Regulating the media

I’ve just finished a few books that look at the challenges broadcasters have faced – The Remarkable Tale of Radio 1 by Robert Sellers and Maggie Brown’s Channel 4: A History: from Big Brother to The Great British Bake Off (the sequel to the equally excellent A Licence to be Different – The Story of Channel 4 which covers the channel’s early years).

In retrospect the problems Radio 1 and Channel 4 faced were pretty prosaic – from being the challenger (to the pirates and BBC/ITV respectively) to being the challenged (the rise of commercial radio and the growth of multi-platform television). They were both trying to maintain as much of the status quo as possible – broadly audience share and revenue (for C4) – without having to change too much.

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Facebook Gets Into Podcasting

Last week saw Facebook launch podcasts on its platform. Not that you’d notice if you were outside of the US.

The roll-out seems somewhat limited. US listeners are the only ones that can tune in, and participation for podcasters seems invite-only for the moment.

This means that even if your podcast episodes are pulled through and published they won’t show up in an international user’s newsfeed, or even on a Page if you visit it.

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Radio and Podcast Acquisitions

Last week there were some more audio acquisitions with Sony Music grabbing audio production company Somethin’ Else and Bauer adding the few Imagine stations to their portfolio.

On the radio consolidation front there isn’t a lot left to buy up. The majority of UK FM licences are owned by Bauer and Global, with the other two last remaining groups heavily aligned to one, or the other. Bauer provide advertising and services to the Nation Radio stations and Communicorp (other than a single station in Manchester) operate stations under brand licence from Global. In effect, both of these groups operate the local radio bit (local ads and programming) and everything else comes from their partner.

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GB News – Pretending For Real

It’s not often you get a month-long preview of a radio station before it launches, but we certainly have with GB News.

If you didn’t know, as well as launching as a TV channel, the new ‘news’ channel GB News is also going to be broadcasting on the radio too – they announced they’ve snagged a slot on Digital One.

There’s some confusion about whether it’s going to be a feed of the TV channel, or something more. My take is that whilst ‘the TV feed’ will make up a decent part of it, I’d expect there to be some radio specific programming in time too.

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The Podcast Guessing Game

I’ve had a busy time in podcasting land recently. We’ve been gearing up for the announcements of this year’s British Podcast Awards nominees and simultaneously planning a 24-hour podcasting conference with parts in Australia, Europe and North America – Podcast Day 24. There’s been a lot going on.

I was very happy to get the British Podcast Awards nominations announced. It whittled around 1600 entries down to about 130 nominees, through the hard work of nearly 200 judges. The list is a great mix of shows, small and large, famous and anonymous. There are nominees with 200 listens per episode and 200,000 per episode. The Awards has always been about discovery – and I love that there’s so many new shows to sample.

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Content People Are Wasteful

Content creators, especially in the audio space, are hugely wasteful individuals. They spend all this time preparing, then executing, interesting, thoughtful or entertaining content and then after it’s been broadcast or downloaded, just move on to the next thing.

Content rarely gets repeated, re-contextualised or even archived. Indeed most never even sees the pixels of a Tweet or Facebook post. It is sent out into the great beyond never to be seen (or heard) again.

What a waste of time and effort.

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Scale and Distribution

In the telly world, a surprise merger between AT&T’s WarnerMedia (CNN, HBO, Warner Brothers, TBS, TNT, DC) and Discovery (Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, OWN, Eurosport). It’ll result in a business that turns over $52bn with profits of $14bn.

Both are pretty big, and have been focused on rolling out their own streaming platforms – HBO Max and Discovery+ – and trying to compete with Netflix (revenue $25bn), Disney+ (Disney revenue $65bn) and more.

The deal is the result of AT&T realising that media is hard (and want to concentrate on telecoms) and Discovery’s desire to have more scale to compete.

Consumer behaviour is shifting and the TV companies are having to adapt their corporate structures and strategies to keep up.

Disney’s focus on Disney+ has meant killing off many of their broadcast kids channels and axing profitable third-party licensing deals. Netflix has enjoyed much success, with content paid for with debt – they’ve borrowed $16bn to ensure you’ve got something new to watch. It announced at the beginning of the year that it finally had enough subscribers – 200m of them – to pay for its content (and the loan interest) out of its cashflow. Their borrowing gamble seemed to pay off.

Of course for all of the streaming businesses the core elements are owning both the content and the distribution. As many of them have found licensing material is only good whilst the deal lasts.

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A quick review of audio developments

I’ve covered a lot of different issues over the past ten months. Often there’s a topical hook and sometimes just an old soapbox is dragged from under the sofa. Occasionally a bit of both.

Looking back there’s a few trends that are starting to form that will define much of the next 18 months.

It’s hard not to think that subscription in some form will be tackled by more media companies. The rise of subscription options for prolific users on Facebook/Twitter, the recurring revenue opportunities to be deployed by Apple and Spotify, writers abandoning titles for Substacks and even Bauer rolling out a subscription option for their listeners. All of this is enabled by digital ubiquity for the vast majority of consumers. Digital TV, DAB, Smart-speakers, tablets, mobiles etc with the ability to cast and stream wherever. It’s never been easier to have your content consumable. Providing they know that it exists.

So, today, I wanted to do a few pick ups on stories I’ve written about with short, extra thoughts.

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Bauer and GB News Go Subscription

My predictions for GB News. It will have a good first week. Andrew Neil will ‘beat’ the news channels. It won’t be as right wing as people think. This will likely annoy the more gammon-y end of the market. Some of it will look a bit cheap. Some of the new presenters will find this stuff is pretty hard and the guests, outside of Andrew Neil, will be a bit average alongside loads of Tory MPs.

Its ratings will drop off pretty quickly. They’ll be lots of ‘according to BARB no one was watching these shows’ and they’ll come back with ‘look at all the retweets we’re getting’. Less people will watch Andrew Neil.

The resonating stuff will be all the right-wing malarkey and six months in they’ll have a mini re-launch and it’ll be all blowhards, all the time. The BBC imports will be moved to the edges. Andrew Neil will start to be a bit uncomfortable with the company he’s keeping and will end up doing a weekly show as he’ll say he needs to spend more time with his business interests and that this was always the plan.

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Why Building Scale is Essential to Podcast Success

I was somewhat taken by a line in the press release announcing that Roman Mars’ 99% Invisible has been acquired by SiriusXM’s Stitcher unit. He says:

I want to be with the company that launches new projects, and Stitcher provided us a unique opportunity to focus on the art of creating, developing and producing content we know our listeners will love, while freeing me of constantly thinking about the business of podcasting. (emphasis my own)

Whilst I’m sure it’s not the only reason, I can imagine there’s a certain amount of relief in cashing in your business chips and returning back to the thing you love (the audio) rather than holding out for something that may never come, or worrying about being left behind whilst your medium changes around you.

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