OFT’s Report on the GCap/Global Merger

The OFT have just published their full report into the Global and GCap merger. It’s a bit of a slog through 90-odd pages, but there’s some interesting things in there about the nature of radio today. You can also see that the OFT don’t know the difference between the word ‘licence’ and ‘license’.

Reasoned analysis to follow, but in the short term, for the anoraks, I thought i’d paste this bit – point 49:

49. The parties plan to undertake the following:

(i) Marry Globals brands and GCaps geographic scope.

Globals strategy is to develop near-national coverage for its Heart brand as well as greater coverage for the Galaxy brand. GCaps well known stations are associated with a particular area and therefore are not appropriate to develop a national brand. Global intends to use cost savings achieved through the merger to re-brand the majority of GCaps heritage stations, refocusing those stations towards the standard Heart/Galaxy demographic. The parties submit that this operation will result in a better offering for both listeners – who will be able to listen to Heart throughout the South of England and the Midlands, and for advertisers – who will be able to advertise across the whole or part of the Heart/Galaxy network, with a better understanding of the product and the audience demographic across the network.

(ii) Refresh and refocus GCap core city stations.

Certain of GCaps stations, in particular those that are located in large cities which have the capability of supporting a truly local station, will not be re-branded. Instead, Global intends to refocus these core assets towards more targeted demographics. Again, the parties submit that this will benefit listeners and advertisers, both of whom will have a better understanding of what to expect from the station.

(iii) Set up national network programming with quality presenters and at the same time, retain the local character

Global intends to broadcast the same programme across its entire network of stations*, leading to costs savings on production and higher quality product and presenters. At the same time, Global will ensure that the local character of the re-branded stations is retained, in order to preserve the loyalty of the local audience and provide a platform for local advertisers. Local features such as news, weather and traffic will be retained, as well as some local programming.

* The parties have informed the OFT that in fact, networked programmes will be broadcast only across the Heart network, and separately across the Galaxy network, at certain times of the day.

The BBC and Series Stacking – An Alternative View

I first noticed on Mashable today the story about the BBC allowing series stacking of their shows. Series Stacking is basically allowing people to watch, on-demand, a whole series of shows rather than just something in the last seven days. The article sort of lambasts the BBC for only just seeing the light and now hoping that other brodcasters will follow. That’s a bit unfair to the BBC as ‘series stacking’ has been in the proposals from the beginning and it’s only just been launched.

I have some history with this one. When I worked at another place, I worked with commercial radio’s trade body, the RadioCentre, to help them respond to Ofcom’s Market Impact Assessment on the iPlayer (and maybe even wrote a response on behalf of my old company – I can’t find it online though).

iPlayer is undoubtedly a huge success and has transformed people’s consumption of media. I know it’s changed mine. The BBC has been able to apply its limitless resources (well, limitless when compared to mortal commercial organisations) to ensure this success. Hey, and lets even skip over the fact that they said the bandwidth usage would be minimal as we’d all be using the p2p player…ahem…

Anyway… for me the key argument for limiting some of the elements of iPlayer was that it places a value, for consumers, on video and audio content of zero. If I can get any BBC show, radio or tv, from whenever, it means that there are more and more opportunities for me to not sit through shows with adverts or pay to download any audio/visual content from other broadcasters.

This is problematic for commercial broadcasters, who only exist because of those annoying commercial messages. Or for high-quality producers like HBO who fund their programmes through subscription.

There’s two responses to this argument and it’s usually “i’ve paid for this content, I should be able to see it/hear it whenever I want” and “commercial broadcasters should just make better programmes”. Whilst I agree with the first, the second is a difficult one.

Broadcasting is in flux, especially TV. We are transitioning into an on-demand/live event environment. In the ‘future’, whenever that is, it’s likely that most pre-recorded programmes will be consumed on-demand – why after all should we have to watch Doctor Who at 7pm Saturday (with some BBC Three repeat options)? Just make it available from 7pm on Saturday, a time that I may choose to watch. Live events, whether that’s the FA Cup or the Big Brother final will be consumed, naturally, in a more live manner.

As we transition further and ratings start to get higher for on-demand and lower for broadcast, the economics for commercial TV changes. Channels will start to pre-fund series partly on expected broadcast ad revenue and partly on predicted on-demand fees and advertising. Indeed we’re partly starting to see that with shows that are re-commissioned based on their DVD sales.

This then becomes difficult if the BBC’s pegged the price that consumers are willing to pay at zero.

Commercial TV simply won’t be able to fund as many programmes as it does at the moment, it definitely won’t be able to take chances on new ideas and specialist, long tail shows, won’t be commissioned. It’s always easy to dismiss commercial TV as ‘crap’, especially if you’re an AB 25-44 University-educated person, you don’t however represent all viewers.

I think it’s also bad for the BBC. Competition is good in most markets and it does keep people on their toes to try and make better things. The collapse of commercial television will not help ensure the BBC continue to make interesting, different and high quality shows.

At the moment a limited number of live BBC channels compete with a much larger selection of commercial channels. This is sort of the circa 1990s multi-channel trade off, commercial TV has ads – but there’s hundreds of channels of content to choose from to compete against the well-funded ad-free smaller selection of BBC ones.

iPlayer’s eventual evolution will remove all the BBC’s capacity constraints, a BBC Redux, if you will. We’ll start to see not only the regular BBC channels (One to Four, Kids, News and Parliament) but a myriad of different ‘virtual’ channels. BBC Gardening – playlisting shows that fill the niche or BBC Ross – playlisting programmes that include people that can’t pronounce their Rs. At the same time the iPlayer will provide a searchable, playable, ad-free achive of every recent show. All surrounded with suggestions of what BBC content to watch next. Commercial TV doesn’t stand a chance.

Now, for a licence-fee payer everything i’m saying is heretical. I want all 13 episodes of Doctor Who and I want them now! Now, i’m not arguing that it’s a great service – it is! It just has a knock on effect that will, in the longer term, leave us all poorer.

Being In Touch With Your Audience

Last week thousands of teenagers were celebrating (or commiserating) when they received their GCSE results. The main media story, as always, talked about how the exams were just getting easier, hence the record results.

Radio 1 did a great spin on the GCSE results by making a handful of the DJs take a maths exams themselves and reading out the results on air. Other radio stations have done this before, but the clever execution, as always, is in the detail. By doing the escape with a few different DJs, both on air and online, they held a mirror to their audience and said ‘we understand what you’ve just done and how hard it really is’.

It was also turned into a good traffic-generating website feature, which you can see below:

4Music and The Hits

4Music Screengrab

Tonight, The Hits TV channel bites the dust and regenerates, Doctor Who style, into the Channel 4 branded 4Music. It’s the culmination of a deal last year where EMAP (now Bauer) sold a half share in its music TV channels (The Box, The Hits, Magic TV, Kiss TV, QTV and Kerrang TV) to Channel 4.

The Hits was a great property partly because of its distribution, it’s one of only two music channels on the Freeview platform. However, music TV, like radio, has found its lunch being somewhat eaten by online and mobile, who can deliver more targeted videos to users. This has therefore seen music channels (MTV, TMF etc) morph into music entertainment channels.

It also makes sense for the Hits to re-emerge with a stronger brand – Channel 4 – with all the access to their music programming and festival coverage. I imagine it’s also a boon for Channel 4 Sales as their music programmes – JD Set, Nokia Green Room, Transmission with T Mobile – (all ad supported from the start) – can now have lots and lots and lots of impact-generating repeat airings on 4Music.

There’s also going to be an interesting knock-on to a radio station as well – the one called The Hits.

The Hits is the most successful digital radio station in the UK. It’s on DAB in London and on digital TV and online around the UK. It’s a good CHR station and carries some of Bauer’s networked programmes, like the excellent In Demand.

There is a concern in some quarters, however, that The Hits Radio does disproportionately well in RAJAR because of some mis-attribution of listening to consumption of the TV channel. The re-brand of The Hits TV to 4Music is therefore going to be an interesting test to see how it’s going to affect The Hits Radio’s audience and certainly one for radio broadcasters and advertisers to keenly watch!

The other thing that’s intersting to watch is how this launch fits in with Channel 4 Radio’s strategy. Are we likely to see 4Music Radio perhaps being the Pure 4 channel that they proposed for their digital multiplex line-up?

Twitter Upsets Users – Again

I’m a big fan of micro-blogging service Twitter. It’s one of those hard to explain, great to use services that just need to play with to get going. Basically, think Facebook status but updatable via web, sms, IM and apps and receivable via web, sms, IM and apps. Well, in the US anyway.

You see Twitter hasn’t been able to do deals with all the world’s mobile carriers and has therefore shut off the receiving of SMS updates everywhere except Canada, India and the US. As the startup has yet to go public on a business model it’s keen to conserve the cash on paying for all those SMSes.

Personally, i’m not so bothered. If you use the service to communciate with other people, you turn the SMS updates off after you’ve added about 20 followers otherwise your phone never stops going. The main people it’s harming is the ones who probably just use it for free SMS updates from newsfeeds that they’re interested in. And you could say that their use probably isn’t at the core of the service.

What this does show is that it’s always difficult to cease a service that you’ve been providing for people, even if it’s free – there’s bound to be a backlash. The interesting thing with this one is that, reading the Get Satisfaction page on the issue, the main loss is actually notifications of direct messages and the fact that there wasn’t any warning about the service ceasing.

Direct Messages are messages that are sent to you directly rather than publicly – it’s normally from people who’ve seen you ask a question who aren’t neccessarily close enough to have your mobile number, or who can easily send them (probably through a twitter client). It would be interesting to see the percentage of SMSes that are from these direct messages, I would imagine it’s less than 1%, but its valued hugely by the regular user base.

There’s also some desire from users to pay for the privilege of receiving messages. In the UK reverse billed SMS is very easy to setup – if there’s demand why not do it? It might even pay for all those direct messages.

It’s another good example of the importance of having a conversation with your users on what’s happening. Whilst blogging or emails aren’t going to reach everyone, they’re likely to reach the power users who will cause all the fuss. There even might be some suggestions that make the final transition a bit healthier.

TV Adverts for Radio Stations

The One Golden Square blog has just put up some of the old Virgin Radio adverts, all of which are bit, er, fail.

It’s hard to find many decent commercials for radio stations, but after an email from Sam this morning about the new Radio 1 line-up I was trying to find the advert for Dave Pearce’s Dance Anthems that’s a some ‘youths’ in a car. I couldn’t find it, so please leave a link in the comments if you can!

What I did find was a collection of the ‘As It Is’ commercials from Radio 1’s Bannister-era re-launch. These are great!

XM/Sirius Merger

So, XM and Sirius, the US satellite radio operators have now merged so they can get on with combining their operations and their losses – a mere $83m for the last quarter. Phew. And some people think the UK radio industry’s in a bad way!

There’s a really interesting interview with Mel Karmazin – the new XM Sirius boss – at Orbitcast here. He was previously the boss of Sirius and the interview is 30 minutes of him talking to the main talent at XM – it’s really entertaining and a great way to understand some of the challenges that radio and premium content face.

Number 10 Relaunches Website

The digital communications team at Downing Street (led by ex-LBC MD Mark Flanagan) have just relaunched the Number 10 website – probably the most public facing of Government websites. It looks like it’s the culmination of a number of online initiatives that the team have been working on over the last few months.

Earlier in the year we started to see Number 10’s twitter feed, pictures on Flickr and a revitalised YouTube channel. The new site carefully combines this dynamic information, the bread and butter background to previous PMs and such, alongside a blog like news feed. Indeed, the site is managed using blog software – WordPress (the same system I use to publish the blog).

Often some of the clients I talk to worry about using third party sites (like YouTube) to be part of their web infrastructure. As well as the reliability of these services there are also concerns that it’ll reduce the valuable number of page impressions their sites get. My stock response is that people return to websites that send them away. Indeed the extreme example is Google – I return because they send me to the best places for me – not just for them.

Using Flickr and YouTube also exposes your brand and your web content to people who would not normally find it, or you. For example they’ll probably come across your pictures because of the content, rather than who has made it, but then they might want to find out more about you, the people who did produce it.

Using WordPress and following blog-like design theory gives the Downing Street site the momentum that many sites lack. Now, i’m sure that the actual amount of ‘new’ content hasn’t changed much, but the emphasis has greatly and this makes the site, and the site’s owner, seem much more dynamic.

If your radio station was to change its focus, like Downing Street has changed its, how would your site and your station be perceived by your listeners?