The Mood of the Nation

The death of the Duke of Edinburgh meant significant, instant changes, to the output of hundreds of radio stations and websites. With consumers used to choice and their favourites, many were surprised to be left without them on Friday afternoon.

‘Obit’ – the obituary policy – tends to get activated by most UK stations on the death of a category one royal (the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and the Duke of Edinburgh) or that of the Prime Minister. The plan tends to be to cancel or regular programming and replace it with content suitable for the mood of the nation.

Subscribe now

Much of this is steeped in history – and for the days when there was only a handful of TV and radio stations, what all good citizens were glued to.

It went hand in hand with the monopoly driven analogue media world. The stations reflected the mood of the nation, that they themselves had probably created.

Today’s Obit genuflecting is perhaps more driven by a fear of what the Daily Mail will say, rather than what it should be, which is reflecting the tastes of listeners or viewers.

Watching the reaction to the Duke’s death, many services seemed to follow their standard ‘category one’ royal plans – irrelevant of which of them had died.

Global seemed to have been practiced and prepared, with a combination of centrally delivered news bulletins, changes to the output of all of the stations as well as black versions of their social media logos and even pulling of their websites – all within minutes. Their spin-off services quickly started simulcasting their mother ships. Efficient undoubtedly but Dev emoting how he’ll miss the Duke on Heart seemed a little odd.

The BBC somewhat abruptly pushed all of its stations into simulcasting a special Radio 4 programme for much of the afternoon. Radio 1’s later return to controlling its own output included instrumental versions of softer pop songs and Newsbeat. Much to the annoyance of many of their followers on Twitter.

On the telly the BBC’s channels went mostly all news, whilst BBC Four brought back a (sombre) test card. Apparently it generated 30k viewers.

Listening to Radio 2 on Sunday it perhaps wasn’t a surprise to hear Michael Ball speak softly whilst playing the old Radio 2 playlist and reading out emails of that time listeners met the Duke. Yes they’re the audience who feel closest to the Royal Family, though I’m not sure how it really fits in with their ‘mood Mums’ strategy.

Networking shared grief isn’t something that only happens with mass media either. We went along to a local church service, as a family member was reading the homily about the Duke of Edinburgh, but on chatting afterwards the service was one that had been prepared by the Church of England and distributed to all churches – with points for local elements and opt outs!

Whilst broadcast network output I’m sure provided comfort to many, the TV ratings do show a different story. BBC One where the nation generally turns to for such things, was down 6% on the previous Friday night. BBC Two simulcasting the News Channel (something available to all TV homes anyway) lost 65% of its viewers and ITV was down a similar 60%. Channel 4 kept some of its schedule amongst a few specials, saw a 8.5% decline whilst Channel 5 which kept mainly to its regular schedule was rewarded with a 2% bump.

The BBC’s 6 O’Clock News was the highest rated programme of the night with 4.6m viewers (though it was simulcast on BBC One, Two and the News Channel). The second highest was Gogglebox on Channel 4 with 4.2m. Perhaps telling a truer story of the nation’s interest.

I think there really is a question about whether we’re still reflecting the mood of the nation if most choose to watch (or listen) to something else.

Whilst being respectful about someone important to the country and to many of its citizens is `generally a good thing, I’m not sure that blanket coverage and doing it on stations with consumers who have much less of an interest, is really doing a good job for audiences.

God save the Queen. Please don’t send me to the Tower.

Subscribe now

Is it time to re-think an age old tradition?

Permission to Break Format

Commercial radio gets a lot of unfair criticism. I grew up professionally in it, so perhaps I always feel that chip on the shoulder.

Many of the things that are spoken about negatively are conversely the things that can make stations successful – tight music rotations, speed links and research-driven content policies.

Much of why these things work on the radio can often get misconstrued as unbreakable rules. Even people who work in the sector often do the things – but don’t understand why they’re there in the first place.

These tactics are just some that are used to achieve the strategy, they’re not a means to an end.

Read more…

Suddenly Losing Your Listeners

The pandemic has made us all change. And not just because of the length of our hair.

Whether it’s Zoom, using Amazon Prime, Disney+ or interacting more with the Smart Speaker, the pandemic has been an accelerant. None of these things existed because of Coronavirus, but their utility was certainly enhanced by it.

Indeed, I expect sans pandemic, the growth curves of all of these things would have been steady, but the last 12 months has probably meant they jumped ahead 12 quarters. Zoom made a $16m pre-tax profit in 2019 and a $660m one in 2020.

Read more…

Opening Super Followers’ Wallets

My mind is still pretty pre-occupied with thoughts about content, talent and subscription. I think this is a combination of Apple/Spotify’s upcoming subscription podcast thing, a really interesting post on ‘Sovereign Writers’ from Ben Thompson and some questions I was asked about this newsletter by Simon Owens on his Creator Collab Substack.

Talent has always been something that’s in-demand by media owners. Investing in talent generally comes from either supporting someone up and coming (and incurring the cost of money and time to get them where you want them to be) or by paying more for someone that has something that you would like. The general business analysis is whether that investment gives a better return than if you continue with an existing operation.

I’d probably argue that media operations (like all jobs) also have a lot of people who fulfil a function that other people, with some training, could also do. Not talentless, but not often part of the talent equation.

Read more…

Follow, Don’t Subscribe

James Cridland does not tend to overstate things or resort to clickbait for his must-read daily podcasting news email – Podnews. So, when he tweeted:

….it definitely resulted in an eyebrow raise.

The news was what could be seen as just a minor change in a podcasting app – but the repercussions are significant.

Apple Podcasts, which is still the core podcast consumption app, is changing the ‘subscribe button’ to a ‘follow button’.

This is the button that signals you want to receive every new episode of a show. It’s also what nearly every podcast in the world uses to encourage their listeners to subscribe to the show.

Read more…

Moving The Needle

Radioplayer yesterday announced a partnership with BMW.

In the press release is this line:

The partnership will see BMW Group using official broadcaster metadata from Radioplayer’s Worldwide Radioplayer API (WRAPI) to help create a brilliant radio interface.

It seems quite innocuous, but it’s something that’s hugely powerful.

Radio is the legacy occupant of the car. It’s been the key to in-car entertainment since 1924, when Kelly’s Motors in New South Wales, Australia installed the first car set. In the 1930s if you wanted an after-fit in your shiny new Ford Model A, you’d be paying $540 for the car, and another $130 for the radio.

Read more…

Bauer, Ireland and the digital future?

Bauer have got their cheque book out again, but this time they have abandoned our fine shores to bunk up with the Irish. They’ve acquired Communicorp Media, the owner of the two national commercial stations Today FM and Newstalk, Dublin’s 98FM, the two Spins and some digital assets too, all for a purported €100m (about £85m). Communicorp’s UK operation (FM stations that, in the main, licence Global’s brands) remains unaffected.

Ireland is an interesting market. Radio’s popular with consumers there, and the fact RTE has advertising too, means pretty much the whole population can be reached through radio – which makes a difference to its share of the country’s advertising Euros.

It’s also heavily regulated, with a limited number of FM radio stations and no real DAB roll-out. If you walk into a station there’s often 30 or 40 people there, with a strong news team and little networking or automation. RTE have national stations, but don’t provide the local competition that say, the BBC does in the UK.

Read more…

Spotify’s Podcasting Expansion

Yesterday’s StreamOn, a 90-minute presentation from Spotify extolled the virtues of its streaming audio world. Alongside digs at radio, music stores and the digital advertising market, Spotify positioned their platform as the perfect place for artists, podcasters, advertisers and listeners. Good news for all, except perhaps other middlemen.

The event covered a lot of ground – the expansion of its service to 80 more countries and 36 languages, HD audio, new advertising and promotional opportunities for music companies, more products for advertisers and a range of podcast initiatives, including a new Spotify Original podcast series with Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen. I’ll be disappointed if neither does a Squarespace read.

On the podcasting front there’s a few interesting things for creators to think about.

Read more…

Global and Bauer’s Busy Week

Both Global and Bauer were newsworthy last week for some recent corporate developments. Global’s family owners have purchased a share of the US iHeartMedia and Bauer plan to remove Absolute Radio from the London FM airwaves, replacing it with their new station Greatest Hits Radio (GHR).

Bauer’s portfolio management continues to be ever-evolving. GHR replaced many heritage local radio stations late last year, building the network out to a significant size. It did, however, lack a sizeable outlet in London – historically important to ad agencies to demonstrate your station is a big player – as well as an opportunity to garner more audience.

This has been corrected with an application to Ofcom to swap out Absolute Radio from 105.8 and replace it with GHR.

Read more…

Are Your Listeners Just Button Pushers?

All radio stations are not created equal. Talent, content budgets, marketing, positioning, distribution, coverage and heritage all vary. For stations to grow, these elements have to exist in the right quantities, alongside a decent dollop of luck too.

Like anything, we often analyse failure but rarely interrogate success. We’re so relieved that something’s gone well, we just celebrate it. For disaster on the other hand, we have post-mortems, lessons learned and blame storming sessions. It seems that’s probably the wrong way round. Understanding why something works is probably significantly more valuable.

For a few years I had a standard section I trotted out when I went to speak at radio conferences around the world. It was a good ‘bit’ because pretty much every market in the world was the same, and audiences could (hopefully) relate to what as I was saying. I also got to have a bit of a go at the audience, always fun, before I then won them all back. Mostly.

The bit talked about how in the analogue world I felt that most stations had put way too much emphasis on their success coming from their programming, and less about how they were usually the monopoly provider of a format, sitting on a platform with virtually no competition. That perhaps really they weren’t the best at what they were doing, and just merely the least worst option.

Read more…