Smooth, what a scorcher!

I think it’s fair to say that the FM licence awards that Ofcom have presided over haven’t exactly set the ratings world on fire. Indeed many of the stations are somewhat, er, off plan, from what’s in the application documents.

However, one station has bucked this trend spectacularly and they’ve just had their first RAJAR figures published – Smooth Radio North East.

Originally licensed as Saga, it was acquired, with its brothers and sisters, by GMG and launched as Smooth on January 8th 2008. In its application to Ofcom it said, by the end of year one, it would have 11% reach (which they said would equal 219,016 listeners) and 10.5 average hours (equating to 2,229,773 total hours) which would produce a 6.1% share.

Bearing in mind they’ve still got six months to go, the station’s actual figures are a 13% reach (275,00 listeners) and 9 average hours, resulting in a total hours of 2,467,000 and a market share of 5.9%. This, in a competitive marketplace, is a truly astounding launch and easily one of the most successful in recent times.

Why do other stations do so badly with their own launches? I don’t think it’s one thing – it’s a combination.

The first thing is noise.

In the olden days, a new radio station launch was big news! With only four channels on the box , less than 10 on the radio dial and no internet, a new radio station massively enhanced the amount of media a listener had.

Now there’s millions of channels and seemingly something new launches every day, no one really cares if something’s appeared on 107.1FM anymore.

Then there’s competition.

You have to remember that, already, 90% of the UK listen to the radio, for an average of 24 hours. This means that they’re actually quite satisfied with what their hearing. Now, i’m not saying that it can’t be improved or that there’s something else they would like to hear, but getting them to move off their dial is hard. This is especially the case if you’re playing in the mainstream. Radio 1 and Radio 2 do an amazing job, producing high quality programmes with high value talent and with no ads! And they’re positioned tightly next to each other with one targeting 15 to 34s and the other targeting 35 to 55s. When you add on commercial radio and local BBC stations with heritage, it makes it a difficult play.

Telling people what you do….

…is also very hard. I think few station launches have managed to spend enough money and spend it well enough too. Bus backs and some telly is definitely not going to provide cut through today. And it’s unlikely to combat the things listed above.

So, how have Smooth done it?

From an outside perspective, they’ve got a number of things going for them. Firstly, they’re targeting a demographic that’s not particularly well catered for on the radio – over 45s – and they’ve got a music policy that has very little competition on FM (From 3pm yesterday – Dionne Warwick, Beatles, KC & the Sunshine Band, Stereophonics, Supertramp, Sad Cafe, Beach Boys and the Bellamy Brothers). They also have a brand position that’s cemented by a Ronseal name – Smooth. You know what that’s going to be – and then when you tune in, they deliver it. Well. Additionally they spent money. Lots. About a million quid, with plenty on TV advertising and they has the support of a good print partner in their parent company too.

Digital Radio Listening Update

No big changes on the digital front, across any of the platforms, but some good consolidation of figures post-Christmas and it’s also pleasing that Q1 wasn’t a too positive blip!

According to RAJAR: “Radio listening via a digital platform has also remained steady over the past quarter but has increased year on year. Data collected for Q2, 2008 reveals that 17.9% of all radio listening is now via a digital platform (cf. 12.8% in Q2, 2007), of which

* 11% is via DAB Digital Radio (7% in Q2/07 – 10.8% in Q1/08)
* 3.3% is via DTV (2.6% in Q2/07 and 3.2% in Q1/08)
* 2.0% is via the Internet (1.5% in Q2/07 and 2.1% in Q1/08)”

Source: RAJAR/Ipsos MORI/RSMB

An Evening in the BBC Council Chamber

Tonight I went to an event hosted by the BBC entitled “Learning To Talk: Blogs, Media and Accountabilty“. Chaired by the BBC’s Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan Jones, the panel consisted of BBC Internet Blog editor Nick Reynolds, Paula Carter (Viewers’ editor, Channel 4), Siobhain Butterworth (Readers’ editor, The Guardian) and Steve Herrmann, (editor, BBC News Online).

It was an interesting discussion that touched on the role of blogging in organisations but its main focus was how to react and interact with those who choose to engage with you.

I was fascinated by Paula Carter’s role at Channel 4. As part of her job as Viewers Editor at C4 she’s subscribed to a number of blog searches for C4 related topics and more interestingly one for ‘channel 4′. This means that she sees every blog post where people mention Channel 4 and will often reply to them, publicly, on Channel 4′s behalf. She also mentions that she forwards on relevant posts to Commissioning Editors and programme makers.

I think it’s great for someone like Channel 4 to engage in this way and providing the responses are filtered and fed back into the organisation it’s a great use of a viewers team resource.

It’s something similar that we do at Folder and MuxCo, where we try and engage in the places that talk about us. It’s also something that, at Folder, we do for clients who haven’t got the resource to do it themselves but want to be helped so that they can engage properly with their audiences on multiple platforms.

I asked a question about where you draw a line – do you reply to everything and engage in every discussion? As well as being time consuming I think that there can also be diminishing returns the more you get involved. It was interesting to hear that Paula’s line was drawn just above DigitalSpy – she read it, but hadn’t, as yet, joined in the discussion. It’s probably for the best.

Radio Festival Back Channel

I’ve been using Twitter for a while, it’s a microblogging tool that lets you post and access Facebook-status like updates on a selection of devices an applications. I’ve got quite a few friends on there and when you glance at the recent updates it’s nice to see what people have been up to. However, unlike FB status updates, Twitter users are a bit more active and if at a conference, or watching a TV show, they can be sending out lots of updates.

Off the back of Twitter, one of the services i’ve been using is Summize, a Twitter search engine that lets you see what people are saying about a certain topic. In fact after watching Doctor Who this week, Summize was the first place I went to see all the reactions to the cliffhanger.

Anyway, with Radio Festival coming up, I wondered if there was a way to combine Twitter and Summize to allow people to post and read comments from people who were there.

After a bit of playing I created an RSS feed of the phrase #radiofestival, I then set up a Radio Festival twitter feed – @radiofest08 – and then used twitterfeed.com service to push the updates from one to another. That way we grabbed the message of anyone who used #radiofestival in their post, but allowed anyone at all to follow the conversation on their mobile or at twitter.com/radiofest08.

Whilst this wasn’t a bad bluetack solution, Twitterfeed only updated every 30 minutes, which I thought might stunt the conversation a little – so after a chat with Dave – he amazingly (and quickly) knocked up some code that did the job every five minutes.

The result was brilliant – over 180 updates over the few days including some very funny posts and lots of people following along either through text, on the website or through a sidebar on Radio Today. One of the things that was great about it was how it was self supporting and generating, people took part as and when which gave it a great dynamic. Definitely something worth trying again.

What’s in a name?

Over at the One Golden Square blog, TIML’s branding consultants, Albion, have popped up a post asking for suggestions for Virgin Radio‘s new name.

I’ve been involved in radio stations naming before and it’s always a very difficult choice to make, especially as there’s no ‘right’ answers. For example, when you really think closely about the name ‘Galaxy’, it’s bloody awful. It’s cheesy, doesn’t say dance and it’s already the name of a chocolate bar. However, you don’t think about that, you think instead about the values that they’ve managed to apply to it and instead you feel it’s young, fun and vibrant.

Before I joined GWR they’d created two radio stations that launched in 1998 – Core and Planet Rock. Over the years both were really good radio stations, they were innovative, different and found an audience. One though, did much better than the other, by about five times – if you haven’t got it – it’s the one that’s still going with over half a million listeners – Planet Rock.

Both stations had cost similar amounts of money to make and they also has the same zero marketing budget. Now Core was a teen pop station, so it was always going to face more competition than one with a format that was first in the market – a pure Classic Rock station. Because of this my belief is that in a low marketing budget world, it’s the station name that has to sell it – and be quickly identifiable to a listener. With our Core example, if a listener was after some teen pop music and was scrolling through a digital radio dial and they saw ‘Core’, ‘The Hits’ and ‘Smash Hits’ which order would they choose to tune in?

This informed some of our thinking when we launching further radio stations, I remember the discussions over what was to become Chill. The two names that we got down to were Chill and Chiller (and I think my vote was actually for the losing Chiller – as I thought it would have been good to co-brand with a show on Classic FM and could fit some potential brand extensions).  We were also clearly aware that the new station would have no advertising or marketing budget so it would have to survive on its own. The downsides of plumping for ‘Chill’ was that we knew we’d have trademark problems and domain name problems, but we also knew that having a Ronseal (does exactly what it says on the tin) name like would be the ultimate descriptor for people who come across it on a channel list or EPG. It’s also an emotive name, and oddly one that hasn’t really been claimed, even in positioning, for any other brands

I think the Virgin Radio issue is slightly different to the impoverished Chill as TIML have earmaked £15m to spend to teach people about the new brand. As a serious amount of money they can do a great job teaching people the values of ‘Whatever’.

Indeed, with the commoditisation of much of music radio, I think it’s easy to argue that Virgin won’t need a Ronseal name, as the multi-platform-music-and-entertainment-brand nature of the new station will make it be bigger than merely being a MusicFormat FM.

However, in a multi-channel world, with everyone screaming for attention, I still think it’ll be a brave decision to go for a totally non-descriptive and purely creative name, no matter how much money you’ve got.