Tech Trying to Do Radio & Consistency

I mentioned a few weeks ago my frustration about big tech’s inability to work out what radio is, and their lack of success in making it better.

The short version of that is that they seem driven by their own knowledge and seem unable to do research into what audiences want and they also fail to bring in people who’ve been successful in that medium, for any of the 100 years that it’s been around.

The piece took to task Amazon’s new Amp service, but the same arguments work for many of the others too. Oh, on Amp, there are currently 82 jobs available, my quick tallying made that 70 roles in tech, 3 in marketing, 3 in monetisation, 2 in customer service and just 4 focused on content/creators.

Over at Spotify they’ve moved their stand-alone app Greenroom, previously called Locker Room, into the main Spotify, re-branded as Live on Spotify. This is the evolution of their version of Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces (as well as all of the similar copycats).

The purpose of these was ‘anyone can do a live show!’ Unsurprisingly the UGC nirvana never came. Clubhouse has disappeared off everyone’s radar, Twitter Spaces limps on and, probably sensibly, Live at Spotify is now (mainly) Spotify podcast talent doing livestreams.

The Spotify audio talent, including people from companies like The Ringer, which they acquired, are now spread around doing Podcasts, Video-enabled Podcasts, Music+Talk Shows and now Live at Spotify. No matter how good the content is, this output is hard to find, and doesn’t link very well to each other.

For example, Nate Duncan’s podcast – Dunc’d on Basketball, doesn’t have any obvious connection to Duncan and Leroux Live. I couldn’t hear any cross-promo (though it might have been in the middle somewhere). Also content-wise, the material touches on similar topics and as ‘Lives’ are available on-demand as basically unedited podcasts, I’m not sure what I should really be listening to?

Additionally the pre-roll explainers of these older Lives all refer to the service as a different name, and a different way to get it.

Meanwhile many of the Music+Talk shows produced by Spotify have fizzled out. Key Notes (from the Dissect podcast and Spotify Studios) ran for 7 eps, Soundtrip with Jugs and Teddy did 14, No Skips with Jinx and Shea stopped last month, as did the LATAM show La Cima and The Ringer’s 60 Songs That Explain the 90s completed its 60-ep run. There are some things that are still going like Bandsplain and Black Girl Songbook which have been running weekly from launch.

I point at this, not to point fun, but to point out that content is hard. And that’s both the creation of the content – the shows – as well as devising the right packaging and messaging for it.

Facebook was going to become the home of podcasts, but barely a year on they’ve moved their team to work on metaverse initiatives. Spotify, themselves has closed its Live creator fund, before it gave out any money.

The idea to “move fast and break things” in the app world may be the way to go, well at least initially, but in content it’s all about consistency.

The vast majority of radio’s success comes from consistency and I’d argue that most successful podcasts are consistent too. If you take out the short-run documentary series, the vast majority of podcasts at the top of the Apple Podcast charts are long-running shows (and that’s with an algorithm that focuses on new).

In radio, the most successful shows are the ones that have been on air forever. Ken Bruce on Radio 2 is the best performing show on the network – he’s been there since January 1992 – 30 years! The mid-morning current affairs show has been running since 1973 (nearly 50 years), and has only had two presenters in that time – Jimmy Young and Jeremy Vine.

Now, of course, you need to know when to move things on, but most listeners are habitual ones. They find media that they integrate into their life. Appointment to listen content (either live or on-demand) aligns with someone’s routine. Whether that’s arranging getting up and showering around a benchmark feature of a breakfast show, or always listening to a particular set of podcasts when walking the dog, the best audio becomes a fixture of people’s lives.

Whilst the content needs to be good, it also needs to be there! Always there, doing similar sorts of things. If your favourite breakfast DJ wasn’t on, on random days, or their playlist suddenly replaced pop with jazz, it’s something you would notice – and annoy! Consistency is as much the little things, as the big things. As Dick Stone says, the boring is important.

Alongside appointment-to-listens, there’s some media that becomes the top choices for background accompaniment. A music-intensive radio station or even an updated streaming playlist. These can become the go-to in people’s lives because they constantly, and consistently, deliver on a promise to listeners. Of what they are, when they are and why they are.

In amongst all of consumers’ consumption of course there’s room for ‘new’, for searching out new ways to scratch an itch, but for most listeners that occupies the smallest part of their consumption, otherwise it’s the regular, the consistent that they return to.

If you’re trying to establish a new audio product, on whatever platform, yes it has to be interesting, and attractive. New and shiny is also fine. But to get any repeat use, to get people to fall in love with it, to allow it become part of people’s lives, well, it needs to be consistent.

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Why consistently is audio’s superpower

Is Talent In Control?

Another week and more news of talent transfers. This morning Dan Walker, erstwhile host of BBC Breakfast is leaving the sofa for Channel 5. Over in podcast land, the BBC’s not having better luck, with departures of That Peter Crouch Podcast and Kermode & Mayo.

The BBC, particularly, are being squeezed from two sides. On one side you’ve got less money and more scrutiny, as many in-front-of-mic performers are having to publish their earnings and on the other side, there’s significantly more interest from an emerging suite of competitors as well as the ability to ‘monetise’ their talent directly.

The challenge for the BBC (and other established broadcasters) is that they have been slow to realise that the balance of power has shifted and they are unable to change their own structures (and thinking) fast enough to stem the bleeding.

A common complaint I hear from BBC podcast talent, and something that seems to have been a key issue for Peter Crouch and Co are the touring rights for shows. The BBC’s inflexibility to create easily manageable ways for talent to profit from their shows makes it hard for them to stick around.

What the BBC (and other broadcasters) have not been used to doing, is creating dynamic businesses with their talent, rather than just employing them. In Netflix’s world they’ve signed output deals with talent like Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy and Adam Sandler – to keep the hits coming. Closer to home, many agents have created companies with their talent to help them develop podcast, and other, programming that they all have a stake in.

Kermode and Mayo have been two of the UK’s longest serving podcasters, producing notionally a film podcast, but at the same time creating a large audio community. They’ve decided to bring the radio programme to an end, but keep the show going as a Sony-produced podcast.

The Megaphone-hosted show will allow the production company, Sony Music’s Somethin’ Else to sell sponsorships and live reads directly. There will also be a second weekly episode for Apple Podcast paying subscribers.

Both Peter Crouch and Kermode & Mayo re-launches have found themselves at the top of the Apple Podcasts charts, as listeners subscribe to their new feeds. However, it’s interesting to note that the same can’t be said over on Spotify. There, K&M have only jumped to 28 in the TV chart, and Crouch is nowhere to be seen. Just an algorithmic oddity, or recognition that the shows appeal to that older core BBC/Apple demographic?

The challenge for both shows will be to build beyond its historic BBC-derived audiences. Without broadcast plugs and BBC Sounds pushes, the shows themselves will have to join the podcasting marketing fray to keep their audiences growing.

Indeed, for Peter Crouch, the BBC allowed an incredibly generous final episode, 11 months after the last one, which talks about the new series starting and that ‘due to gremlins’ listeners will have to re-subscribe (to what will be their ad-funded operation). Over on Kermode and Mayo’s BBC Film Review, Jason Issacs plugged that their show was carrying on too, with many more hints carrying on throughout. Whilst both may feel that the BBC owe them as much, I would suggest the cool winds of the commercial sector would not have been so generous.

The more competitive nature of today’s audio sector makes what was a somewhat staid world into more of a replica of television, where format-owners, be they talent or production companies, move shows network to network.

In the case of Kermode and Mayo, the rights to the show is relatively difficult to determine. A relationship between the two hosts that started on Radio 1, became a feature of Simon’ Mayo’s Five Live show, and then when Simon left 5 for 2, a re-birthed film show on Five was something tendered and commissioned to Somethin’ Else in 2011. They now will continue to make, and commercialise, the programme in partnership with the hosts.

Does this activity harm Somethin’ Else’s relationship with the BBC (they’re the corporations biggest producer of independent radio programmes) or would the Sony Music subsidiary sooner be making programmes that it owns or co-owns the IP of, anyway?

For me, all of this is a good reminder that celebrity-led programmes are great short-term for any organisation, but their ability to move from outlet to outlet, makes it hard to build a sustainable business on top of them. As a comedy agent said to me “we keep all our talent with podcasts on one year contracts, and just keep jacking up the price”.

To build reliable and long-lived audio businesses, owning the IP of the idea and its execution is key. I would much rather have a show built around an idea, than one solely built around a person.

Channel 4

News last night that the government is going to try, again, to privatise Channel 4. Notionally to “help Channel 4 compete with Netflix and Amazon”, it will also happily allow the government to give a kick-in to a perceived enemy. When 60,000 viewers write in saying that they want it kept as is and all TV production companies and advertisers agree, it is a bit of a stretch to say Nadine knows best.

The likelihood is that an American company, perhaps Viacom (owner of C5), will probably get it, alongside some PSB-ish commitments that will be watered down in time. A model that takes no profits, doesn’t make it’s own programmes, and lets producers keep rights is unlikely to be a new owners core strategy.

The current owners – us – are unlikely to get a better deal than the one we get at the moment.

Personally, I think the best owner for the UK would be BBC Studios who already run the commercial UKTV operation. A BBCS-owned C4 would mean that any profits would be reinvested into either C4 or the public-service BBC. If the government truly wanted competition for Amazon and Netflix (whilst helping build UK production) that would be the way to do it. Of course, they dislike both, so I doubt we’ll be seeing that anytime soon.

AOB

On The Media Podcast this week, Edelman’s Karin Robinson and the Press Gazette’s Charlotte Tobitt talk to me about the big media stories of the week. Plus Dan Taylor-Watt runs through the latest streaming news. Get it on your podcast app!

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Another week and more news of talent transfers. This morning Dan Walker, erstwhile host of BBC Breakfast is leaving the sofa for Channel 5. Over in podcast land, the BBC’s not having better luck, with departures of That Peter Crouch Podcast and Kermode & Mayo.

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.

Marr and more

More Talent Transfers

An amazing coup for Global as they sign up the BBC’s Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel for “a major new podcast for Global Player, as well as hosting a show together on LBC and providing commentary and analysis for lbc.co.uk

I imagine it’s a blow to the BBC, well at least to staff morale, as there has been an exodus of news staff from a combination of cuts and the re-location of departments around the country.

The Times’ Jake Kanter talked about the worry about whether this is starting to affect output. I imagine not entirely, there’s still a huge number of people there, and cock-ups can always happen. However it does all play into a narrative of decline. The Guardian’s Jim Waterson and Caroline Davis quote an unnamed person: “Sources said there was a sense that BBC [news] had not grasped how big podcasting was becoming because it was still fixated on servicing its old broadcast channels, and could not compete on money, talent and editorial freedom.

Talent-development in a fast-changing media sector is more and more important. The rise of digital media opportunities, and the difficulty of cutting through with new products means the potency of talent is hard to ignore and looking after them becomes even more important.

That’s problematic for BBC talent who are assailed from all sides and get caught in the cross-fire of national newspapers/politicians lobbing grenades at Auntie, having to follow stricter guidelines than any other operator, and get their salaries published too.

Emily Maitlis has been harangued a number of times over scripts and social posts and I imagine if Jon Sopel’s desire to be political editor was going to be overlooked, it’s perhaps not surprising that they’re off to do something else.

The hiring by Global follows hot on the heals of them snaffling Andrew Marr and Eddie Mair.

At the BBC they all earned around £350k each, the Global deal will be generous, but it also frees them up to do other things too. However to encourage them to give up plum jobs there will have needed to be both a cash and creative incentive.

Other than broad outlines, Global have been non-specific about what Andrew Marr, Jon Sopel and Emily Maitlis will do on LBC. If they’re paying top dollar they will want their pound of flesh. Looking at these hirings it would seem mad to me if they’re not planning on launching a TV station around LBC. They have already upped the visual elements on the channel, but with competitors like GB News and talkTV getting into the news/opinion business, why wouldn’t Global, with already some of the best talent, not be readying themselves to do that too?

Also joining Jon and Emily is their old podcast producer, Dino Sofos. Previously looking after some of the successful BBC News podcast launches, one of his key skills seems to be talent relationships – including putting together Emily and Jon for Americast.

In one of my previous companies they hired a firm to map all the relationships in the business, irrespective of reporting lines. There were a few, but powerful, supernodes. People who were the connective tissue to much of the smooth running of the organisation. The names were quite a surprise to the business’ bosses, they often weren’t particularly senior but they were essential for information flow and belonging.

The danger with a lot of restructuring is that its hard to know the knock-on effects of the changes will be, relationships are often non-linear. It’s easy to lose a supernode. Who was responsible for fighting to keep Emily or Jon? Or did it partly get lost in the wash?

The appointment of BBC political editor has been notable by how many people have ruled themselves out. Looking at the grief Laura Kuenssberg got on social media, the pressure from other media and the perhaps lukewarm defence from the bosses – why would you want to say yes to that? Particularly now for talent enjoying success, and with an energised market for those skills, being cared for and looked after has never been more important.

AOB

I caught up with ex-Times Editor and ex-Head of BBC News, now Founder and Editor of Tortoise Media, James Harding, on last week’s edition of The Media Podcast. It was fascinating to hear how think about slow news, membership and their new focus on audio.

Also joining me was the Guardian’s Media Editor Jim Waterson and CEO of Nine Lives Media Cat Lewis.

Listen on your podcast app of choice or by clicking here: podfollow.com/themediapodcast.

Global swoop in for Maitlis and Sopel

Content-Rich, Hyper Local Audio

Another radio station launch yesterday, but a small one, rather than a big one. In Shaftesbury, The Vale and Chase, 107.3FM came alive with Alfred – a new community station, but a very different one. Covering less than 12,000 people and almost entirely speech.

On the way to becoming a licensed radio station, its broadcast output started in podcast form – The Alfred Daily. A 7 day-a-week 45 minute to hour long podcast with stories about the area that it covers.

An episode from the beginning of the month included: Shaftesbury Town Council agreeing market day pedestrianisation changes; Sherborne Causeway filling station reopening with expanded retail offer; a piece on Shaftesbury history from Robert Mullins; a report about Wiltshire being 5th and Dorset 28th in a council climate change table; Mary Myers’ smallholding diary and a soundscape too – a wren and a dunnock at dawn in Enmore Green.

The radio station uses this daily podcast material as the basis of the 6am, 7am, 8am, 10am, 1pm, 5pm and 9pm hours. Keri Jones, the Station Manager, tells me that these are each subtly different with changing weather and travel dropped in, and also changes to tense as well. So an earlier version will say “at a council meeting this afternoon” and later on that will become “at a council meeting earlier today” etc.

In the other hours, one of two things happens. There’s either an hour long-programme (on subjects like Travel, Business, Nature, Sport or Countryside) or an hour that combines evergreen content from the daily podcast archives (of which 600 hours are currently being reviewed for gems).

Like many community radio stations, it’s staffed by volunteers (mostly those who are retired). After some training they collect material on their phones, with a split sponge hair roller to stop any wind over the internal microphone. The teams making the hour-long programmes communicate on WhatsApp and then use Hindenburg (shortened by them to Hindy) to make their shows. These get a number of repeats throughout the week.

The station then uses the Station Playlist play-out system to collate and schedule all the elements. To backfill hours they use soundscapes collected from over the area.

I asked Keri whether his 80 volunteers get much direction about the brand or what listener filters they should think about. He said it’s all quite light touch, but the core filter is “has this happened in SP7? [the local postcode]”. If it doesn’t, he’s not interested.

Also helping them sculpt the output was a 400 person survey before submitting their FM application. When told the station idea, respondents were asked whether they wanted national news. The answer – a resounding no. He suspects some of this was influenced by surveying during a rancorous Brexit discussion period, but it helped push him towards his entirely local format.

Listening in, the use of the podcast material (and the podcast archive) gives it an incredibly pro-feel. It sounds similar to built programming you might hear on a BBC station. With a volunteer-led approach some of the features run longer than you may traditionally choose to, but it’s friendly, interesting and provides great company. It’s lack of liveness is not missed, especially when the material is so rich of people and place. With individual shops mentioned, as our notable locals, combined with enough news features and what’s on, the fact its all pre-recorded barely registers. And why should it?

Shaftesbury isn’t a haven of crime, but they cover tougher stories too. Keri tells me though that rushing to get a scoop isn’t essential, especially when their local newspaper is fortnightly. When a local shop was burgled, rather than doorstepping the proprietor, he waited a few days so he was comfortable to tell their story and was able to add detail and follow up. If there’s something that is time sensitive – a local traffic flare up – one of the volunteers records a WhatsApp audio message and sends it over. Keri then drops it into the play-out system.

Doing local radio differently has always been in Keri’s blood. After a number of DJ jobs at stations around the country, he won FM commercial licences for Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire and a move to the Isle of Scilly led him to set up a community radio station there too. Though speech was important in both of those operations, they were also music services.

He didn’t think that there was much of a through-line of his radio work leading to Alfred but he felt the ability to do the station the way he has done it today has been driven by technological progress and changing listener behaviour.

Volunteers with phones, Whatsapp, 4G and Hindy make them self-sufficient in a way that would have been difficult ten years ago. Playout software, IP infrastructure and ubiquitous internet makes it simpler to assemble and broadcast.

At the same time, the sheer range of music stations on digital radio, means there’s no need for Alfred to provide music (other than a local music show). Keri even considered whether they should launch the FM station at all after the success the podcast has had – with around 1,000 downloads a day (not bad when the patch is around 12,000 people). With stories about blind locals being given Alexas by family to tune in and events putting their growth down to plugs on the pod, they had clearly cut through by providing a truly neighbourhood product. “The listeners all referred to hearing things ‘on the radio’ whatever the platform” Keri says.

Hearing Keri talk about the station and the production method reminded me of many of the things that we do at Fun Kids, particularly about being content-first and then relatively agnostic about delivery. It only cements in my mind radio’s ridiculous obsession with being truly ‘live’. With volunteers, a defined mission, clever technology and having things well though out, Alfred is a rich radio station that puts many other local stations (community and small commercial) to shame. It’s another reminder that merely replicating what’s gone before is not the way to be creative or successful today.

Like many small operations, the pinch points for Alfred is a lack of full-time staff to carry the burden. Acting as ringmaster and delivering at least an hour of new speech everyday whilst marshalling his volunteers’ shows is quite the effort.

The station’s design means that the station’s hard costs are a few thousand pounds a year. They’ve raised over double that from five advertisers, with year long campaigns, who do some NPR-style underwriting and occasional live reads.

It does mean that whilst costs are covered, the resource isn’t yet there for them to be able to utilise the great material they collect 100%. The packages and features could, of course, be turned into web articles with audiogram’d social content too. There’s probably enough to put a local news website to shame. However, that’s not particularly why they’re all in it. In Alfred they’ve created an audio product, podcast, radio station – whatever you want to call it – that has deep connections to the community and its listeners. Providing they’re in SP7.

AOB

This week on The Media Podcast I caught up with media commentator Kate Bulkley and Heat Magazine’s Boyd Hilton to discuss the week’s media news plus I found out more about Albert – the screen industry’s sustainability organisation – from their Director Carys Taylor. Listen and subscribe.

Alfred is doing things differently.

Getting the Ads Right and Getting the Show Right

There’s a change at the Virgin Radio breakfast show. No, Mr Evans is still there. It’s a change around the commercial messaging. Up until now the show had an exclusive sponsor – Sky. This meant no spot ads – the 30 second commercials radio is well known for – and instead they had sponsor credits and also integrated plugs for Sky’s programmes and services into the content.

This was very sensible as when Chris started he had moved from Radio 2 to the digital-only Virgin Radio. Not having ads removed one of the friction points of listeners from moving over. I think it was also pretty good for Sky, they had a decent-sized environment (1 million listeners) who would be exposed to their messaging without ‘clutter’ – other ads and branded content. With half of Chris’ audience already satellite TV users, that’s not a bad mix of selling in and selling up.

However, we’ve just passed the three year point of Evans starting and the exclusive deal has come to an end. Sky remains the sponsor, but the station’s also introducing limited ad breaks into the show. My guess would be the cost of renewing exclusively exceeded what Sky would want to pay.

For Virgin Radio, I think this is probably a good thing. It must have been a nightmare to sell a station that’s all built around Chris Evans without giving advertisers access to it. News UK is the smallest of the big operators. This means they’ll always be battling to get on schedules whilst Global and Bauer take the bulk of an ad budget. Having spots in Evans’ breakfast show, or perhaps other promotional opportunities, would no doubt give the sales team another tool in their belt.

I would also imagine that the Sky sponsorship, even before, was unlikely to cover the entire cost of the Breakfast show. It’s an expensive show after all. But what Evans joining did mean was that it transformed the station in the non-breakfast hours too, hours that could be monetised through spot ads. Pre-Evans, outside of the Breakfast and Weekend Breakfast timeslots, the station had 1.3m hours. Now the non-Evans/Norton slots generate 5m hours. Breakfast itself went from 370k hours to 4.5m.

Originally the first ad break was due to drop in yesterday’s breakfast show at 7.10am. It didn’t, which surprised Chris, as he remarked upon later in the show. I’m sure it’ll appear soon.

What it did give me the opportunity to do though was listen to the show, which I hadn’t done since the first few months. Chris has always been one of my all time favourite presenters. Super-talented, quick-witted, a hybrid presenter-producer. This has usually worked pretty well for him.

I remember talking to one of his old Radio 2 drive-time team members who said when he came in asking what was on the show and challenging the staff’s ideas, his on the spot ones tended to be much stronger.

I was interested to tune in.

In commercial radio there’s always lots of rules that DJs have to follow. The thinking behind the rules is often solid, but they can often be enforced by useless twonks who don’t understand why they are there. Also, you can generally treat presenters who have been at the top of their game, like Evans, a little differently.

BUT, jeez, the opener was a difficult listen.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard as much fader wanking since going to cheesy nightclubs, and that, combined with speaking all over loads of lyrics made me feel like I was in a tumble dryer.

I’ve heard Chris Evans talk about his old Radio 1 shows being ephemeral, that part of the magic was that it was generally only relevant for that day. There was some of that yesterday morning, picking up on topical things like the Neighbours cancellation and getting the news person to chase more info up. Indeed they delivered a nice build from a listener who was on the mailing list of one of the cast. But apart from that it was mainly what the team and the listeners had been up to over the weekend.

In one link, of around six minutes, they covered (deep breath)… Liam Gallagher’s new song, a plug to him being on later, the Brits, Listeners texts, African Cup of Nations, another Liam plug mentioning his shows, more listener texts prompting a chat about Netflix’s Afterlife, a chat about deodorants and recyclability with some facts, EVs being accused of being the new diesel, a solicit for texts, Vassos going to And Juliet, a team member going to Ikea (no meatballs) and a super-fast run through of what else the team did, and then another solicit for listeners to text in what they’ve been doing.

Chris is excellent at giving pace to the show, he’s funny and quick, and the team sound like they’re having fun, but much of it was quite a tough listen.

In the second half of the show were all the guests – Liam Gallagher and Rose Matafeo. That’s cool – great prepped content. But looking at the RAJAR for an average Monday, half the audience are around before 8am and half afterwards. There’s big chunks of the listeners who would never have heard those guests – they just got a lot of chat without saying much.

If I was Chris I would be disappointed that his figures have hovered around the million mark for three years. There’s lots of things that I’m sure could be blamed – distribution, marketing, music etc – but from a single listen this morning there’s loads of things you could do to make it easier to listen to and more compelling.

I imagine (and from 25 years of stories) Chris is somewhat unproduceable. I’m sure the team and station put their effort into the things he wants – guests, background research etc. What he really needs to do though is find someone he trusts implicitly to help really build the structure of the show, create some storylines that look outward and can engage with new listeners and to develop benchmarks that are appointments to listen.

Today is a very noisy media environment, with loads of shows that are all pretty good. To grow, you really have to bring your A game, whoever you are. You also need experts to help you, whether that’s the production team, research, music. More than ever, with fractured audiences, echo-chambers and listeners more promiscuous than ever, any one person who thinks they know all the answers to a successful show is deluded. It’s never been more than a team game.

Perhaps one of the reasons that there were no ads on this morning’s show is that ad breaks started appearing down the corridor at Times Radio too.

Times Radio’s commercial model started as a combination of subscriber-churn-reducing-brand-re-enforcement alongside some third-party show sponsorship.

Its first RAJAR figures were a solid 637k reach, seemingly above what they have promised advertisers and whilst its second was a lower 502k, it still remained above the magic half million mark. I imagine that it gave confidence to the team for the station to be opened up to spot ads.

I reached out to News UK about the addition, and they said:

Introducing spot ads on Times Radio is the next phase of our commercial strategy for the station. The ads will be limited in number, allowing premium brands to reach our AB audience, which is the highest of any commercial radio station.

Keeping the ad load relatively tight on Times/Evans is a sensible thing to do. Firstly it will take a while to get the stations onto the schedules and if you limit it, perhaps there’s an opportunity to get a better CPT (cost per thousand) than the general national average.

Now the battle over the CPT price is at the root of much of commercial radio’s problems. Over the years the competition between Bauer and Global has seen a reducing CPT as they offer deals to ad agencies to lock in guaranteed ad-spend. Their scale means it can still be quite lucrative, but it sets a base that’s difficult for anyone to beat. A decent chunk of national inventory is being sold at £1.10. Fifteen years ago it was £1.50 (and that’s about £2.30 with inflation now).

I’m unsure whether News UK have managed to premium price their ad breaks – if they’ve managed it that will be quite a win. However, with the power of the agencies I imagine that will be difficult to maintain.

This lack of price elasticity is why sponsorship and integrations are so important to radio stations. It means you can charge more and escape the tyranny of the spot ad CPT rate.

Other types of audio spot ads, meanwhile, are doing pretty well. Non-demographically targeted in-stream radio ads go for around a CPM (cost per mille, but the same as CPT) of £10 and podcast ads can hit a £20 CPM or more.

Now, radio has many many more impacts delivered through broadcast than streams or podcasts, but there isn’t really any particular reason that the pricing is so very different. A pair of ears is a pair of ears after all.

It does though highlight the challenge radio groups face when thinking about their products. Should they pile into stream-based listening because the yields are good? Or is that just a short-term situation? CPMs for video ads used to be pretty high, but have dropped precipitously as supply has increased. Will streamed audio, or podcasts, follow the same trajectory as they get more popular?

I’m generally pretty bullish about Bauer’s system that lets listeners subscribe to stations and remove the ads. Lots of consumers now live in predominantly ad-free media environments. There’s always been solus BBC radio listeners of course, but with Netflix/Disney+ type services taking more and more of viewers’ media time, the interruptive nature of spot advertising is perhaps on a stickier wicket than it used to be. Providing the option to opt out of that in radio, for a low monthly cost, would seem a sensible thing to offer ad-rejectors.

But this CPT vs CPM vs Subscription issue is another example of the struggle radio has with what has worked in the past, and how it needs to look to evolve its model. As the arrival of Times Radio, the Evans poaching and developing different commercial model experimentation shows, it’s perfectly capable of meeting the challenge. The difficulty is that its comfort zone is so profitable it can be hard to think about what linear radio stations should look like next.

How radio uses adverts is key to its future (9 minute read)

RAJAR Q4/2021

The second RAJAR since the COVID hiatus has appeared and after the excitement of last quarter’s new stations and changes in behaviour, this wave is a little more muted.

As I talked about last time, youth radio is finding it difficult to control declines, many of which seem structural rather than cyclical. Radio 1 has had its worst ever quarter for both 10+ and 15+. The station is very much in build mode, with much of this quarter bearing the brunt of new mid-morning, drive and evening shows. Faced with all of that, a small dip from 8.2m to 8.1m is probably not that bad.

Over at Capital, Breakfast with Roman Kemp is having share problems. Generally breakfast audience share exceeds the station’s average. If you put loads of effort into a breakfast show you would assume it will outperform the more functional aspects of a station. Over at Radio 1, Greg James gets a 6.1% share compared to the station average of 5.4%, Kiss’ new-ish breakfast show has a 1% share nationally, the same average as the station, and in London breakfast is on 2.6% vs the station’s 2.4%.

For Roman and the team, their show is 2.9% in London (vs 3.2% for the station) and nationally is 2.6% (vs 2.9% for the station). Capital has suffered for a long time with low average hours – which will impact share. It’s also kept its breakfast show at the regular 6 to 10am time, whilst Radio 1’s moved Greg from 7 to 10.30am, and Kiss Breakfast with Jordan and Perri is 7 to 11am, perhaps not maximising the available audience.

Indeed, down the corridor at Radio X, Chris Moyles is delivering a 3.2% share in London and a 2.9% share nationwide – better than Capital. Radio X has a third of the reach of Capital, but Moyles is delivering more listening hours. I thought I’d also check out the average ages, for Roman’s show its 36.7 and Moyles is 38.3 – not actually that different.

Commercial radio ads are sold based on the amount of impacts – this is directly related to the volume of listening hours a station generates – more impacts, more revenue. Now, clearly, demographics do come into play and certain audiences are worth more than others – but youth radio stations’ low average hours, often with declining reaches, means total hours are likely to decline even faster.

In the last ten years, Capital’s lost a third of its hours nationwide and half of its hours in London. In the last five years Kiss has halved its hours. Plus Capital Xtra’s sitting on its worst hours for a long time. Clearly, some of this comes from increased competition, but declining total youth hours doesn’t help either.

I think there is a danger that the declining audiences means its much harder for groups to make money from youth radio. If that results in cutting investment, then you potentially get stuck in a loop of declining revenue and audience that you can’t get out of. Any lack of provision for young audiences puts at risk bringing new listeners into the medium. And that’s bad news for radio stations targeting older listeners later on.

Greatest Hits Radio

In London, Bauer’s Greatest Hits Radio took over Absolute’s 105.8FM frequency in May last year. Both stations have been on digital platforms throughout, though the FM change happened in the middle of the chart below, just before Q3, 2021.

Absolute has not unexpectedly seen a decline, but this has been more than made up by GHR’s appearance. GHR has also been attracting a different audience to Absolute. So whilst Absolute has declined its audience have found it on other platforms, whilst a new audience has come to GHR, discovering it through FM. The bottom line shows a combo of audiences, demonstrating the increase in reach and hours for Bauer overall.

The Simon Mayo affect has probably propelled GHR in London and also in Liverpool (where it had been on FM for a while). This has helped it grow its audience across the UK to 3.08m (from 2.89m). These increases though do hide a more mixed bag from many of the stations that were acquired and re-branded. Some that had strong heritage have had precipitous drops. The Eagle in Surrey has fallen from 107k two years ago to just 40k now.

Local and Networks

Rebranding into networks however, for many stations, is probably the best chance of those frequencies remaining viable.

I counted 57 commercial FM stations that are still locally branded – the Pirate FM’s and Radio Pembrokeshire’s of the world. Reach-wise 49 of them were down quarter on quarter. Over at the BBC it’s a similar story, with just 13 of their stations increasing reach. The hours story for both is not dissimilar.

To pick one example, Free Radio Birmingham, or BRMB in old money, currently has a reach of just 115k. To compare, it was over 500k in 2004 and even over 300k in 2016.

The choice provided by digital radio makes it increasingly tough for heritage stations with a broad pop music radio format to succeed.

This isn’t helped by only 36% of radio’s listening hours now being from AM/FM. DAB on its own is 43.2%. All the digital hours combined are 64%. Analogue reach is only 64.7% now, compared to digital’s reach of 80.3%. UK radio listening now is very much a digital endeavour. The sheer volume of national competition means it’s harder and harder each quarter for local stations to compete.

Other news

A lot of this post has been around declines, but there’s some good news too. Planet Rock, one of the first national digital radio stations, has had its best reach ever at 1.4m (it’s also the biggest digital-only commercial station for hours – 10.6m of them). It just shows that audience growth can happen for any station.

New kids on the block, Boom Radio had a small reach bump (from 233k to 242k) but delivered strong hours growth, driven by high average hours. They’re now doing 2.4m hours (up from 1.8m hours last quarter). It’s an hours performance that makes them bigger than the BBC Asian Network, Heart 90s, Jazz FM and many more. If they keep their average hours up and grow their reach then they’ll end up doing very well.

Over at Fun Kids we’ve had our best ever RAJAR. We measure in London and look at the 10 plus data, even though that’s outside our target demo (but sadly RAJAR doesn’t go any lower). We’ve got 122k 10+ listeners in London, which is more than talkRADIO, Hits Radio, Heart 90s, Capital Dance and 30 other stations. Not that I’m counting.

AOB

Adam Bowie does excellent RAJAR round-ups and you can find his here.

He’ll also be joining me on the Media Podcast this week to talk RAJAR. It’ll be out tomorrow, so subscribe in your podcast app of choice!

If you just read my RAJAR posts shame on you! I write about radio, podcasts and streaming each week and you can receive it free in your inbox by signing up here.

What is the radio audience up to? (6 minute read)