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!