Digital Radio UK: Ten Top Tips

Digital radio is at an odd cross-roads. It has sold bucket loads of digital radios, a third of the country are listening, people who’ve got it like it, manufacturers are making good money from the market and even radio stations are starting to write revenue on their digital stations.

I have no doubt that it will soon be difficult to buy a radio device or ipod dock without a digital radio. It even looks like in-car is going the right way with it gradually appearing, as standard, in more and more makes and models. Indeed, the only form factor that’s doing poorly is mobile.

But, it’s still happening too slowly. Being part of consumer’s replacement cycle is fine, but it will drag on the amount of money the industry is spending on dual transmission even longer.

Not that the industry has particularly helped itself. In the past two years the major UK radio groups (and to a certain extent the BBC) have been stuck in discussions with each other, Ofcom and the government to get some basics sorted and haven’t spent any time and effort promoting their new stations and the platform.

What is positive is that we’re now at a place where all the major radio operators agree that DAB is a vital part of their future. Even UTV and UKRD don’t disagree with that (their arguments have always been about structure, not direction).

With the Digital Economy Act nearly law, it’s now about getting it done. Collectively the radio industry is funding Digital Radio UK to do just that.

Now, over the years, i’ve been invovled with enough industry bodies and radio groups both in DAB and out of it, to, I think, give a Baz Luhrman-style list of advice to the Digital Radio UK team – whether it’s wanted or not! So, here goes [cue instrumental music].

1. Don’t Listen to your Board.

Their job is to keep the money coming and give their aitime to support the campaign.

They do not have experise in launching and marketing consumer electronics. They are all desperately motivated by their own self-interest and are predominantly analogue businesses. They’ve barely marketed their own digital radio stations, you shouldn’t listen to them about how to do your job.

Why should they shut up and keep the money coming? The commercial radio side has been given further licence rollovers and the opportunites to sacrifice many (expensive) local committments. The BBC get a big tick in readiness for the next charter period. The transmitter operators, when digital radio’s successful, get an (even more) profitable revenue stream from new transmitters and service providers.

2. Create an alliance with digital radio listeners.

With over 10million radios sold and a third of the UK using DAB, these are your biggest marketing assets. All the research points to them being very happy digital radio listeners -so co-opt them. Use existing data, station research and relationships to create a CRM plan that lets you reach these people on a regular basis. Incentivise them to evangelise for the platform.

3. Prioritise content.

There’s some great content on digital radio, with good brands – from 1xtra to Jazz FM and NME. Help these stations become successful. The local, regional and national split of stations is a little confusing. Do deals with Digital One to help support these stations to become true nationwide entitites. Promote their existence heavily and highlight what consumers are missing. You do not need to treat everyone ‘fairly’. If you’re successful everyone will benefit.

Stations that exisit on local and regional multiplexes are fine and will grow audience once people have a digital radio, but to get listeners through the door highlight the stations that are good, and that everyone can get.

This will also complement the BBC’s strategy of promoting Station-You-Know and Station-you-Know Extra.

4. Give every UK Breakfast presenter a (properly installed) in-car digital radio.

If you’ve got a properly installed digital radio (and not just a Highway with an aerial blu-tacked to the window) it’s an AMAZING listener experience. In-car coverage is great.

Sky gave aways Sky Plus to hundreds of celebs and they got brilliant free talk-up. In-car DAB will get breakfast shows on side and better endorsement will follow.

5. Do proper research into digital use.

I think RAJAR is generally a good methodology, when i’ve carried out research projects our data has generally matched RAJARs. It’s good at measuring listeners and listening. However, the ‘how did you listen’ question is complex to fill in and the high levels of ‘don’t knows’ shows there’s something amiss. Like Digital TV, commission a specific tracker that looks at radio’s consumption over multiple platforms.

6. Remember to get some money from the board.

Radio, like most media companies, is quite pikey about spending money on advertising (hello, contra!). The board will talk about spending money at the right time, but that time will never come. Extract a large amount of cash now and refuse to do anything until it clears the DRUK bank account. Make sure the cheque doesn’t bounce.

7. The radio airtime bank works!

Radio advertising works! Develop high quality campaigns and get guaranteed airtime from radio stations. However, mandate some sponsorships as well. If you just run ads you’ll find a disproportionate amount of them get stuck off-peak. Organise some winning weekends that run on all stations simultaneously, sponsor everyone’s weather – be bold with radio ideas.

8. Blackmail people.

The airtime bank is a great opportunity to encourage partners to do the things that you need.

For manufacturers – free airtime for radios that have EPG, colour screen, are good value and don’t look rubbish.

For car companies – airtime for manufacturers that include DAB as standard. Also fleet requirements for radio stations should mandate vehicles with digital radios as standard.

9. Get coverage sorted.

Coverage will always be a stick that digital gets struck with. Remember though, coverage is much better than the people who moan, say. More people can listen to Classic FM on DAB than will ever get it on FM.

There are good plans that exist to ‘fix’ coverage for the majority of people with problems. It’s time to push forward the discussions with Arqiva and the BBC to get this sorted out. Also, it’s time for commercial radio to play its part in that too.

10. Rapid rebuttal.

There’s lots of lazy reporting about successes and failures about digital radio, it’s mainly down to lack of information and understanding. Ensure that there’s a permanent presence on the team that seeks out this reporting and then provides the right information to journalists/commentators. It’s not about invoking an Alistair Campbell style rant at people who disagree, it’s about ensuring there’s understanding.

In most things perception equals reality. I’ve had converstaions with journalists who think DAB has failed mainly because they personally can’t pick it up in their basement flat. These are the ones that need to be educated.

[DRUK, I am just having a bit of fun so don’t take too much offence…!]

Does Radio 1 Really Need TV Advertising for the Chart?

I like the BBC. I like BBC Radio. I can sort of get over the fact that the national BBC networks spend more than the entire earnings of commercial radio, just on content. I can just about cope with the fact that they have all the best spectrum. I’ve also begrudgingly accepted the cross-media deals BBC Radio offers commercial radio talent. And, you know what, I even feel sorry for the BBC that it faces brickbats from all sides, when generally they do an extremely good job.

However, what I really don’t understand is when it’s in the position it know’s it’s in, it chooses to just take the piss. No, that’s unfair. It has absolutely no concept of its position in the wider radio ecology, instead it just marches forward ignoring whatever it crushes below its elephantine feet.

A small example. There’s a new TV advert for Radio 1 that promotes the Official Chart show. Now, out of all the programmes that Radio 1 can choose to promote on TV, they’ve chosen the only one that commercial radio competes with the BBC on directly, and the only programme that commercial radio actually beats Radio 1 at.

Instead, they could have promoted the excellent specialist takeover on Bank Holiday Monday or suggested that people should try 1Xtra. They could have talked about the new Matt Edmondson Sunday show, Zane Lowe’s excellent, accessible specialist show or the new way to start the weekend with Annie Mac. They could have even talked about new time for the brilliant and public-service Sunday Surgery or the new progamme for teenagers, the 5:19 show, that follows the chart. Instead they talked about a programme that i’d guess the majority of the country already knows about. It’s proably the only programme on the network that’s been in the same slot for over 20 years. Indeed, if you asked someone what channel, what day and what time the official chart is on, i’d assume that a pretty signficant number of people would say Radio 1 and Sunday’s from 4pm.

Now, I of course don’t really know why they have chosen to promote the chart. I’m actually not even convinced that they’re doing it to compete with commercial radio. The sad thing is that they’re probably completely oblivious to it. They’ve looked at their own RAJAR for that timeslot and thought “Hmmm, we really should do something about that, let’s put some more effort into the show, let’s give it some telly, the research shows that listeners don’t think it’s very current, so lets give a mid-week update to make it seem more up to date – lets see what that does”.

They’ve ignored the fact that, even though commercial radio has led the BBC for a few years now, 12 months ago it chose to change it’s formula and make it more up to the minute – it’s now based on downloads and the chart can change during the show. It chose to innovate and push the programming on (all the stuff that commercial radio gets accused of never bothering to try). The BBC have also ignored that it’s the only truly national pop programme that commercial radio does. And they’ve chosen to ignore that commercial radio does it much better with less resources and without even the ‘official’ chart data (which the BBC chooses to purchase exclusively).

Like I say, I like the BBC. I would defend to my last that it should exist and be able to broadcast both mainstream and specialist programmes. However, for the love of God, can they just employ one person in the organisation who can understand the broader radio market and can just whisper to a Controller “you know what, maybe we don’t have to completely take the piss?”

I’m not Murdochian in wanting the BBC to be smaller or just do worthy things and news. I just want them to take their £3bn of public income and, every single day, think:
1. We’re in a really lucky and priviliged position
2. How do we make this [programme] even more distinctive?
3. How can we use our scale and resources to help commercial and non-commercial operators give more value to our licence fee payers?
4. How do we enhance the [radio/tv/online] ecology and add to the whole rather than just think about our own share?

Is that really too much to ask? And can they please choose one other programme to advertise on the telly.