Creating Radio With Purpose

Greetings from Lisbon. I’ve had a lovely few days at Radiodays Europe. The pandemic had somewhat got in the way of the event’s usual planning, but they put on a great event with four simultaneous streams of sessions over two days. They also streamed the streams to people who wanted to attend, but not in person.

Unsurprisingly, Coronavirus was mentioned a few times. Yes, there were mentions of how it caused teams to work in different ways, but I think it had a more fundamental effect on how many practitioners thought about their audio medium.

I hosted a session – the Radio Summit – which brought together some top leaders – Pedro Leal, Head of Production for Renascença, Patricia Schlesinger, Director General of Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg, Marc Vossen, CEO of NGroup and Anne-Marie Dohm, CEO of Radio 4 in Denmark.

What was fascinating is how much the idea of purpose came up. The pandemic meant that many stations changed their output to react to the changing situation and the responses generated re-enforced that connection that listeners have with their favourite stations. Many broadcasters around the world also added new output as podcasts, social media or web content. The combination of trust, skill and audience alongside the sector’s ability to be fleet of foot, allowed it to really prosper in challenging times.

In a world where there’s usually a focus on ratings and revenue, stations perhaps rediscovered the core thing that makes their medium special.

NGroup’s story was particularly interesting. They operate the licensed brands NRJ, Cherie and Nostalgie in French-speaking Belgium – traditionally stations that do well at banging out the hits, but the CEO outlined how ‘making the world a better place’ has been ingrained in their DNA. As well as the company being carbon neutral since 2014, each of their main brands integrates a progressive tenet into their programming output. It sounded like it had become an authentic value of their stations rather then just an attempt at green-washing a brand – something staff and listeners could get behind.

For any media brand, having clear aims and objectives has long been an essential part of creating success, but perhaps thinking about what a station (or podcast or business) is trying to engender through its work is something worth spending more time looking at.

Hearing from Petra Piipari at HitMix in Finland, she talked about the combination of Finland being both the happiest place in the world, but also an area that over-indexes in suicide, particularly for one of the station’s core demographics – young men. The station builds mental wellbeing into its programming mix – to acknowledge the problem, but also provide solutions for listeners.

Of course ‘purpose’ doesn’t have to be a lofty goal, it can be anything that works to have an impact on audiences, but in an era where new social media platforms are key challenges for radio’s consumers and revenue, should radio lean into the fact that it’s a very trusted medium, and work to differentiate itself – with purpose (in between banging out the hits of course).

Photography: Radiodays Europe/Hedda Elisabet

Themes from Radiodays Europe

How Are Apple Podcast Subscriptions Going?

Apple released a new type of chart last week, showing the relative success of its new Apple Podcast Channels product. This is the thing where you can group together shows, or offer a single show, and then make it something that people can pay real money to subscribe to.

Here’s the pay-for list (with some context on each offer courtesy of Podnews)…

Wondery+ from Wondery (“Get ad-free listening, early access & exclusives”)

Luminary from Luminary (“Unlock network of award-winning Luminary Originals”)

Sword and Scale +PLUS Light from Incongruity (“Get INSTANT ACCESS to all +PLUS Episodes!”)

TenderfootPlus+ from Tenderfoot TV (“Join now for ad-free listening & exclusive content”)

PushNik from Pushkin Industries (“Uninterrupted Pushkin Shows & Exclusive Episodes”)

QCODE+ from QCODE (“Uninterrupted Listening + Exclusive Bonus Episodes”)

Imperative Premium Series from Imperative Entertainment (“Premium Narrative Series. Ad-free & Early Access.”)

Podimo Deutschland from Podimo (“Let yourself be entertained by captivating stories”)

U Up? from Betches Media (“Subscribe for bonus eps, ad-free & early release”)

The Handoff from CNN (“Exclusive, ad-free access to The Handoff podcast.”)

The top end is pretty self-explanatory. Wondery and Luminary are operators that have always had strong subscription offers. But if the idea of using a different app to Apple Podcasts was what stopped someone signing up, then this reduces that friction to get people to part with their cash. Though it would be interesting to know how many swapped their sub from the native platform to the Apple one…

Much of the rest of the top eight are content providers who have communities that are used to being monetised, or brands that are used to doing it.

The ones that are interesting to me are the bottom two. These are not massive podcasts.

The CNN one’s a weekly show with Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo which you can get ad-free. It’s only available in selected countries (it doesn’t work here in the UK) and hovers at around the 200 mark in the Apple Podcasts US chart.

U Up? at number nine is more interesting. It’s not that popular a show (generally sits at 50 in the US Society and Culture Apple Podcast chart). One of the hosts, Jared Fried is a comedian with 50k followers on Twitter/240k on Instagram – not exactly Adele.

They’re definitely making the most of the platform though. There’s two bonus eps a month, all their episodes are ad-free, and go up a day early.

I’d just be surprised if they’re doing that much business. A couple of thousand subscribers at most? For a small-ish show that’s not too bad – 2,000 X £2.49 (what they’re charging) results in about £5k, so about £3.2k/month after the Apple fees perhaps?

But looking at the shows that have made it to the chart, I think collectively it demonstrates that the subscription functionality is just not being used that much at the moment – by content creators or consumers.

It’s a shame as Apple’s infrastructure to deliver it all, in-app, is pretty neat. But there’s loads of problems with it.

Firstly, the merchandising around it is quite poor. There’s nowhere I can put enough imagery and text to sell what I’m doing. There’s no real way of providing any structure or narrative to the shows in my channel – I can’t really curate a storefront. It also doesn’t allow any real customisation across multiple territories. I can’t create something in Spanish for Spain with special pricing and then have a different price structure in the UK. Though I hear some international adjustments are on the way.

Anyone who works in e-commerce knows how important iterating offers, text and imagery is – you just can’t do any of that on the platform.

Apple also doesn’t allow you to integrate any podcast CMS systems with their own proprietary, Apple Podcasts Connect service. The admin of uploading all the show information to a podcast CMS and then repeating the process for their one is a pain point for organisations with a number of staff who all input into ‘the podcast’.

Spotify have created their own oAuth based system that allows subscription providers to allow their subscribers to hear paywalled content in Spotify. Whilst useful, all of these platforms lack scale and aren’t that understandable except for the techno-literate. Spotify’s alternative ‘click in the app to subscribe’ service has to bounce you to a third party as they can’t offer this as in-app purchase without paying an Apple tax.

Fundamentally though, having subscriptions on Apple, a super-clunky form of subscriptions on Spotify (for some providers) and then consumer-unfriendly private podcast feeds for other apps is a massive mess that makes selling subscriptions to users almost pointless.

If Apple and Spotify inter-op’d with the main podcast CMS platforms rather than forcing us to use their systems, and maybe worked together (shock) on a standard, then they (and us) would all enjoy far more success.

In the meantime creators are stuck trying to sellotape over their systems and waste time on shows and online to (try and) make it easy for consumers to understand. Their time is better spent elsewhere. Something many podcasters and audio businesses have already realised.

It’s especially frustrating as the relationships that shows have with listeners is eminently monetisable and consumers would love a one-click way to support shows, whichever app they use.

The Media Podcast

In other news, the Media Podcast is back for a new season, but with a big change. The excellent Olly Mann has moved on from hosting duties and they’ve only gone and asked me to sit in as a cover jock. So, for the next few months at least, you can hear me present it alongside a brilliant range of guests and topics.

The show’s fortnightly and you can get it on any podcast platform (without paying to subscribe), though it doesn’t stop you slinging the producers a few quid, to thank them for their hard work.

On this week’s show we talk about GB News and Andrew Neil, Doctor Who’s new show-runner, Netflix’s Roald Dahl acquisition and even a bit on RAJAR too. Go have a listen.

Are the big podcasting platforms making it easy for new subscription businesses to grow?