Pictures on the Radio

Pure Pic

A new radio was announced by the lovely people at Pure today – the Pure Sensia.

It’s a rugby ball of a radio with some great features. It can handle DAB, FM and Streaming (through The Lounge). It will also play music across your home wi-fi.

The interesting thing about it is it’s designed to be a very tactile device – from both the form factor but also how you navigate. It takes inspiration from the iPhone/Touch and allows elements to be selected and scrolled in a now familiar way. It also shares with Apple an app store. They’ll be providing an SDK to allow people to write applications that will sit on the unix-powered device alongside weather, twitter and facebook apps that Pure have written themselves.

The radio side also has another innovation – RadioVis. RadioVis allows radio stations (FM, DAB or internet) to associate their programmes with slides. The radio, using RadioDNS, looks up where it should get these slides from and then connects over the internet to fetch and display them on a QVGA screen. This is a good thing.

It’s good because it allows radio stations to control their own brand and deliver images in a simple way. It also allows them to deliver these things once, in one format. There will be many devices released that support RadioDNS over the coming months – and they’ll all take the same RadioVis picture feed. It looks great.

It’s the kind of thing that you expect to have. We all carry devices with us that have screens that provide information and entertainment, the fact that radio traditionally doesn’t have this content will seem more and more odd. The images that a station provides whether online, in an iPhone app or through RadioVIS is important. It helps define who you are what kind of station you are. And I don’t mean a ‘rock station’. It shows whether you’re the kind of radio station that cares enough about its listeners to provide information about who’s on, what you’re playing, what’s coming up, pictures of guests – that sort of thing.

Our firm, Folder Media, now provides a RadioViS service for many of our client radio stations including Jazz FM and NME Radio as well as our own station, Fun Kids. We’ve also been helping out a couple of other stations to get their pictures up and running as well. In fact, we’re providing a third of the stations currently broadcasting RadioVIS – other stations broadcasting pictures are Global’s Capital, Classic, XFM, Heart, Galaxy and LBC and the three stations from Absolute. It’s been fun, and stressful, finding out how it all works, but we’re now working on providing a range of tools and services to make it even more relevant to listeners.

As I said before, it’s what listeners are going to expect us to deliver.

Going Viral

This blog has been a little neglected recently. It’s been around, in different forms, for a number of years, but it probably really hit its stride from the end of 2007 for about a year. This coincided with leaving GCap (now Global) and having more time to write. Not working for a big radio group also allowed me to talk a bit more openly about radio, and generally be a bit more interesting.

This last year at Folder Media and through our acquisition of Fun Kids i’ve been much busier. I’ve also been more involved with radio industry things that if you’re in, you can’t really talk about. For example, it’s hard to do a post about the industry’s co-ordinated response to Digital Britain when you’re part of it.

The blog’s also become a bit tumbleweed-y because of Twitter. Twitter offers a quick way to get an opinion out, try and be funny or release some information. Pre-twitter they’d be things that you might talk about in a blog post, but now when tweeted, there seems less impetus to write them up.

I’m therefore trying to do a few more regular posts.

My last one – Commercial Radio Bleating – has been my best performing posts in ages. It wasn’t at all designed to be, but looking back, it did, inadvertently do a number of things that makes something ‘go viral’. Therefore I thought it might be interesting to talk a little about how that happened and come up with some tips that might get your content (whether it’s personal, your radio station’s or something else) more views.

1. It was written with passion. Nicky’s tweet really did annoy me. It covered a topic that meant something to me, and something I felt that I could write about.

2. (I hope) it was informative. It added something to the conversation – there are new ‘facts’, it tries to be fair-minded, but there’s a strong argument in there too. Also, whilst a fair argument it leaves open many things that you could disagree with.

3. It speaks directly to the audience. My blog audience is very very specific. Generally it’s people who work in, want to work in, or follow radio. To many of them it strikes at the core of their radio world – being ‘BBC’ or being ‘commercial’. It’s very easy for most of the readers to have an opinion about it.

4. It was posted on a Tuesday evening at 8.34pm. Again, nothing intentional, but I think this meant it entered an interesting cycle. When I publish a new post three things happen.

Firstly, it publishes it to mattdeegan.com on the front page. This means anyone coming to the site will see it. However – this is far less important than it used to be. Generally, not many people bookmark a load of homepages that they cycle through them when they have five minutes. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s not as if there are people madly refreshing to see if i’ve written something new. Indeed, because i’ve been posting much less recently, my just-stopping-by traffic has dropped quite a lot.

The second thing that happens is that it updates my RSS feed. This means that people who subscribe to the site using an RSS Reader will see the post the next time that they log in. Around 300 people subscribe to my RSS feed and I imagine that over half them will probably see it within 24 hours. This, in itself gives the post a decent amount of momentum. Also, people who use RSS Readers tend to be a little more in the opinion-former category, so they’re probably more ‘important’ in spreading an idea than regular website visitors (no, offence if you’re doing just that, but you’re clearly a muggle of the internet). That is a joke.

Thirdly – when I post, my twitter feed gets automagically updated, so a tweet appears saying “New Blog Post: Commercial Radio Bleating (http://dee.gs/pcd)”. There’s a plugin that does this and you can choose how to lay it out. I think it’s important for this to be really simple alerting someone that there’s a blog post, including the title, and then having a short link to it. It needs to stand out in someone’s news feed and encourage them to click it. I think the title really helps here. Normally, titles on the internet should be very simple and descriptive, because generally we should all be writing for Google. In other words writing in such a way that someone searching for something is more likely to click through. With ‘Commercial Radio Bleating’ – it doesn’t really do that – however, for twitter followers it becomes, just like an old school headline – something intriguing. Is it saying something good about commercial radio? Is it something bad? Either way it’s more likely to encourage people to click through and read. Twitter was in fact the biggest referrer to the post. Which leads me on to…

5. Spreadability. Twitter does an awesome job of quickly getting a message around. As mentioned before, before Twitter i’d have to have waited 24 hours for the feed reader types to get to it to start to build any buzz. With it dropping at 8.30 it meant that many people are at home, have more time, and are probably catching up with their twitter messages. They’ve got the time to see it, and to read the post. They’ve also got the time to retweet it to others. In the next 12 hours, 12 people retweeted it, many adding an endorsement about it too. This spreads it much further than my own twitter network (554) – if I add up the total number of followers that these people had, it was 5,677. Now some of these are likely to be duplicates, or bots, but with relatively few people passing it on, a lot of others can become aware of the post quite quickly.

The third biggest referer to the site was Facebook – a few people linked to the post – and there was quite a bit of discussion around some of the links – this will be flagged up in other people’s newsfeeds and once again spreads the message.

6. Other blog posts. I was also lucky that a few people included links to the post in other articles, James C also very generously wrote a whole post about it and as he’s a radio blog A-Lister, he became the second biggest referer. There you go James – you’re bigger than Facebook, but not yet bigger than Twitter.

When people include a link to you it doesn’t have to be an endorsement – but it does give you social (media) capital as it says to that person’s readers that you’re worth reading too. Out of all the links the one that surprised me the most was Phil Riley mentioning it on his Orion Staff Intranet Blog.

7. Back to timing. A big chunk of this referral activity happened at night and then in the morning, which meant the number of readers was increasing through the morning. Also – another thing happens in the morning – my email subscribers get an email of the post. There’s a little box on the right hand side that allows you to subscribe to the post via email – it’s all handled automatically, but the timing is set so that it arrives in people’s inboxes early.

8. Verbal buzz. Once the idea has spread to enough people, and quickly enough, it becomes something that people can talk about. Now, this might be in the comments in the blog, or it might be person to person. I went to the Radio Academy event on Wednesday evening – about 24hours after posting – and I was quite embarrassed how many people had read it, or said “I heard you wrote something interesting”. Wednesday was then capped off when Nicky Campbell, the tweeter which kicked it all off, re-tweeted the link and responded to the point raised.

Overall it was an interesting 24 hours – and that was all it really took for all of this to happen. What was hugely important was having a number of distribution channels that would get the post out quickly. Though when I say ‘distribution’, i’m really talking about ‘people’. They’re the ones that can give it more momentum and then get it to more people. Having networks that support what you do – and giving visitors multiple opportunities to consume your content on their own terms is important. So for me, people can get to what I write through the web, email, RSS and twitter.

But most importantly it needs to be content that makes people want to consume and spread. I wrote what I thought was a much more interesting post about getting rid of BBC1 – no one was particularly interested and it got no traction. There’s probably a number of reasons for that, but maybe it’s just that radio people don’t really care that much about TV…

Commercial Radio Bleating

Bleating

I saw this tweet and had mixed feelings. The whole issue has me a bit torn.

I’m not a big fan of commercial radio slagging off the BBC. The beeb makes excellent radio programmes. They’re made by passionate people and funded the tune of £460m a year. It combines this quality with an amazing distribution network (national analogue coverage, DAB coverage, digital television, streaming and listen again) and strong marketing on television, radio, outdoor and online. This results in high listening figures and strong audience appreciation. As it should.

Commercial radio, on the other hand… geez where to begin. All 250+ stations in the commercial radio network, generated, last year, in total,  £515m in revenue. For this money it has to run interruptions to its programmes – adverts, sponsorships etc. It also has to maintain over 100 more buildings than the BBC. It has to spend a great deal of money generating this revenue – sales people etc. It also has to make a profit (or at the least not make a loss). At the same time commercial radio has no national FM pop network. Indeed it only has one national FM network at all – a classical music service – Classic FM.

It takes on the BBC’s pop networks – Radio 1 and Radio 2 – in each local market. Due to the regulatory structure it has to field around 200 individual competitors to Moyles and Wogan in TSAs that range from 50k people to 10m. Listeners make no distinction between how stations are funded (why should they care) they just want to listen to what suits them best. The vast majority of commercial radio stations currently lose money.

If you own one of these local radio stations is it any wonder that you look at the BBC with envy? Don’t you think, if you could, you might try and remove one of the many clubs that beats you into the ground?

An easy response is “They knew what they were getting into when they bid for the licence”. Partly. There’s a recession on you know, that has somewhat affected how well stations do. Even the good ones. Plus the BBC’s stations can (and do) change quite significantly. When people won their licences, mostly around ten years ago, Radio 2 did something different. It was a radio station that attracted an older audience. It now adds younger listeners faster than any demographic. It is, without question, a younger sounding radio station than it was ten years ago. I’m sure a number of commercial radio business plans did not predict that the Radio 2 tanks would be so far on their lawn that the shed’s looking threatened.

I’m not denying that Radio 2 is an excellent radio station. It is! But you look at a show like Alan Carr and Emma Forbes’ ‘getting ready to go out’ show and it doesn’t exactly emit Reithian qualities, does it? If you run a TSA of 250k and run a ‘getting ready to go out’ show for 25 to 44s how are you expected to compete with a programme on the BBC that’s promoted on TV, ad free, presented by two well known and talented presenters, on any radio platform you may want to consume it on and plays songs, all of which, would appear on Heart.

So if you’re a commercial radio station you have the option of doing your own version or counter-scheduling. And should a commercial radio station, of which this kind of show is there bread and butter, be forced by Radio 2 to put on something else?

But, I suppose if we follow Nicky’s advice we should just let the DJ have more freedom and that would fix all the problems. Yeah right.

There are two reasons why local radio DJs don’t talk as much as presenters at BBC stations.

1. They’re not as good.

I’m not saying they’re rubbish at all. But if you’re on a national BBC network you are, of course, going to be better. Commercial radio will be playing catch up.

2. They have to play adverts.

Ads are interruptions to music. It’s not ads that listeners find annoying, it’s interruptions to the bits ‘they like’. This can be a duff song, an over-long link or a presenter they don’t like. In commercial radio we’re already doing ten (often more) minutes of interruption an hour, with the rest of the time, what are you going to do? You’re a music radio station. The most sensible thing to do is play more music – and that’s music that you know your listeners like. The alternative is to talk more and play a few more unfamiliar songs. This increases the chances of listeners finding more bits they don’t like. I’m over-simplifying this, but at a BBC station you have those ten minutes more to play with; to do things that might not work, or play a song that might not be familiar and still have the same level appreciation as a commercial radio station that has to be perfect in the ears of listeners for the other 50minutes.

This was only going to be a short post….

What BBC radio does cannot be compared to commercial radio. It’s like comparing apples and formica tables. Radio 1 online has  more staff than the whole of XFM and Capital FM’s on-air and on-line production team . I’m not saying that Radio 1 shouldn’t be allowed to make great websites, i’m just saying that the two sides are actually completely different industries.

There is no doubt that commercial radio could do a better job in some areas. However when you look at what’s stacked against it, it’s really amazing it can do as well as it does.

The reasons it complains about the BBC is because even if it succeeds in the smallest of its suggested changes the effects are  potentially huge. Moving Radio 2’s average age  just ten years older would probably allow a decent number of stations to return to profitability. We’re not talking about Murdoch-style dominance. We’re talking about local radio stations being able to exist.

Actually I think what annoys me most about Nicky’s tweet (and the other BBC staffers who re-tweeted it) is what they’re actually doing is dismissing as idiots the people who are trying to make entertaining radio on miniscule budgets in super-small areas in a massive recession.

I own a loss-making, little radio station. It’s currently losing less money than it’s ever lost before and with a prevailing wind i’d hope we could turn that into a small profit by the end of the year. We are a national radio station for children under ten. We try not to bleat about ‘the situation we’re in’, we, like most people in commercial radio just get on with trying to do what we can and make an interesting, popular radio station. I try not to think too much about the BBC’s kids radio output. What they do is excellent and what they spend on it (compared to what we can afford to spend) is Brewsters-Millions-style huge. I can’t think about it too much, otherwise the envy would become all-consuming. And to exist, it’s something I have to compete with.

The BBC recently moved the majority of their kids radio programming to breakfast time.  This is, potentially, like most commercial stations, the slot where we can make the most money. There was no consultation for the programme change or a market-value test investigating whether they should be allowed to concentrate the majority (of the large amount) of money that they spend into a show that competes directly with the most important part of the only commercial radio competitor.

Nicky – letting my DJs ‘be more creative’ won’t help me fix this new problem.

I have not ‘bleated’ about this – until now. I’d hope you’d allow us (and other radio stations who have to satisfy different audiences, in different ways, to survive) to be able to suggest (with evidence) that it’s not your existence that threatens us it’s your ability to change, grow and get stronger, whilst simultaneously being able to pull the rug from under our feet, using our money.

Radio Roundabout

Oooh, it’s be a busy radio morning, hasn’t it? We’ve got Mr Moyles celebrating becoming the longest serving Radio 1 Breakfast DJ and Sir Tel announcing (after a little Daily Mail intervention) that he’s abandoning his TOGs for a weekend show and letting that young whipper-snapper Chris Evans have another BBC breakfast show.

I don’t think there’s any particular surprise in the Radio 2 announcements – they’ve replaced a hugely successful presenter with the next most sucessful presenter on the network. Though, as Adam points out, there is a bit of a demographic issue.

What it doesn’t do is help the arguments about Radio 2 moving younger in the commercial heartland. However, and I think we all know this, they really couldn’t care less and so carry on regardless.

However, what I think this does do, is open up the opportunity to make a stab at turning drive into something a bit more public service-y. Already Drive with Chris has business and sports elements to make it more than pop and prattle, but with a likely move of Mayo to 2 from 5 there’s a real opportunity to make it even more striking.

Though his heritage proves that Simon can do mainsteam pop really well it would be great to see him bring things like his book reviews and more in-depth interviews (along with the Good Doctor) to a new drivetime show. Radio 2 already does this marvellously at lunchtime, it would be in keeping with Tim Davie’s recent announcement if they made their new drive show even more distinctive.