Evans and Grimmy on the Telly

Lots of telly news for radio folk as Radio 2 Breakfast host Chris Evans takes the helm of Top Gear whilst Radio 1’s breakfast boy Nick Grimshaw joins the judging panel of the X Factor. But what does it mean for their jobs on the wireless?

Personally, I think it’s good news. One of the main things I’ve been banging on about is that in a crowded media world the biggest challenge to establish programmes and stations is how you drive awareness.

“If you build it, they will come” is bullshit. Doing a great job on-air isn’t enough to ensure success any more. Presenters need to ensure their content and personality transcends the show and station. Great content, word of mouth and advertising can definitely help do the job – but there’s a million other ways to do get the message out – newspaper columns, social media, YouTube or getting on a big TV show.

Grimmy

Three years in, Grimmy has found it hard to make his mark on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show. For me, it’s a combination of production issues, coaching and lack of promotion. I still think, fundamentally though, he was the right choice. It’s also much easier to fix content than personality. Given the right material and promotion he could totally deliver.

X Factor is the perfect place to communicate his personality, massively raise his level of fame and provide lots of reasons for new, target listeners to sample the show. Being on the inside of the biggest pop culture programme for his radio show’s core demo puts Nick in an amazing position. The challenge is now to ensure that the other bits of the show deliver the wow that turns these samplers into regular listeners.

I think there’s also a brilliant opportunity to make it a more family-friendly programme. If you want 15 year olds to listen to the radio, it helps if the Mums are on-side as they’re the ones tuning in in the kitchen and car. If Mum’s more comfortable listening after spending her Saturday nights with him on the sofa, that will only turn out to be a good thing.

There is, of course, a knock-on effect of putting the Radio 1 Breakfast host on the X Factor – and that’s whether commercial radio will stop talking about X Factor. But you know what? I’d happily swap Global talking about the show to get R1 talking about it everyday. Easy.

Chris Evans

Evans is in a very different situation. He presents the biggest radio show in Europe with nearly 10million people in the UK tuning in each week. He does not have an awareness problem.

Whilst TFI’s excellent ratings were partly down to people’s fondness for the format, the extensive cross-promotion on Radio 2 (and popping up on Radio 1 and 6Music to talk about it as well) didn’t do it any harm. You see kids, radio advertising does work! Though it would have been nice if Channel 4 had paid to advertise on commercial radio rather getting it for free on the BBC. Anyway, I digress…

The BBC has been in a terrible state over Top Gear. How do you manage a Globally-successful brand when the core presenter is radioactive in the UK. Even with the awful things Jeremy Clarkson did, the show still had huge goodwill from viewers. High production values, humour and three likeable presenters made it look like it would be impossible for the BBC to reboot.

I think with the appointment of Evans the balance of power has shifted away from the three ex-presenters back to the BBC. Chris is a popular choice but has also, cleverly, had the endorsement of the old guard. Getting their blessing massively helps the show move on. Today, on the One Show, Evans announced that they’re having open auditions for his co-hosts. Another masterstroke. They will, of course, pick who they want, but tipping it towards being “the people’s show” is a canny move. I’m sure they won’t be shy to mention that Hammond and May were both appointed through auditions too.

As well as losing the three hosts, they also lost the key producer – Andy Wilman. Bringing in Evans as Presenter and Exec Producer also gives them an entertainment-genius to provide creative renewal and a new leader for a group of people no doubt significantly demoralised.

As the success of Evans’ TFI promotion shows, the new Top Gear will also have a ready-made platform to reach the right demographic every morning.

Will his new TV duties affect the radio show? It shouldn’t, but that’s not to say it won’t. At the Evans level, TV and radio are team sports. If you are supported by the right people it should be fine. Where I think it’s harder is that Top Gear requires lots of international work. Whilst Evans does have nine weeks of holiday a year, it’s going to be hard work to combine the two jobs.

One person to perhaps look at though is Ryan Seacrest in the US. He does successful local and national radio shows alongside American Idol and a lot of TV projects (he produces the Kardashians). To achieve this, his show literally follows him around the world. When he’s doing Idol auditions in Wichita, the radio show are there, pop up studio and all. He’s created a machine to support what he does. There’s no reason Evans can’t do the same.

Forget About Dre? What Beats1 Means for Radio

I’m excited about Beats1. A radio station with great presenter and production talent, well-funded with a large marketing budget and no end of ambition – to be a truly global radio station with a focus on new music.

I love radio. The world loves radio. Here in the UK 90% of the population listen to it every week. Lots of what it does is cool, but we, as the radio industry, don’t make it seem as cool as it is. We’re lucky that we have the BBC as it makes great radio programmes (with a ridiculous budget) and it forces commercial radio to compete.

Commercial radio without strong competition ends up being a missed opportunity. Just look at most American radio output.

Beats1 will help radio seem contemporary and relevant. Good luck to them.

I’m definitely not worried about them.

Over the past ten years hundreds of people have sat opposite me wherever I’ve worked, wanting to run a new radio station. Rich, poor, big, small, everyone wants a radio station. They’ve also all got an idea that’s brilliant! That’s a gap in the market! That will show the big boys a thing or two.

They generally never happen or shortly go bust.

That’s because to be a successful radio station is really difficult. They all forget that the easiest thing is making the content, the hard part is getting people to listen. Someone has to choose to give up the thing they listen to at the moment and pick something else.

If I asked you what it would take to make you stop listening to your current breakfast show, what would you say? Evans, Today, Grimmy – what would make you stop and turn over?

But Beats1 is different to lots of those wannabe radio stations. Firstly, audience size or commercial revenue is not their aim. Yeah, it’s nice to have, but it’s not why they exist. They’ve also got money and marketing  – they can do whatever they like.

Their arrival doesn’t scare me. I’m still much happier in the radio business than in the streaming music business that’s for sure.

Streaming music like Spotify, Rdio, Beats, Tidal are in an odd position. The rise in competition and the money they pay the music industry means their business has, already, been entirely commoditised. The repertoire across the services is pretty much the same and the functionality is the same too (there was little technical wow in Apple Music). The price is also pretty much the same. Operators want to cut prices/offer different deals, but are being stymied by the record companies who are trying to keep value high. The only thing left to compete on is content and curation and then having enough money to spend on marketing to tell people about it.

Beats1,  the curated music channels and playlists, the music videos and the artist content through Connect are designed to be the layer that makes Apple Music more interesting than Spotify and the rest. Having a better content layer and music service on a device that you control (through iOS) and can bend to your will (Android) is also very handy too.

The other thing Apple are good at is marketing. Their Beats1 poster budget in London is likely to be be bigger than Spotify’s global marketing spend. Also, they’re clever in knowing that content as marketing works.

Beats1 will be free (and I imagine ad-free). It has great DJs and will have lots of music exclusives. A friend was telling me the artists that they’re trying to sign up to become DJs – it’s going to be a station full of famous faces. And more than just the three they’ve announced.

By using Beats1 as the hero, it will encourage lots of people into Apple Music. Beats1 is the equivalent of the ‘ad funded’ version of Spotify. It’s just ‘the ads’ are going to be the encouragement to sign up to Apple Music.

Will Beats1 be a game changer for ‘traditional’ radio. No.

I imagine it’s going to be an accessible specialist music service. Your ILR listener is unlikely to abandon their home station for it. The more specialist listeners of R1, XFM, 6Music and low hours radio rejectors are probably the core audience. People who like Greg James and the latest Pitbull single? Probably not. Will it be a truly global radio station, or will it end up tilting towards the US market? I imagine (even with the work of some fine people pushing the other way) it probably will.

If Apple really wanted to “do radio” they’d have hired the top 50 radio DJs in the world. Then I’d be scared.

This isn’t about radio – this is about music streaming. It’s a content and marketing play to make up for lost time and the race to sign up as many people to spending a tenner a month.

Beats1 – welcome to the radio industry!