Making Money Out of Audio

All content businesses have seen huge changes over the last ten years. Much of this is driven by a combination of the advertising market and changing consumer behaviour. Radio and audio is no different.

In the radio market, for thirty-odd years, the revenue has been split between local and national advertising. If you’re a station in Weymouth, you’ll have your own sales team who will make calls and knock on doors to tell potential customers the benefits of advertising on your station. Aware that national advertisers will also want to advertise on your station, but knowing they don’t really have the ability to negotiate deals with over 100 radio stations, you delegate some space on your station to a national sales house.

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Picking Songs for the Radio

I don’t think I’ve met a person, of any age, who isn’t up for a spirited chat about songs on the radio.

Radio’s pretty pervasive in the UK. 89% of the population listen to at least five minutes a week and even 82% of 15-24s tune in at some point. Music makes up a large proportion of what’s played, so it’s no surprise everyone has an opinion.

So what’s the best way to pick songs for the radio?

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New York Times Buys Serial

News last week that the New York Times had bought Serial Productions, the podcast producer of Serial and S-Town for around $25m to $35m.

Serial came into being as a spin-off from syndicated radio show, and popular podcast, This American Life (TAL). That show was created by Ira Glass with WBEZ, a public radio station in 1995. In 2015, Ira took full control of TAL after agreeing to share some ongoing profits from it, and Serial.

Serial’s radio connections are sometimes forgotten. The first episode of the show ran on TAL (to its 2.2m radio listeners) as well as its podcast. It acted as a sampler and teaser that encouraged people to log on and listen in October 2014. Serial’s appearance, and radio promotion, alongside the default installation of the iTunes Podcast app in 2012 all together really kick-started mainstream podcasting.

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Apple Makes Its Own News Podcast

Apple have launched their own daily news podcast – Apple News Today. Their description:

Join Shumita Basu and Duarte Geraldino every weekday morning as they guide you through some of the most fascinating stories in the news — and how the world’s best journalists are covering them.

Apple, like many internet mega co’s, get all confused when they get into content. The clunky transition from arguing that they’re just a platform – helping others to be successful – to content publisher, means they have to contort themselves by suggesting that this too is a platform to push to other journalism. “Hey we’re just surfacing other people’s great work”, whilst at the same time adding a new well-marketed competitor, putting even more pressure on regular journalistic endeavours.

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As you may have noticed, I’m publishing these at Matt on Audio now. Sign-up to the free newsletter there to get the full text of these posts in your inbox each Tuesday morning.

British Podcast Awards Thoughts

It’s been a busy old time with one of my side projects, the British Podcast Awards. We had our big ceremony on Saturday – the culmination of around 9 months work. Of course, our plan – The Roundhouse had booked and paid for – wasn’t meant to be, so we did a very fun livestream instead.

In the middle of April we had a chat with our production company, Create, suggesting that we’d like to do a stream that includes all the nominees on-screen and handing out the awards live on winners’s doorsteps. It wasn’t bad for a less than three months turn-around in a pandemic!

So here are some things that popped into my head, which are hopefully interesting for anyone doing events or organising a big project.

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Black Information Network Launches

To us Europeans, the flexibility of broadcast radio formats in the US is quite different to our very regulated environment. Here, on FM it’s very difficult to change your station’s format between rock and urban, whilst in America the ‘format flip’ is something that’s always been an option.

Is your Country station under-performing? Don’t worry! Tomorrow it could be Smooth Jazz!

Of course in the digital world – both online, but also DAB (our broadcast digital radio) – it is a little easier to pivot and change direction. And in 2020 all media, regulated or not, needs to be more fleet of foot to better represent the changing world and new business opportunities.

In the US, last week, the largest radio operator – iHeartMedia (previously ClearChannel) blew up 15 broadcast radio station formats (in Atlanta, Augusta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Columbus, GA, Detroit, Greenville, Macon, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, Norfolk, Riverside, San Francisco and Seattle) to launch a new mostly-national speech service – BIN – the Black Information Network.

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How to Launch a Media Project: Watching Times Radio Take to the Air

30 years ago, a launch of a radio station was a big thing. Guaranteed coverage in the local newspaper (balloons, wide grinning faces) and the regional TV would turn up to film the board room champagne toast, a DJ doing the opening link, and then raising an eyebrow and light questioning of the economics.

Today, of course, a new media launch is a regular affair – hard to generate noise and awareness, let alone encourage sampling.

Monday’s Times Radio launch got a wrap-around newspaper front page, it did however need to own the newspaper to get it.

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RAJAR Q4/2019

Sadly the day job, and a super early flight for Thursday has somewhat got in the way of writing a RAJAR blog post tonight. Apologies!

However, one quick thing, and then I’ll try and get into some more analysis when I have a little more time this week.

There were quite a few articles about children’s declining radio habit and many connecting it to the rise in smart speaker use. Here’s the normally excellent Matthew Moore’s piece in The Times. It’s based on Ofcom’s study: Children and parents: media use and attitudes.

The line in the report states:

“Of all the devices children aged 5-15 use, however, the smart speaker has seen the largest increase in use – from 15% in 2018 to 27% in 2019. As such, smart speakers have now overtaken use of radios, which declined from 26% to 22% over the same period.”

Of course, the interpretation is wrong, whilst the data is accurate. The use of a device may be dropping, but that doesn’t mean the consumption of the product is. Live radio remains the most used thing on a smart-speaker, so just because someone’s unplugged a radio set and replaced it with an illuminated blue puck, doesn’t mean that radio consumption has dropped. Indeed, it may mean that radio use has increased as children start to use a device better suited to them to listen to the radio.

In my day job of running a children’s radio station, I often speak at conferences and talk about the status of the radio in kids’ lives. In the car the radio is at the front, where parents sit, a child has to negotiate to get something played on it. In a kitchen, the radio is high up on a work-top, again it requires negotiation for a re-tune. In the lounge, it may be part of an expensive DO NOT TOUCH Sonos system.

The smart-speaker on the other hand, needs no hands. Any child can demand of it what they like, and, according to some research I watched, when I child leaned in to the researcher and whispered conspiratorially “it never says no”.

Growth in smart speaker use is something we’ve seen hugely at Fun Kids. On the 25th December in 2018 and 2019 our daily stream starts doubled and this then remained (and grew steadily) over the year. Smart speakers provide the bulk of hours to our internet listening now.

It’s also perhaps a contributing reason to why Fun Kids has had its best ever RAJAR results. Regular readers will know that RAJAR is an oddity for Fun Kids, you need to be a part of it to be seen as a ‘proper’ radio station, but it only measures 10 plusses – which is a bit annoying for us as our station is for under 10s! Therefore though we’re national we just measure our London audience.

So, according to the latest data, we now have 120,000 listeners in London and that’s outside our core demo! Just think what it would be if it actually measured all of our little listeners and we surveyed the whole of the UK.

I always like to do a sort of all the radio stations audible in London, by 10+ reach and see where we rank. This book’s been a good one to do that. In my list of 69 stations we’re the 39th. This means we’re bigger than (deep breath) the new Hearts (Heart 70s, Heart 90s and Heart Dance), Capital XTRA Reloaded, Magic Chilled, the Hits Radios (Hits Radio, Greatest Hits and Country Hits), in fact all the country stations (Smooth Radio Country and Chris Country Radio), Smooth’s other spin-offs Smooth Radio Chill and Extra, Heat, Kerrang!, talkRADIO and talkSPORT2, three of the Absolute digital stations (Absolute Radio 60s, Absolute Radio 70s and Absolute Radio 00s, Scala Radio, the Jacks (JACK Radio and Union JACK) and Virgin Radio’s current RAJAR’d spin-offs Virgin Anthems and Virgin Chilled.

So well done to our little team who works so hard.

It’s also perhaps an answer to the often mentioned, and frequently misinterepreted “but kids don’t listen to the radio”. Well, there might be fewer of them listening to a radio, but and more and more seem to be finding what we’re doing every day.

if you’re after a more comprehensive RAJAR round up, Radio Today has a great piece here and Adam Bowie some excellent analysis here.

RAJAR Q2/2019 – Disappointment Haunted All My Dreams

RAJAR can be a cruel mistress. Whilst established stations can, some what, coast from past glories, new stations on the survey are thrust into the limelight whether they’re ready for it or not.

In the old days of course, a new station launch was a thing of excitement. The local newspaper would splash you on the front page and its photographer would have encouraged you to proffer some CDs, wearing headphones, with a selection of balloons framing you. The result – 20% reach for you banging out today’s best mix.

Today, your launch will not lead the local paper. Which has probably closed down. And your listeners already happily have the choice of around 80 stations on digital radio, which for many, is fixed to Kisstory, 6Music or still, amazingly, Radio 4.

Today’s RAJAR shows us data from two new launches – Scala Radio and Country Hits Radio, the beginnings of Global’s national breakfast strategy and the settling waves from the big changes in Q1 – Evans/Ball et al.

I imagine the folks at Scala are somewhat disappointed by a weekly reach of 258,000 listeners, and their big signing Simon Mayo pulling in 134,100. The good news is that he’s pretty essential – delivering 51% of the station’s cume, the bad being, well, less listeners than a jukebox like Magic Chilled (329k).

I enjoy listening to Scala. There’s obvious effort and forethought and an aim to do some different. Its challenge is explaining why someone should tune in. A station for people surprised to realise they quite like classical music seems a communication challenge.

Bauer’s Country Hits Radio on the other hand probably exceeded expectations. Its execution, and budget, was not in the Scala range and it’s distribution is patchy at the moment – but a similar audience delivery at 208,000 is pretty good. Its competition is from homegrown Chris Country, who are available in some regions in the UK, but only measure on RAJAR in London. If we look at that London fight, Chris Country delivers 23.4k reach vs Country Hits’ 25.9k – pretty close. However in hours, Chris Country delivers 223k vs Country Hits’ 67.8k. It’ll be interesting to see as Bauer’s station grows whether it can build the loyalty that Chris has conjured over the past few years.

With all new launches what I mainly look at, of course, is how it compares with my own station, Fun Kids. As I often mention, RAJAR doesn’t measure under 10s, which is frustrating for a station who’s core audience is below that! As such we just RAJAR our national station in the capital.

Therefore it’s pleasing to see Fun Kids (10+) in London is bigger than Scala Radio, Country Hits and Chris Country (as well as Virgin Anthems, Virgin Chilled, The Arrow, Kerrang, Greatest Hits, Jack Radio and Union Jack and more). Just think where we’d be if we measured the actual target audience too! Anyway, I digress.

It’s a bit early for RAJAR to fully reflect Capital’s removal of local breakfast shows and replacement with Roman, Vick and Sonny, particularly as many of the stations are RAJAR’d over half or a full year. For anoraks rubbing their hands with glee, I’m afraid both the regular numbers and the forced three monthlies that the industry can see, doesn’t show any major changes or audience exodus.

The big changes last quarter was Chris Evans’ jump to Virgin and Zoe Ball’s new appointment at Radio 2. It was pretty good news for everyone – Evans launched with a psychologically important 1m listeners, and Zoe maintaining Evans’ high water mark.

This time around, well, the dust has settled, and it’s not great news for Radio 2, who have seen their reach drop quarter on quarter from 15.3m to 14.5m, their lowest headline figure since at least 2013. On breakfast its hit 8.2m (down from 9.0m in the previous quarter), the lowest figure for at least ten years.

But Zoe’s listeners haven’t disappeared off to Chris Evans, who increased his numbers, but only from 1.04m to 1.10m across the Virgin Radio network. Indeed, the main Virgin Radio’s growth from 1.3m to 1.5m shows how outside of Breakfast, listeners are joining the station.

Virgin Radio’s owners, the Wireless Group – a part of News UK – has seen, this quarter a transition from a mixed local and national broadcaster to a predominantly national group in the mainland UK, following the sale of their local stations to Bauer (CMA willing). They had around a million local listeners contributing 10m hours to the group, but post-sale the growth of their national stations has meant the group is now delivering its biggest ever audiences.

Whilst they go national, some operators are doubling down on local. Nation Broadcasting have picked up some more local stations as Bauer have disposed of some assets to smooth their regulatory glide path. It’s probably too early to see what Nation will do with KCFM, Breeze and Sam South Coast, but the news from their core local Welsh stations is less than optimal. Radio Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Bridge and Swansea Bay have seen their reach and hours drop both quarter on quarter and year on year. Some precipitously.

As is often the case in Q2, digital radio listening has dropped back a little. It now deliver 56% of all radio listening, rather than 56.4% last quarter. Year on year though, it’s up from 50.2%.

It did make me look at the reach figures for digital radio though. 72% of radio listeners listen to analogue radio each week, but 74% of radio listeners choose digital. We are definitely in a post-analogue radio world now.

Post-Christmas we’ve also seen a change in digital radio consumption, with internet radio listening, something that’s always been a laggard, suddenly taking a up-swing. In Q4/2018 it accounted for a 9.4% share of listening, Q1/2019 saw it leap up to 11.0%, and now it’s up to 12.5%. It would be hard to disagree that this has been fuelled by the rise of smart speakers.

All this shows how the more competitive market is making all stations – big and small – think about how they communicate and compete.

Adam Bowie has more detail about individual station breakdowns.