Over Catering for Your Listeners

In America they’ve changed the way that they measure the number of people tuning into a radio station. Like the UK they’ve been using a diary system, this is where listeners tick a box for each quarter hour of a station that they’re listening to. It’s not exactly scientific, but at least everyone has the same system. Except, it doesn’t really work like that. As the diary is measured on recall, after the fact, it’s maybe not exactly accurate. ‘Heritage’ stations tend to better, as people can remember them; smaller stations, especially ones that people flick onto when they’re not happy with their main station don’t tend to get recalled so their listening isn’t measured so well. Hence the reason that a lot of stations constantly repeat their names – they’re just reminding the diary holders what to tick. There’s also lot of other pros and cons about diaries, but maybe that’s for another post.

Well, in some US markets they’ve changed to something called PPM, basically it’s a little pager device that you carry that listens to what you listen to, it’s therefore thought by some to be much more accurate. Nothing’s ever going to be 100%, but one thing it does do is give you more information, like ratings by the minute, and it delivers it quicker back to the stations.

There’s some interesting new learning that’s coming from PPM, one is that a smaller number of listeners than previously thought provides a disproportionate amount of a station’s hours. Therefore keeping these super-P1s interested is going to become even more important for every station.

What reminded to write about this, was watching Radio 1’s 40-year anniversary show today. I say, watch, because they’re streaming today live in vision, with the audio from the radio station. Throughout the day lots of old DJs are popping in and co-presenting shows so they’ve decided it’s worth going video for the day. It’s also more than a streaming webcam, they’ve got three fixed cameras, but there’s also a vision mixer cutting between the three and occasionally popping up titles for guests etc. It’s surprisingly compelling and not just because i’m a radio geek.

Whether the presenters are dancing along to a song, giving a little wink when they say something or giving evils to their producer it really makes you interested in watching. I’m typing this whilst a record is on, and then stopping to look at them when they’re chatting in a link. Radio is, of course, excellent as wallpaper letting you do something else while it’s on, but sometimes people don’t want to just to hear they want to be a bit more engaged and to properly listen. Anything, like this TV streaming, that can satisfy their consumption desires is a good thing. Especially for the station which will benefit from their listening hours.

It’s also the type of thing that will really help stations in this new PPM world, by catering for the desires of the core audience, the extension of their listening will drive total hours. This, and other web-based things, are also good because they don’t exclude the P2s or other listeners who occasionally stop by for other reasons as it doesn’t clutter the station with unnecessary speech and promos.

If you only had to worry about your core audience, what would you change at your station?

New Horizons – My Slight Job Change

Many of you know that I left GCap in March this year to go ‘freelance’. At the time it seemed a very scary thing to do, but a week into my new life and I couldn’t have been happier. Over the last six months I’ve had more than enough work to do and it’s been fun working with a much more diverse range of companies than I expected.

At the same time my old colleague Gregory Watson was setting up his own firm with a focus on creating a digital radio multiplex business – MuxCo. Whilst working with him on a project he asked me whether I would consider joining as a partner to help expand his operations into some different new media areas and provide some support to the company’s digital development.

It seemed a great opportunity to consolidate the work I’d been doing and make it part of something bigger, that I had a shareholding in. I’m very pleased to therefore become the Creative Director of Folder Media. Media Week wrote about it here.

When I’ve met people and told them about the change, I’ve always had to explain the structure as it’s a bit confusing. Lots of people know what MuxCo is, if you’re not one of them, well – it’s a company that’s applying for new digital radio licences across the country. In each area that’s advertised by Ofcom, MuxCo generally works with local radio stations to create a consortium that bids for the licence. If MuxCo wins the licence, it means the smaller operators get back some of the money they’re investing in making their services digital by getting a dividend back from the operation of a multiplex. It’s not a particularly new idea – the big radio groups have been doing that since DAB started! We’ve had some good luck already and have won licences in Wrexham and Chester and Hereford and Worcester with hopefully some more to come. MuxCo is, in turn, majority owned by Folder Media.

Folder Media is the company that me and Gregory own alongside a few other investors. Its purpose is to help develop new platforms (like these DAB multiplexes) and to build new services on top of them. It also acts as a consultant and service provider to a range of different companies.

Already we’ve worked with big radio groups, like UTV who we’re helping run their multiplexes down to new companies who are interested in putting a radio station on Sky. We’ve also been giving some social media advice and helping build new technology like Facebook applications. Obviously, if you need a hand with anything, you know where I am…

But it’s great to hear that I’m not the only one who’s got a new job. Congratulations to Mike and Emma Newman who are joining XFM South Wales as PC and Head of Music, respectively. And also congratulations to Helen Grimes who’s become the new PC at Fox FM in Oxford too. Good luck to you all!

Google and Sirius

Some interesting posts abound that Google is interested in purchasing US satellite radio outfit Sirius (or maybe even the combined XM/Sirius). Pretty much as soon as the rumour came out everyone was dismissing it, however I think there’s some corporate sense in doing a deal. And that’s because satellite radio allows data and advertising distribution to consumers.

Collectively XM/Sirius have 16m subscribers each paying at least $10/month to receive 150-odd nationwide radio stations, some music stations are ad-free but the rest have some spots and sponsorship – that’s two revenue streams. Ads are important as Google’s been developing AdSense for Audio a radio spot selling business stemming from their purchase of dMarc in 2005. In fact XM has been a partner with Adsense selling ads on their stations already.

If you’re selling airtime, one of the main things you need is inventory, and there’s bucket loads of it on satellite radio. Some commentators say that this would annoy their terrestrial partners, I think regular radio has enough to worry about. If the cheque’s big enough they’ll happily take Google’s money.

In addition, Google’s desire for more location based advertising is a perfect fit with satellite radio. Different ads and in audio, video and text based on where you’re car is? Yes please say they advertisers.

As well as providing radio stations, satellite allows the operators to broadcast great chunks of data to mobile vehicles. This also fits into Google’s recent strategy of getting hold of more over-the-air bandwidth. Whether it’s back seat TV for YouTube or business-to-business applications, data over the air is a good business to be in too.

Digital Promotion

I’ve just had a read of Mark Ramsey’s post explaining that the US commercial radio trade body has arranged a programme on QVC demonstrating and selling HD Radios. It’s then using a radio airtime bank to plug the TV show. In the post, Mark suggests that maybe it’s bad to use this freebie time to promote QVC.

I couldn’t disagree more.

People take on messages better when they have multiple media telling them about it. Indeed, the RAB’s work show’s the effectiveness of radio’s multiplier effect. Listeners also don’t think it’s bad when someone they trust tells them to consume something else, somewhere else, especially if it’s something they might be interested in. This trust means they come back to the place that sends them away

The best way to sell digital radio (of any flavour) is to let people experience it, play with it and understand it. This is something that’s hard to completely do on the radio. Radio’s great about reminding people about something, building perception and encouraging listeners to do something. TV’s good because it lets viewers see the devices, the very things that they’re going to have to look for in Best Buy or Currys. It also allows them to learn about the features and the kind of things that the digital radio does.

If I was a music station programmer I know that we could build people’s perceptions of HD Radio with liners that remind people about it and ads that a little more aggressively push it. I’d also be happy producing new radio output so I can sell the content benefits of having HD (tune into Station Xtra and get the concert live with highlights on Station FM) but i’d always be concerned about the clutter of going into more detail. What I would welcome would be the opportunity of pointing people to web/telly/in-store demos so they can find out more at places that will best serve their level of interest.

I think to push digital radio, stations should be willing to barter even more to grow the noise about the medium. If growing HD Radio is a true objective for US radio then it needs to increase its airtime bank even more and to hire more people who can do deals like this.