The TalkRadio/TalkTV Combination

News UK announced yesterday that it’s launching TalkTV in four weeks time on Monday 25th April.

Most of the news is things we already knew – shows by Piers Morgan, Tom Newton Dunn and the recently announced panel show presented by Sharon Osborne.

There had been a few questions about how it would work with TalkRadio, what would be shared, what would be separate etc. However, at the end of the release it says that the new TV channel will carry TalkRadio (visualised) programming in the daytime (Julia Hartley-Brewer, Jeremy Kyle, Iain Collins etc) but that the radio station will also now carry the TV’s prime-time output live.

In effect, TalkRadio and TalkTV will be the same product whether you listen or watch it. Generally, I think this makes a lot of sense.

There’s always some discussion about whether radio loses out by re-broadcasting a TV feed. But it isn’t something that’s new – the Today Programme was broadcast on TV for a bit, and now GB News is simulcast on digital radio too.

Of course, in an ideal world you would create radio-specific programming all the time, but given the choice between having Piers Morgan on my station with a large production team generating guests and content, or having a good radio show, I’d probably go for the former (no matter what you think of Piers). It’s also something that makes sense from an audience point of view.

Below is a chart of an average Monday of TalkRadio’s listening. It has a strong morning, but that drops off in the afternoon, and then dives pretty precipitously at 7pm.

This isn’t something particularly specific to TalkRadio, it’s standard for all radio.

…so being able to opt into some high quality content that’s already been paid for, would seem to make some sense.

I guess my one question is around branding. You’ve got TalkTV, and I imagine the earlier shows will be branded TalkRadio on TalkTV. In a world where cut through is really tough, and where especially on the telly side they’re trying to establish something against lots of competition, does it do a disservice to both by having two brands?

If you’ve got a viral clip of Julia Hartley-Brewer, in a Talk-branded environment, what’s the best brand to promote? Is she the radio station breakfast host or the breakfast show on TalkTV. Is it a waste to try and explain she’s both? Should there be a single brand, simulcast across radio, television and online?

TalkRadio has certainly built some brand equity in its six year life and is currently riding high on its best figures – 542k reach – but it is still a smaller radio station than competitors in the space. So should it be rebranded?TalkTV on the other hand is still a relatively unknown quantity. Is it a danger to throw the baby out with the bath water? If it was your radio station, would you want to wait and see before moving them closer together, or have it as a big bang multi-platform brand from the get-go?

These are, of course, all very modern challenges to face.

After GB News’ rocky start, the combination of TalkRadio’s well practiced video operation alongside some impressive prime time talent gives TalkTV a great chance of success. Its challenge though will be to remain noisy and get people to sample its operation.

Over at Leicester Square, LBC’s taken a different route. Oddly in amongst the BBC speech networks, Talk Radio and GB News, it’s ended up pretty middle-market and Daily Mail. Not a bad place to be, the Daily Mail is the biggest paper after all, but its recent BBC hires has definitely made this, the most up-market incarnation of LBC for a long while.

On the video-front, after being leap-frogged in the video stakes, Global now has a great TV-like operation at LBC – but seemingly no desire for that to be a competing TV channel – or even just a round-the-clock YouTube stream. Perhaps with the expansion of TalkRadio on TalkTV that will prompt them to change it up?

I guess we’ll see. Or just hear.

AOB

On the Media Podcast this week I had a great chat with Lord Ed Vaizey (extended chat for the Patreon-ers) about Ofcom, regulation and being a Conservative. Also joining me to talk over all the media news were Ann Charles and Maggie Brown. Listen and follow, to get all the future eps.

You can also hear me in a not entirely fulfilling three and a half minutes at the end of the Today Programme. I’m not really sure what the subject was, and I was in it! But I think it was something along the lines of whether we’ve reached peak podcast.

Are multi-platform brands the future?

Why Podcasters Will Be Stuck Doing Video

There is a battle brewing and traditional podcasters are not going to like it. By the end of the year, it’s going to be essential that podcasters are creating proper video versions of their shows.

A lot of podcasting has, in one way or another, come from radio. Whether that’s radio shows that have become podcasts, radio people who’ve jumped to the podcast sector or just hosts inspired by what they’ve heard before – radio has helped incubate podcasting.

However there’s a new wave of podcasters who don’t have radio as their progenitor but instead have YouTubers.

The super-spreader for this is probably Joe Rogan, but YouTube performers have often grown podcasts off the back of their initial channels. Channels like H3H3 Productions have the H3 Podcast, Rhett and Link (from Good Mythical Morning) have Ear Biscuits, Cal Freezy developed The Fellas and Jaackmate created Jaackmate’s Happy Hour.

These YouTube-native folks have, unsurprisingly, made sure that their podcasts exist as videos too. Also the nature of these shows are all very similar – a pair, or gang, of people chatting – sometimes with guests. There’s no fiction, or documentary, no real out and about recording, no sound design, no scripting. They are all a very particular type of chat podcast.

The scale of their YouTube publishing has resulted in a lot of their audience thinking ‘podcasts’ are what these people are doing. It’s also why nearly 20% of podcast listeners regard YouTube as their main podcast app. In another article, Tom Webster from Edison Research, warns podcasters to be careful saying “get this wherever you get your podcasts” if they don’t put their show on YouTube.

This group of creators and listeners are helping to redefine what podcasts are – in form, content and platform.

Spotify’s podcasting operation has also been leaning into this podcasts-from video-position.

Spotify is the podcast home of Joe Rogan, Jaackmate and The Fellas. They have also re-architected their app so listeners can choose to become viewers at any point by pulling up the scrub bar. Below is an example from The Fellas.

This is something that Spotify has opened up for some users of its podcasting hosting service Anchor, but they’ve really been rolling it out for many of their originals. There is no current way for third parties to provide video to Spotify.

What Spotify has recognised is that YouTubers do good business as podcasters, but their split loyalties to video means they’ve got to service that. Plus, they’re scared that YouTube (which also has a successful subscription music service) could eat their podcast lunch.

Over at YouTube, even with 18% of users using it as their main podcast app, there is no actual podcast-specific functionality at the moment. That’s expected to change pretty soon.

They’ve hired a head of podcasts – Kai Chuk and have also been offering US podcasters and networks grants of up to $300k to start filming their podcasts to deploy on YouTube. We’ll probably hear more about their plans at the end of the week as Chuk gives a speech at Podcast Movement Evolutions in LA.

For podcasters keen to grow their audience, YouTube – already the world’s second biggest search engine – is going to be an important platform to program for, as it tunes its product to look after podcasters.

Its algorithm will likely follow how it surfaces videos – watch-time and engagement. Just slinging up an audiogram so there’s some moving video whilst your audio plays is unlikely to garner much distribution.

Of course the chat-casts of Joe Rogan and The Fellas are pretty easy to film, but a documentary series or a narrative drama are going to be much more difficult.

The issue for audio-native podcasters is that YouTube is already one of the most successful podcast clients, even without the vast majority of shows on it. As the platform advertises itself as a podcast destination and as its fellow chat-casters start shouting about it, it’s likely to grow even bigger.

There’s no reason why this initiative won’t bring a large number of new people to ‘podcasts’ but could also realign the Apple Podcasts-Spotify hegemony that exists at the moment.

If you’re making a podcast now, I’d get ready to produce that video version. Whether you like the idea of doing it or not.

AOB

I appeared on Radio 4’s Feedback last week talking about podcast exclusives and the BBC’s decision to ‘window’ some of their radio show on BBC Sounds. I’m on from 19mins 40s here.

On The Media Podcast I talked to Times Radio’s Matt Chorley and City University Professor and Author Lis Howell. Subscribe in your audio podcast app of choice.

The British Podcast Awards are currently open for entries. You’ve got just under three weeks to get your podcast in.

If you’ve been forwarded this, or clicked thru from social media, you can subscribe for free and get it in your inbox. That way, next time, you can say to your boss “yes, I’ve already read it”.

…whether they like it or not

Big Tech Always Fails at Doing Radio

News last week of a new launch by Amazon – Amp. As they describe it:

A new app that will give you a way to DJ your own live radio shows.

The short version is that anyone (well, provided you’re in the US and on iOS) can make a live radio show that combines the large music catalogue from Amazon Music with presenter links and the ability for listeners to call in.

It seems they’ve done a pretty good job with the app and the interface for producing, but, and it’s still very early days, the discovery of shows and things is a bit shonky. Potentially all fixable of course.

It’s not dissimilar, but perhaps better executed, than Spotify’s Music+Talk. That was their similar product that allowed users to create on-demand radio-style shows using Spotify’s catalogue. It’s been around 18 months but has yet to set the world alight.

Over the past twenty years there’s been many attempts at “improving radio” by start-ups and larger firms alike. They have pretty much all been unsuccessful.

Why? Arrogance mainly. Radio looks simple. “It’s been around 100 years, how difficult can it be” says another tech head who’s merely a listener, not an expert.

Every time they launch these types of services they fail to hire one of the many bright people from the radio sector who could actually explain the appeal of radio – and even perhaps suggest how it could help make these services work. Instead they try and reinvent the wheel and failure ensues.

In Amazon’s press release, the head of the service, John Ciancutti says:

Radio has always been about music and culture. But imagine if you were inventing the medium for the first time today. You’d combine what people love about radio—spontaneous talk, new music discovery, diverse personalities, and broad programming—with all that’s made possible by today’s technology. You’d make it so anybody with a phone, a voice, and a love for music could make their own show.

Anyone who’s actually worked in radio, or talked to listeners will tell you that what people love about radio is not “spontaneous talk, new music discovery, diverse personalities, and broad programming”. Some of these things are absolutely properties that work at individual stations, but radio as a whole is not like that. Radio is about familiarity. It’s about trust. It’s about company. A very large proportion of it is about background entertainment and another chunk is very much about news. The most popular radio stations in most markets in the world are low-talk, repetitive adult-contemporary music stations.

The percentage that’s “spontaneous talk, new music discovery, diverse personalities, and broad programming’ is a very small proportion. It’s also the format that’s hardest to execute and deliver and it requires very talented people to do this very difficult type of programming.

I’ve always been a supporter of empowering anyone who wants to get into radio presenting – but it’s a skill, that requires practice and understanding. Radio is not about the producer. It’s about the listener. Great radio is focused on them. It’s easy to be distracted by a motormouth DJ when it seems it’s all about him (and it’s usually him), but the best ego-driven hosts are the ones who are performing not for themselves, but for the listeners the other end.

If I was building radio from the ground up I would not be concentrating on “anybody with a phone, a voice, and a love for music”.

Looking at his LinkedIn profile, Mr Ciancutti is indeed a very talented chap. VP of Product Engineering at Netflix, Director of Engineering at Facebook, then Director of Product Management at Google, before joining Amazon. He seems exactly the right person with the skills to build a digital product. Great radio though, is not just a digital product.

The other problem for Amazon, or Spotify, is that radio works well when it’s unencumbered by platform. People are used to being able to get radio content any way they wish. Just has Apple has found that seemingly locking away Beats 1, now Apple Music 1 in a single app means that one of radio’s core successes – sharing and common consumption – is almost impossible to achieve.

Radio’s long-running success partly comes from a broadcast mentality. Stations are after listeners everywhere. In the UK radio has rushed to be on FM, DAB, though a Digital Television, online, on mobile, in smart speakers – anywhere that will have it. Station operators get annoyed when they can’t get their stations into more places. It is the polar opposite of an app-driven culture. Why? Because it’s essential to go where listeners are. You go to their party, you don’t demand they come to yours.

A service being both only available to a subset of people and then with so much choice in it means dilemmas around discovery and the opportunity for these digital shows to get any salience with listeners almost impossible. Globally there are few linear internet-radio stations with an audience – being niched and with limited distribution means its hard to connect with a large number of people. This will always be the killer for talent too. Why put that effort in to something that can’t generate a meaningful audience?

The lure of user-generated content is strong for all digital companies. It’s cheap content creation and the hope is to let a million flowers bloom, with the good stuff rising to the top. Everyone wants to be a YouTube for… whatever. It is almost impossible for this to happen.

YouTube got to mass market video first. Mainly by ignoring any rules around rights! It was free to use, accessible by everyone, and it was built on the open, desktop web, pre-smart phones. Now it’s cross-platform which has certainly helped it maintain its lead, but it’s basically broadcast. Open to all.

Attempts like Clubhouse burned brightly before most people realised the content was a bit crap. It was hard to find things to listen to that didn’t end up being a 90 minute panel session at a conference. There were no mass market hits because it was hard to integrate Clubhouse into your audio ear time, and the participants were in it for themselves rather than you listening at home.

All digital radio products are challenged by strictly held music rights deals. Logged in users, content restrictions, country by country rules. And expensive to license. The music battle between Amazon, Apple, Spotify and Google has also balkanised user access. For god’s sake even playlists aren’t transferrable between services. Building platforms on top of platforms is not consumer friendly.

Radio is ‘one button’ entertainment, it’s a background listen. Searching out an ever-changing list of shows is a different user experience. Even in the streaming world the average number of artists a user streams is 40. That’s the average! That means there’s as many people listening to less than that as there are more. The vast majority of people do not have the time to spend auditioning variable quality content to replace the radio they consume at the moment. It is almost impossible to get people to switch from one professional radio station to another – and that’s with talent, marketing and universal distribution!

Knowing all of this, perhaps it’s not a surprise that the only thing that’s made a dent in radio – in audience scale or content style – are podcasts. I think so much of it is down to being a product that’s built on broad distribution. No lock in, lots of choices of how to get it. They appear in lots of places – apps, the web, smart speakers, in-flight entertainment. Big shows grow from being easily accessible (hey, they might be acquired and become an exclusive afterwards). There aren’t many examples of successful shows that start as platform exclusives for a reason.

I’m not a luddite. I think there’s lots of positives in having UGC services that allow people to play around with music and be a DJ for their mates. A modern version of sharing a mixtape with your friends. However its rare that any of those mixtapes would have been popular enough to be sold in HMV.

If digital companies truly want to create the radio of the future they need to understand the medium, how listeners interact with it and why it’s successful. What won’t work is assuming how you and your colleagues consume radio, and the fact you’ve heard a load of radio shows over your lifetime sets you up to be able to re-invent the medium.

There’s a further quote from John later in the article:

When I was a kid, radio was really different from how it is today. DJs were local to their markets. I used to move back and forth from San Francisco to Miami between parents, and radio sounded completely different in each city. Not the music, but the sound, everything. DJs would play local music and emerging artists, they were kingmakers, and they drove local music culture. I felt a connection to those DJs…. I’m excited for Amp to bring that opportunity to listeners.

It seems John is saying that moving away from this local/DJ-centric world is where radio went wrong and that’s what Amp is trying to bring back. Firstly, it’s a rose-tinted view of the past. Local radio’s existence was often a quirk of licensing and distribution more than anything else. It also existed in a world where there wasn’t the internet, hundreds of television channels and services like Spotify and Amazon Music. Anything can do well when there’s little competition. That’s not today’s world.

Successful radio groups understand consumers and the material that responds well to their need states. These are billion dollar operations, all around the world who understand their listeners. The arrogance to say that you’re in a position to re-invent radio without having learned the basics makes me, as you may have worked out, a little cross.

What I think is so surprising is that it’s Amazon that have ended up creating a product so similar to other unsuccessful ones in this space. I think they’re such a great company with an amazing history of innovation. And so often their success comes from understanding consumer behaviour. Whether it’s the initial Amazon store, AWS, their logistics business or the idea of Prime – when they’re focused on fixing something and innovating they do incredibly well and are pretty unbeatable.

The danger, of course, is that in writing this I’m seen as the man from Kodak explaining why digital cameras aren’t go work. Or Nokia laughing at the iPhone. But my anger isn’t that I think ‘radio’ is doing a perfect job – I don’t think that. It’s not even that I’m against digital audio evolution. I’m a huge fan of podcasts and I would love there to be a sister product that was music-driven, there is absolutely a gap in the market for it.

It’s just that every time a digital company wades into this area they say the same thing – that they’ll be reinventing radio. Every company that has a go then does basically the same thing. And they all. All. Fail. It’s because they’re always focused on re-inventing the transmitter, but forget that it’s just a tool that brings the actual product to listeners.

Either that, or the product managers are all just frustrated DJs who couldn’t get on the radio and now want to wreak revenge. If so, why you didn’t get on, is the same reason that you’re unlikely to be successful now. No listener focus!

Why Amp is the latest attempt that misunderstands listeners.

Formatting the News

The war in Ukraine, Partygate, Coronavirus, Brexit – big stories have been somewhat non-stop over the past few years. At the same time, social media has never brought us closer to the participants.

Josh Marshall, from Talking Points Memo has curated a list of journalists covering the Ukraine story – 2022 Ukraine Crisis. Pinned to my Twitter home screen, I can flick between my regular followees and up-to-the minute Ukraine news. When I hear a news bulletin its rare that I’m not ahead of the latest moves.

The challenge to broadcasters is their well-oiled machinery of news, checking, writing and reporting is somewhat short-circuited by the public having access to the world’s correspondents and news makers. Of course there’s the fringes and the fog of war – but just following ministers, diplomats and trusted sources gives a pretty accurate insight and the latest developments. I think for podcasters it’s even more of a challenge as their turnaround time is, generally, much longer. Though as I talk about below, some are trying to change that.

In the UK, the grammar of news hasn’t really changed since the introduction of news channels. In the US, many of the news channels have changed to become personality-led comment channels. I’m no Fox News fan, but looking at Friday’s US TV ratings for total viewers, its show The Five was TV’s 4th biggest show and Hannity the 6th – beating all of NBC and the regular Fox’s primetime line-up. They were also still both in the top ten for the more attractive 15 to 49 demo. Fox News has certainly found its niche and audience, driven by a very formatted, focused approach.

This came to mind as I listened/watched, last night, to the first edition of Andrew Marr’s show on LBC. It’s never particularly fair to review first nights, as things are likely to change, evolve and settle over the next few weeks. However, there’s some broad thoughts that struck me.

Firstly, it was very televisual in structure and content. Perhaps no great surprise with a TV presenter, and producer (Rob Burley) at the helm. They squeezed a lot in – what seemed like an autocue’d opening, a conversation with Camilla Tominey at the top, perhaps the first guest Michael Gove was a little late, a round-up with LBC’s political reporter, a two-way with John Sweeney in Kyiv, an interview with International Rescue’s David Miliband, the UK ambassador to the UN Barbara Woodward, plus three news/travel/ad breaks sort of on the quarter-hour before an autocue’d closer.

It was a pretty packed show, which did mean Marr was speeding through questions at the beginning with Gove and then having to cut off potentially interesting responses from Sweeney and Miliband later on. The Gove interview would have been very different if tackled by fellow LBCers Nick Ferrari or Iain Dale. The core political question of the day around refugees was very lightly touched, whilst there seemed to be more of a desire to get to a potential (pre-prepped?) news line around likely money from the Chancellor to help with the cost of living.

I guess the big question for this show, or any piece of current affairs, is what’s its purpose? What’s unique about that show? Also how does it cut through to drive awareness and audience?

The pre-written opener sold the idea that they were going to connect the Ukraine invasion with the effect it has on you, the British public. The pre-written closer referred to this too, but I’m not sure much (except the Gove line) had much to do with that, so it seemed a little odd.

The benefit of Marr is the contacts he has and the ability for his guests to push on the stories that have evolved in the day. The aim should surely be for the papers or late news bulletins to have a report/clip of someone important telling Marr something new. I’m sure they’ll also settle in to being comfortable with less guests.

Marr worked very well as a TV programme. It’s from Global’s Westminster studio, angles and graphics all work great. Getting to watch it is a little tough. It was only on Global Player – where you select LBC and then wait for the video box to pop up, which you then click for the stream. There’s no real reference to watching anything from the LBC website. Sometimes LBC live video is also on YouTube/Twitter, this wasn’t. So as a viewer its quite hard to know where you’re supposed to get it – particularly if you want to be ready before the start. The end of the show was also cut off on the app, so no Iain Dale sell for me!

I think LBC is clearly going towards being a live 24hour video stream at some point, but right now the half and half nature makes it all a little confused.

Spooler

Playing with the form of news is something that Spooler Media has been doing. Its tech powers the new podcast from Insider call The Refresh.

As they describe it:

Spooler is a new CMS for publishing audio that gives creators the unique flexibility to edit and re-edit podcasts quickly and easily, making timely updates feasible in a way never possible before.

It’s a modular CMS that allows the user to insert/update/replace segments in a podcast easily. In other words have a news podcast with the latest information rather than users listening to something that was perhaps published over 12 hours before.

The Refresh is the first podcast to use the tech. I think it’s a neat idea and I imagine works particularly well for podcasts that are listened to streamed (a la Spotify) than downloaded, where this updated file concept is likely to cause variable issues depending on which app you use.

What is an interesting challenge is whether you can train listeners to understand that when they hit play they get something up-to-the-minute, when in that medium they’re used to something being more edition based.

AOB

On The Media Podcast this week, Podnews’ James Cridland and the Press Gazette’s Charlotte Tobitt join me to talk Britbox, ITV and the BBC, Ipsos Iris news rankings and Peter Crouch moving his podcast to Acast. Plus Warren Nettleford tells me about the recently re-launched youth news service Need To Know.

Listen by searching for The Media Podcast on Apple, Google and Spotify or click here.

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