC Four, the CBBC Channel and Radio 4 Extra will move off broadcast platforms and be on-line only.

These are not small endeavours, last month 17m people watched BBC Four, 4m saw CBBC and nearly 2million listen to BBC Radio 4 Extra each week.

BBC Four and 4 Extra are channels mostly made up of archive material, so having that exist on iPlayer and BBC Sounds probably makes sense. CBBC’s audience is digitally native, used to streaming, so moving the content off linear makes sense there too. They all seem sensible decisions.

In reality the channel brands of BBC Four and Radio 4 Extra will decline to very little. There won’t be much cost savings from taking them off-air, as the digital transmission fees will be the same with or without the channels. There will be some savings from losing any people that work on the channel management and scheduling. There’s also unlikely to be any new content dug out. These channels will pretty much disappear, or will just be a homepage on iPlayer and BBC Sounds driven by some judicious tagging by the metadata team.

CBBC is slightly different. As a children’s channel, they make a lot of new content from all genres and are seen as core public service propositions. CBBC’s issue will be the same one that faced BBC Three when it was taken off linear television – they lost huge awareness as its audience didn’t have iPlayer at the centre of their lives. They just missed stuff that they would have liked.

Giving up free-to-air linear TV, no matter what the audience size is, takes away a key promotional channel. BBC Three is the prime example, after being removed, it was added back on five years later! It re-started in Feb 2022 and last month reached 7.7m viewers.

There was no mention in the BBC’s announcements about marketing budgets. Of course, non-programme spend is something a public broadcaster doesn’t want to mention as it seems a waste.

In the modern media world, for all operators, awareness and discovery is the key challenge. Organisations have to use everything at their disposal to activate owned, earned and paid media to generate trial.

Traditional media companies are used to generating awareness because they have free-to-air broadcast megaphones or produce products like newspapers or magazines in a relatively constrained market. In a digital-first world much of this goes away. Consumers will not stumble into the content of your app.

In the streaming landscape Netflix, Disney and Amazon’s Prime Video dominate. Netflix invented the market, spent more money on content than anyone thought sensible and launched in every country in the world. It also had a laissez-fair attitude to password sharing – it needed everyone on its platform. Its 222million subscriptions work out at about 600m users. Its scale allows it to super-charge global content discussion. They can put the right content in front of a lot of people giving it the ability to kick-start word of mouth discussion. “Have you seen Squid Game” is much easier to take from a question to a watch, when you can have it on half a billion people’s TV home screen.

Disney+ has much of this, but it also has brands like Star Wars, Marvel and the core Disney output too. Globally it’s also a successful marketer with broadcast channels, themes parks and stores. It can make a splash when it needs to.

Over at Prime Video it hasn’t quite got the pizzaz or hits of the other two, but it sells its streaming as a benefit to 200m Prime subscribers. It can also put things in front of the 3 billion visits a month the Amazon website gets.

National media operations around the world of course don’t have the scale of these behemoths, but their challenge is to find routes to market to grab the attention of consumers.

In radio, many broadcasters are putting all the effort into their apps – BBC Sounds, Global Player, LiSTNR, iHeartradio and there are loads of others too. My worry is that much of their great content is locked away in these apps. If your app can’t reach ubiquity, is there a natural ceiling to the audience that will bop around in your playground? If all the effort is put into a single digital product to the detriment of other places, are you just transitioning from a broadcaster to a niche-caster?

Of course apps are important. Having a direct route to consumers with great data can be a boon for any business. I just think its dangerous for media companies to put all their eggs in one basket, particularly when the number of apps that become ubiquitous is super-small.

I’d love to see media companies have dual strategies. One for super-serving your consumers (the app) and one for aggressively growing reach and awareness. Something that uses a mix of content, marketing and platforms to reach and satisfy new audiences. I think this needs to be a different product to the app.

I’m not convinced that “look at this great content, it’s only in our app, download it” is the best marketing funnel, particularly for sub-scale operators. Fine if your Netflix, but I’m not sure it still works if your lower down the food chain.

Of course, for many broadcasters this is what they currently have with their free-to-air linear operation. Their broadcast radio or TV stations are used to promote their new digital platforms. The danger, as the BBC has shown, is that they think they’re replacing one for the other. I think the reality is that the job the linear channels are doing – free marketing and more – is what needs to be replaced with a new concept/product, rather than just hoping the audience will find and use a walled-garden app.

AOB

Lots of British Podcast Awards things are currently happening. Our judges are finalising their nominees and winners and we’ll be revealing the nominees at a free event on the 20th June.

We’re also getting ready for the British Podcast Awards Weekend that will include the Awards on Saturday 23rd July, but we’ve also got our new event Grow on Friday 22nd July. Grow is entirely designed to help anyone who creates podcast grow awareness, audience and revenue. We’ve announced the first batch of speakers and tickets are on sale for a super inexpensive £50+VAT.

Another good Media Podcast is currently out there with the Press Gazette editor Charlotte Tobitt, the Smart 7’s Jamie East and BBC disinformation reporter Shayan Sardarizadeh. Listen and Subscribe.

I’ve also just recorded an interview with John Whittingdale MP which we’ll be putting out as a special in the next day or so. So do subscribe!

How will broadcasters stop becoming niche-casters?

RAJAR Q1/2022

For UK readers, the quarterly RAJAR listening data is essential to see how radio stations are doing. Most RAJAR quarters though include some changes to the survey too. This is usually new stations being added, but can also be additional questions as well. In this survey there’s quite a big change – they’re publishing a new platform.

Historically the platforms have been AM/FM, DAB, Digital TV and the Internet. The Internet has got more complicated as it has journeyed from desktop, to mobile and tablet through to smart speakers. So from this survey you can now look at Smart Speakers as a platform alongside AM/FM, DAB, DTV and Internet (Desktop and Mobile).

Wherever you are in the world, it’s a fascinating snapshot of media consumption on a relatively new device.

The results for ‘All Radio’ shows that the platforms each reach the following (this doesn’t add up to 100 as people can use multiple platforms)

AM/FM – 62.6% of listeners

DAB – 66.7% of listeners

DTV – 13.3% of listeners

Desktop and mobile – 30.4% of listeners

Smart speakers – 17.5% of listeners

When you look at the time they give to each platform – the share of listening, it’s this:

AM/FM – 32.1%

DAB – 41.1%

DTV – 4.5%

Desktop and mobile – 12.4%

Smart speakers – 9.9%

It means smart speakers deliver around 100m hours of listening a week.

What’s interesting is looking at the average hours per platforms. DAB’s top of the shop at 12.5 hours a week of consumption, with AM/FM not far behind on 10.4. This all makes sense – they are core radio listening devices, so people give them a lot of time. Listening through your telly on the other hand gives an average hours of 6.8 – again, seemingly making sense as you use that device for lots of other things.

With smart speakers the question is always how much of a radio device is it? You do after all share it with music streaming services and other skills. Well, it turns out it’s pretty powerful with an average hours of 11.5 per listener. It goes to show that the 8 million smart speaker radio users give it a lot of radio attention.

Of course smart speaker share varies station to station. It accounts for 12% of Radio 1’s listening, just 4.5% of Heart’s and a whopping 26.6% of Boom Radio’s. If you work for a radio station you should look at the average hours for each of your platforms – it might make you think about the value of promoting one platform over another. In theory if you drive more reach to the platforms with higher average hours, you may help drive your total hours faster.

The Young and the Restless

There will be some sad faces at Radio 1 as their 15+ reach slips from 8.1m to 7.6m, its lowest ever figures. However the slight silver-lining is which ages are disappearing. Of course firstly this is a quarter on quarter change, so you need to take it all with a slight pinch of salt, but…

15-19s – down 2.9%

20-24s – down 0.3%

25-34s – down 8.2%

35-44s – down 7.6%

45-54s – down 4.5%

55s-64s – down 19.7%

65+ – down 0.8% (the oldies left are clinging on!)

Does this actually show that it’s doing its job of catering for the young with programming particularly for them, and thus causing the older ones to become a little disgruntled and disappear off? If this does point to the programming be more right for the 15-24s – the next challenge becomes dragging more of them in.

I broke out the 15-19s, as the availability of this group is a core issue facing the industry. Since the pandemic, and RAJAR’s methodology change, 15-19s have seen a sharp drop. Before there were around 3million of them listening and now there’s 2million. A behaviour change or a quirk in the new way the numbers are collected? It is having a real world impact though, particularly for youth stations, who’ve lost a quarter or more of the broader 15-24 demo reach.

For stations like Capital it seems to have resulted in a programming switch with the addition of more older songs. Just having a scan through Radiomonitor – 24k Magic from Bruno Mars is their 46th most popular tune with 9 plays, and old tunes like Macklemore’s Can’t Hold Us and DNCE’s Cake by the Ocean are getting daily spins. A combination of a poor pop flow at the moment and, I would imagine, a desire to make up for the loss of 15-19s necessitates the station going older (as those 15-19s can’t seem to be dragged in).

The 15-19 problem isn’t just in the UK. I spoke to bosses from overseas youth stations who are finding it too difficult to program the music for this audience as the groups that like hip hop vs pop vs rock all heavily dislike the others, making it hard to create an appealing mix for this audience as there aren’t enough people to coalesce around any mic of music. For some they’re creating separate streams online and altering, like Capital, their main youth stations to be more older-focused.

Also, talking to an international radio researcher at Radiodays Europe, he agreed with me that the TikTokification of songs is also causing problems. Many tunes are churning in and out of TikTok faster than they can be researched and added for a radio station – making CHR sometimes seem out of line with the current zeitgeist. In addition, the trending TikTok tunes for 15-19s lack the familiarity for 20 to 24s and older.

The result is that its easier to abandon programming for the 15-19s and just concentrate on the easier to handle 20 pluses. I’m not sure though this is a great look for radio and its future.

Other things happening

Probably a sigh of relief at Times Radio towers as their reach rebounds to 703k (Q3: 637k, Q4: 502k). Sister station Talk Radio (now part of the hybrid Talk TV) jumps to 650k from 542k – its best ever figure. The question for them is whether the TV-powered changes help it build or actually interfere with the steady growth it has been making.

Capital Dance has been building a success story of its own with reach in Q3: 287k, Q4: 592k and now growing to 800k. Meanwhile sister station Capital Xtra Reloaded, a Kisstory spoiler, has had a troubled time. Its last reach figure was 277k. This has no doubt contributed to rumours its losing its national DAB slot. Typical as always then, that this quarter its jumped to 400k! What will replace it? Smooth Country is a station that’s not on national DAB yet, but then maybe another Heart spin-off could make an appearance too?

Something else that’s made an appearance is GB News Radio. A simulcast of the TV channel. It’s picked up a respectable first book of 239k, bearing in mind talkRADIO first started with 224k.

6Music however added a whole GB News to its figures, well, 244k, taking the station to its highest ever reach of 2.8m listeners.

With my Fun Kids hat on, we had a good book in London where we participate in RAJAR and are bigger, 10+, than the aforementioned GB News and Capital Dance, as well as the BBC Asian Network, talkSPORT2, Scala, Boom Radio and about 20 other stations. Well done team!

Other RAJAR reading: Do check out Adam Bowie’s blog who’ll have a comprehensive round-up, as will Radio Today.

AOB

Speaking of Radiodays Europe earlier in the post, that reminds me you can listen to a special episode of The Media Podcast we recorded at RDE. I catch-up with the Head of Radio 2, Helen Thomas, presenter Stephanie Hirst, Radiotopia’s Julie Shapiro plus Paul Robinson and James Cridland. Lots of good radio chat. Listen and subscribe.

Enjoyed this dive under radio’s hood? Been forwarded an email or clicking on a link? Well, I write about radio, audio and podcasts each week. You can subscribe for free here:

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If you’re a regular subscriber and enjoy getting it, do show it some love with a Tweet or LinkedIn mention. Like all radio stations, I’m keen to get my reach up too!

Smart speakers recorded, plus the troublesome 15 to 19s

More Confidence About Platforms

Hello from Malmö, which is hosting this year’s Radiodays Europe conference. There’s around 1,200 people here discussing radio, audio and podcasts.

I hosted a session with Linda Palmgren, the Bauer Media Sweden CEO, Sibyl Veil, the CEO of Radio France and Cathinka Rondan, the Head of Radio at NRK. Each gave a short view on the sector and what their own companies have been doing – and then we all sat down for a chat. It was quite a big room, thanks to Ann Charles for the pictorial representation…

The main thing that I noticed from the session, and from many of the others I saw, was that there was much more confidence in radio groups’ digital strategies. Particularly around distribution and third party platforms.

Five years ago the talk was far more about maximising distribution in places like Apple Podcasts and Spotify – going to where the listeners are. Now it’s far more nuanced than that. All the speakers in my session talked up the importance of their own platforms for data, increasing loyalty but also (for public broadcasters) the importance of getting attribution from the audience for the broadcaster’s work. Cathinka from NRK talked about many people not realising the material they’re consuming on Spotify is coming from NRK.

I think it also suggested far more confidence in their own app performance and being able to build real value for their audiences.

It wasn’t particularly about ignoring third party spaces, just being more strategic about how they’re used in a distribution/marketing mix.

Talking to other broadcasters on the sidelines I could clearly feel that their experience around digital audio, the data they’ve collected and also the research that they’ve conducted means their much more comfortable in their plans with far less second-guessing than I’ve previously seen.

It also suggests a movement away from some of the wild west attitudes to podcasting and digital audio. For many established broadcasters there’s definitely a more measured, considered approach. It will be interesting to see if this translates into more success.

Apple Podcast Subscriptions

The previous day I was on a panel discussing the future of podcasting. We talked about subscription opportunities for publishers and I said that I thought it was all a real mess. Apple’s options have the potential to be pretty good, but there’s limited merchandising meaning it’s difficult to explain and make your deals look attractive plus the content management with them is a chunk of extra work for podcasters (as you have to publish your podcast normally and then add extra audio and metadata on Apple’s own platform).

Particularly though, with different options for Apple, Spotify and other third parties, it makes it incredibly difficult to explain to listeners how to use it. With every platform being pretty different, the payment issues and the work arounds some require, means that for many publishers it’s all too much hassle than it’s worth.

In the podcast sessions most of the publishers that discussed taking part in Apple’s subscription system said they did it because it gave their shows more promotion rather than any real focus on generating paying subscribers.

However, perhaps that will start to change as Apple announced yesterday that they will be working with some podcast content management systems (Acast, Omny, Buzzsprout etc) to build in the ability for them to control the audio for publishers subscriptions feeds. This is eminently sensible. These enterprise solutions were always the best place to build the piping to enable easy deployment of the different audio/release times etc that the subscription products were built on.

More importantly though, it means that potentially these systems can send the premium audio to other subscription platforms too, like Spotify etc. This will greatly enhance the likelihood of publishers launching a subscription offer – as the CMS will end up reducing the complexity and friction.

There are still lots of issues around subscription – particularly the communication to listeners – but at least this is one development that’s good for publishers.

AOB

It’s been really great talking to lots of people here at Radiodays who are Media Podcast listeners. As some of you know, I’m pretty busy with the day jobs, but I really like doing the podcast and the newsletter, so having people say they read it or listen, does massively help me keep motivated to do them each week. Me and producer Phoebe are here recording some bits and pieces for next week’s show too.

Speaking of which, the latest episode of the Media Podcast has a good focus on streaming services, particularly Disney+, Netflix and C4’s YouTube deal. I talked with Heat Magazine’s Boyd Hilton and media consultant and writer Kate Bulkley all about it. I also caught up with Arlie Adlington to discuss the Multitrack initiative. Listen and subscribe here.

The big discussions at Radiodays Europe

Selling Audio and Radio

I was asked to speak at the inaugural event for the new Radiocentre Ireland last week. The organisation has been set-up to “promote strong, successful and brilliant commercial radio”.

Whilst independent radio has a well-established trade body in the IBI, Radiocentre Ireland brings together all the broadcasters that have advertising – so, yes, the traditional commercial sector, but also RTE, the public broadcaster – which takes advertising too.

Having a singular body promoting the benefit of advertising with its members is a good idea. Each group has its own unique properties it takes to market, but a good united body can sell the benefits of the medium.

It’s an interesting time for a new body to be set-up. Firstly it gets to sell the benefits of audio advertising across its members many properties. Yes, they are over-the-air broadcasters, but there’s also a digital audio offer and a mix of new media and experiential opportunities too.

But there’s also work to be done to sell the scale of commercial radio’s activities and the value of the market. Interestingly, up until now, no one knew how much revenue Irish radio took. If you’re an advertiser or an agency, are you spending more or less than your competitors? What would be the impact, positive or negative, of changing that? Without a shared understanding it’s hard to build. The first data should be released soon, and the expectation is that it’s going to be quite a bit higher than the market currently believes – which should help drive confidence in radio and digital audio. I was asked to do a turn about audio developments around the world, which ended up trying to reflect different organisations’ thinking and delivery. Most nbusinesses activity result from some form of market gap + internal skill + execution. There is rarely one size that fills all – even for companies that exist in different markets.Of course there are some over-arching themes, particularly that commercial broadcasters with strong sales relationships and large audiences can be well- placed to create significant digital audio businesses. Now, heritage businesses can sometimes be too late to the game, or have to spend to catch up, but their underlying activities put them in a good position. In the UK, Global’s DAX has become a key digital audio sales point and in the US both iHeart and SiriusXM (particularly through acquisition) have created strong integrated digital audio businesses. Whilst they may sometimes lack the sexiness of their Spotify-style competitors, they are good at creating new audio operations.

Ireland’s radio market has developed from one focused on strongly regulated local radio stations to something that added two national stations and a round of regional licences. Whilst there’s always been some corporate ownership, that has come more to the fore in the last few years with Newscorp owning seven stations across Dublin, Cork, Limerick and other areas and Bauer Media Audio Ireland now owning national stations Today FM and Newstalk alongside Dublin’s 98FM and two regional Spin stations. There also continues to be a range of local stations (some with common shareholders) and the public broadcaster RTE.

Bauer Ireland have developed an interesting digital offer, with a strong multi-platform sports product in OTB Sport, a digital ad-network AudioXI and a growing podcast operation with app Go Loud alongside a growing podcast network. Newscorp are using their radio stations to promote Irish-streams of Premier league matches with a version of talkSPORT as well as a Sun-branded true crime podcast. Local stations continue to own their areas, a strategy UK commercial radio has moved away from.

RTE, like many public broadcasters around the world, grapples with government funding unpredictability, a raft of new competition and a need to change and adapt faster than it is used to. For RTE which has commercial funding as part of the mix, it struggles with developing its offer whilst balancing its public position and commitments.

Having skipped DAB, which in many markets provides the learning slope to develop digital businesses and thinking, the challenge for Irish broadcasters is to scale up their digital ambitions (and reach) whilst growing their commercial radio business and fighting off new media competitors.

If they are successful with doing that, Radiocentre gives them a great platform to tell advertisers of their successes and the benefit of working with commercial radio broadcasters.

Irish Podcast Awards

One thing Irish audio creators, from commercial radio and further afield can do is shout about the great audio that they’re making. The inaugural Irish Podcast Awards allows them to do just that. It’s currently open for entries with a range of categories around content, sales and marketing.

AOB

On The Media Podcast this week, I caught up with Scott Bryan and Trevor Dann to talk about the latest on Channel 4, the ARIAS winners and the changes at the top at ITN and BBC Radio. Listen and subscribe.

Ireland’s new Radiocentre

TalkTV’s First Week

I’m intrigued by the Talk TV launch. News UK have taken the output of their digital radio station – Talk Radio – and used that for the basis of a new TV channel. The TV investment comes in prime time where they, currently, have three shows – a news programme with Tom Newton-Dunn at 7pm, a Sharon Osborne-led panel show at 9pm and their big signing Piers Morgan at 8pm.

As part of the launch the Talk Radio output has had a bit of a tidy up, with a re-jig of the presenters and a refreshed look.

For Piers Morgan, his TV show is also syndicated to Sky News Australia and Fox News’ streaming service – Fox Nation – as well as now appearing on what was Talk Radio.

I say what was, as the branding of the radio station is still a little confused. It seems to be referenced on-air by the presenters as “Talk TV from the Talk Radio studios”, in the jingles as Talk Radio, but also lots of Talk TV references too. As part of the re-launch the radio station has lost its website and had its social media rolled into Talk TV’s too.

For the radio station there’s a core gamble – will giving up the control to be subsumed into a new TV brand generate more awareness and audience than going alone? Or will the TV elements turn off the radio listeners?

I think all the constituent parts of Talk TV are pretty good. The radio has been visualised for a couple of years now, so they’re pretty well-practiced. The combination of Zoom’d in guests plus regular phone-in callers means the output is pretty content-rich. The new TV shows – Tom Newton-Dunn’s The News Desk, Piers Morgan Uncensored and The Talk with Sharon Osborne are well produced, easily outshining what something like GB News is doing.

The challenge for the TV channel is defining what it’s there to do, and who it’s for. The News Desk is solid and it has a good story count. Tom Newton-Dunn, without much hosting experience, comes across assured with gravitas, and as he gets more comfortable will likely relax into it and ‘own’ the programme more.

It does though lean into its own journalism (or that of its sister newspapers and radio stations) and that does question whether you’re watching the ‘real’ news or not. On the first day, a version of The Sun’s “Prince Andrew Lunged at Me” interview played out – something no other outlet chose to report on.

The Talk, notionally a Sharon Osborne fronted show is a little odd. Sharon seems to have a carer each night who does most of the difficult TV bits and is then dragged into the discussion at junctions. The rest of the panel rotates.

Sharon didn’t quite make a week as she had to return to LA to look after Ozzy who’d contracted COVID. When Vanessa Feltz covered it had far more zing.

In the US Fox News has The Five, a very successful panel programme – a big part the appeal comes from fixed characters who appear most nights. With rotating hosts its hard to care what their opinions are as you may never see them again.

In their prime slot is Piers Morgan. I think the clever thing about Piers is that with his editorial background, he’s pretty good at finding the right angles for stories, deciding when to go with the majority, or against it. He’s a controversialist, a personality and generates a response (good or bad) from the audience. A Marmite character like Piers has much more chance of ratings success than a vanilla one.

However, his success on GMB was also down to having a foil in the form of his co-host Susanna Reid. GMB, like radio, has learned that on breakfast shows having a cast of characters who different audience members can back, can be very useful, and keeps a whole family tuned in. Marmite personalities on their own can draw people in, but they’re easy to switch off too.

Watching his first week, I think there’s elements of gold, but what’s interesting is when he gets into specific subjects. The rallying against the woke brigade etc just gets a little repetitive.

What I was surprised by, again, was some of the story choices. We had about three mins on Disney’s (minor) campaigning against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida including a follow-up 5mins on it with US right-wing commentator Megyn Kelly. This is a very culture-wars topic, relatively complex to understand if you’re new to it, and something that hasn’t really cut across to the UK.

Similarly there was a chunk of Piers’ Trump interview about Hunter Biden’s laptop. Now as a tactic for engaging with the orange-one I can see why you would bring it up, but it was referenced again a few times in the week.

Perhaps it’s there to appeal to the US audience, but it shows up part of the tension of that show in having to appeal to multiple territories. When interviewed, Piers said that many stories, because of Twitter, are much more internationalised and therefore relevant to everyone. I’m not so sure.

The first week of ratings I don’t think would have surprised anyone. A strong-ish start, driven by Piers and then a drop over the week. The true thing is understanding where the base for the TV channel is, and that might take a few weeks.

As is the case now, digital numbers are squawked about:

Already as a radio-TV hybrid, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with News UK thinking about all the different touch points for their material. Indeed, the idea of ‘Talk’ being a content creation engine (as well as cross-promoter) is a sensible one. What it lacks at the moment is a real digital operation to support the material that it’s generating.

There’s some social clips, and YouTube catch-up, but if the desire is for the brand to be owning part of the zeitgeist, it needs to have a better way of flagging up what its doing. A content website would be a good start.

There’s a good three-part investigation into Tucker Carlson, and what has led to his success in the NY Times. Much of it is pretty depressing, but there is a good insight into how Fox News thinks about its brand and content. It has a very analytics-driven approach, looking at the minute-by-minute ratings and what resonates and particularly uses its own news-making content as features on other shows. In fact they have a whole department – Fox News Flash – that turns these stories into articles and social. Alongside this post-game content, there’s a planning producer looking over show content to help better create storylines across their main shows. You don’t have to agree with what they do, to understand the benefits of some of their structure and strategy.

One of the main challenges that radio, and TV channels like this face, is that the focus is on making the output and ensuring there is some – 24 hours a day! The hamster wheel means that the right amount of effort isn’t put into making the content travel or to turn occasional viewers into fans of the whole station.

As Talk TV settles down to what will initially be low ratings, the question will be whether it can rise to the challenge of both making and marketing its content and creating a coherent brand across the schedule. Can it create passionate viewers/listeners and extract maximum benefit from the efforts it’s putting in?

Useless Digital Operators, Part 3

News from Bloomberg’s Ashley Carman as Facebook’s pulling its podcast integration. It didn’t manage a year.

It’s something I’d written about last year where I finished by saying:

Like anything, success is in the execution. I’m yet to be persuaded Facebook will get the execution right. I guess we’ll see.

I think it’s a shame that they couldn’t get it together. Facebook would have been a great place to reach non-podcast listeners, particularly older ones.

AOB

A really good episode of The Media Podcast this week. I catch-up with The Guardian’s media editor Jim Waterson and City University emeritus professor Lis Howell to talk about the misogyny in the Westwood and Angela Rayner stories. Great insights from both, including Jim’s time in the parliamentary lobby. I also talk to journalist James Ball about Elon Musk’s Twitter take-over and free-speech. Have a listen.

The road to building a compelling brand