October, 2010

Digital Radio – Is It All Doom and Gloom?

I’ve already been through the latest RAJAR results, and in my summary I said:
The digital listening figure for all radio went up a fraction as noted above. I think it’s fair to say that it’s a bit disappointing even if the year on year growth is quite reasonable – up from 21.1% to 24.8% now. The BBC is slightly ahead of that average at 24.9% while commercial radio is slightly behind it at 24.1%.
I just used the overall numbers for digital listening, but those figures can be broken down further. That 24.8% is made up of 15.3% DAB, 4.4% digital television, 2.8% internet and 2.2% unattributed digital listening.
An article in the Telegraph, and digital doom-monger Grant Goddard, have both highlighted the fact that the DAB constituent part has dropped this quarter from 15.8% to 15.3%. This is emblamatic, seemingly, of DAB’s failure.
But let’s look at the digital listening figures in a bit more detail shall we?

The immediate thing to notice is that, yes, that DAB percentage has fallen a bit this quarter. But can that really be said to be the beginning of a trend? Not at all. Overall, digital listening dropped between Q3 09 and Q4 09 last year when we had more stories about the failure of digital radio. What happened after that? The numbers jumped back up to 24.0%
And what would you say is the overall trend on that chart?
In fact – don’t let your eyes deceive you. Run the numbers through Excel and get a trend line. But I’ve done it for you. It gives
y = 0.0082x + 0.1338
For the less mathematically inclined, the fact that both numbers on the right hand side of the equation are positive means that the trend is upwards.
Go on. Here’s the chart with a trendline on (not Google Charts this time)
trendline.png
What those charts also clearly display is that the growth in digital listening is seasonal, with significant step-changes coming in Q1 each year after Christmas presents have been given.
Now would the radio industry (well most of it anyway) be happier if the digital growth was faster than this?
Absolutely (no pun intended).
But nonetheless, some stations are doing very well indeed. Let me refer you once more to my previous entry on RAJAR – Absolute Radio’s Network has grown by 24%, and that’s driven by digital growth. Radio 1Xtra just published its biggest ever reach, and 6Music has double the audience it had last year. Then next quarter will be the first in which Smooth has been fully national on DAB. And the RadioPlayer is soon to launch which will make listening online much easier. Applications to listen to stations on mobile phones are flying, with all the major groups creating applications for the bigger platforms (Global has just launched their Windows Mobile 7 applications) as smartphone penetration and mobile data usage increases. And digital television switchover is still happening, meaning that as well as homes’ main sets, secondary TV sets in kitchens and bedrooms go digital where they can also be tuned to radio stations.
Who says the future of radio isn’t digital?
[James Cridland also addresses this issue here.] Disclaimer: These are my personal views, and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer. Furthermore, I do sit on the RAJAR Technical Management Group, which works closely on these matters. Although, that hopefully means that I know what I’m talking about.

RAJAR – Q3 2010

Like clockwork, another RAJAR comes around, and the radio industry all pauses to look at the new figures for the quarter.
Here are some of the overall highlights:

  • Overall reach remains at the high point it was last quarter (down just 9,000 people)
  • Digital listening has increased to 24.8% (up from 24.6% last quarter)
  • Commercial radio made some marginal gains on the BBC

First of all, indulge me a little. At work, we’re very pleased with our results. The Absolute Radio Network of services has posted its highest hours for four and half years – well into Virgin Radio territory – with a 19% increase in reach on the quarter (33% on the year) and 24% increase in hours on the quarter (48% on the year).
That increase comes broadly speaking across the board from Absolute Radio services. But Absolute 80s is undoubtedly a hit. It’s already bigger than the BBC Asian Network in reach terms with 564,000 listeners, and 3.7m hours which about as many as Smooth has in London to give you an idea of scale.
But aside from Absolute Radio, who else has been doing well?
There’s the usual mixture of results among BBC services. Radio 1 loses a small amount in reach, but hangs on to its listening hours. Radio 2 is pretty much flat. Radio 3 has had a good quarter which I imagine will in large part be due to the Proms falling in Q3. Radio 4 has lost a few hours but otherwise has little to worry about. Five Live has slipped a bit in reach, but hours are broadly the same.
The station everyone keeps an eye out for these days in 6Music. Well despite the threat of closure being long lifted, it has maintained its audience of just under 1.2m. BBC 7 – at some stage to be renamed Radio 4 Extra – has achieved a record amount of listening gaining 10% on the previous quarter, and its reach is equal to its record high as well. It’ll be interesting to see what happens at such time as the station does get a rebrand.
Talksport will be pleased with some significant increases in reach and hours which take the station back up to the levels it was before last quarter’s “blip” in audience figures. Classic FM has maintained its reach and hours, and Planet Rock has achieved its biggest ever number of listeners.
In London there are a few changes – as ever. Magic is now the clear commercial winner in the capital with a dominant lead in hours and a handful more reach than Capital. Heart has fallen back into third place in reach terms, while LBC continues to do well in hours. Xfm is not in great shape though: it’s reach is flat, but hours have fallen 29% on the previous quarter.
All the major commercial radio groups have seen increases. As well as Absolute Radio’s increases, noted above, UTV has increased 13.3% in hours, Bauer is up 5.7%, GMG is up 3.6% and Global is up 2.7% – all quarter on quarter.
Both Chris Moyles and Chris Evans have seen dips at breakfast, although Evans maintains a significant lead over Moyles even though he has a shorter show (and this is based on times prior to Evans’ show’s recent extension – he’s now doing three hours compared with Wogan’s two). Christian O’Connell is up 16% on the previous quarter, while Johnny and Lisa have also seen gains. Jamie has seen a bit of a dip – down nearly 10% – while Kiss has had a poor set of results losing 26% at breakfast. It should be said that Kiss’s numbers can fluctuate a bit, and last quarter was a very good set.
The digital listening figure for all radio went up a fraction as noted above. I think it’s fair to say that it’s a bit disappointing even if the year on year growth is quite reasonable – up from 21.1% to 24.8% now. The BBC is slightly ahead of that average at 24.9% while commercial radio is slightly behind it at 24.1%.
The number of people who ever listen via mobile phones continues to increase, up 2.3% to 12.8% on the previous quarter. It’s a lot higher amongst younger listeners where 30.7% say that they have listened like this.
So there you have it – a few nuggets. There’ll be plenty of other stories that have yet to be dug out, especially in local and regional radio where I’ve not concentrated yet. And I haven’t even gone into how RAJAR measures children (essentially it’s change and they now measure 10-14 year olds, but no younger.)
RAJAR’s press release is here. Absolute Radio’s release is here. And the full set of figures can be found here.
As ever, these are my views and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer, even though much of what I’ve written here is based on analysis conducted for my employer, and using RAJAR data that I’d otherwise not gain access to.
All the data is taken from RAJAR Wave 3 2010 data with the appropriate station or grouping weightings applied. Source: RAJAR/Ipsos MORI/RSMB.

The Independent & i

i and The Independent covers
I could start this talking about how I bought the first edition of The Independent in 1986, and how for years I read it pretty religiously – if not exclusively.
These days, I’m more of a Guardian man, still buying paper editions of it and its Sunday stablemate every day without fail. I still like The Independent, although I’ve not been a fan of the direction it’s gone with its issues based agenda.
Anyway, today publisher Alexander Lebedev launched a younger version of the paper – i. Since Lebedev took the London Evening Standard free just over a year ago, the rumours have abounded about what he might do with The Independent. The Standard seems to be doing quite well, no longer having free competition, and genuinely offering something to read on the way home (where its main competition is commuters’ smartphones, where email is read and games of the Angry Bird variety are assiduously played).
But the Standard had the advantage of reaching many readers in the centre of London meaning that a relatively small distribution team is able to handout the 600,000 or so papers it prints each day. The quid pro quo is that newsagent sales outside Zone One (the centre of the city) have disappeared. It’s not economical to distribute tens of papers to hundreds of locations. Indeed while the paper was initially available in a select number of supermarkets, I’m not sure that this is the case any longer, and I can find no mention on their website of availability beyond the distribution team.
The Independent has a tougher problem should it go down the free route. Its sales are national, picking up handfuls here and there. As a consequence simply giving away the paper isn’t easy to do without either continuing to charge some readers, or cutting them off altogether.
The route they’ve chosen is to launch “i”, a cut-down version of The Independent priced at just 20p, but still distributed through newsagents.
As a product, it’s clearly led to a large extent by Metro – the audience that they’re chasing. It’s bright and breezy, but a bit more intelligent than Metro, with an editorial line that obviously shares the liberal sensibilities of its older sibling. The problem is that it costs 20p. I don’t mean that the audience it’s targeting can’t afford 20p, or won’t pay 20p to read it. The problem is that we’re talking about a new kind of commuter who doesn’t walk into the newsagent in the morning. They walk into Starbucks. They read Metro because it’s there. It’s in the dump bin at their station.
Metro built its national distribution in a piecemeal manner, and perhaps launching a new national freesheet from the outset had too many distribution issues. But you can’t help but wonder if making the paper paid is in their long term plan, or whether it’s more a stop-gap until they can get teams in place.
The marketing press claimed that many papers would be handed out free to drive awareness of the paper in the first couple of weeks. However outside Oxford Circus station this morning, vendors were selling the paper for 20p. This is something that News International has tried with The Sun and The Times over time – although I do wonder whether vendors have to spend more time explaining that you have to part with cash than sell the paper, since commuters are now used to getting things free from Metro and the Evening Standard, to Stylist, Shortlist and Sport.
What’s the paper like itself? Well I was surprised to see how different it was from The Independent. Comparing stories, the Indy takes a much more serious approach, and today at least, there wasn’t an enormous amount shared. Much of what was shared has been subbed down in “i”. But the major feature on Mel Gibson is present in both papers. Sometimes the “i” version of a story is actually improved: a story about the Chilean miners playing a game of football had nicer photos in “i” than in the Indy. But for the most part, “i” is a subset of The Independent.
One area where this is less the case is in sport, where both titles are pretty decent. It feels as though more sport, and in more detail, has been carried over from the Indy. That’s a good thing, as Metro is decidedly poor at sport.
TV pages
The one area that’s not right in my mind is the TV guide. I know we all have EPGs on our sets theoretically making TV guides redundant, but actually you need more help not less, when there are hundreds of channels to surf through. “i” breaks down TV into genres and points you to different programmes dependent on what type of programming you want to watch. While I want to be directed to interesting programmes, I still in the main, want listings in a easy to read manner. That’s what the Independent offers. “i” relegates listings to a tiny area at the foot of a double-page spread. Both titles share Tim Walker’s TV review column which is good.
(As a radio person, I should note that “i” makes no mention of radio at all, whereas the Indy carries listings of the BBC national services alone, and a Radio Choice highlighting four programmes which is, at least, better than nothing!)
In summary, not a bad effort at all, although I can’t see the paper really gaining ground until it’s free and distributed in commuter-friendly places. I can’t see myself wanting to buy the cut-down version of the full product, even when it’s only one fifth the price. While price might be an issue the cut-throat world of tabloids (although even there, I’m not sure to what extent it’s the driving force), I’m unconvinced that this is the case amongst what we used to call broadsheets. Even Murdoch’s Times is priced in line with its “broadsheet” peers these days.

YouView

It really has been a busy few days, but one thing I was pleased to see happen was that Project Canvas – now YouView – will not be investigated by Ofcom.
This is the IP connected TV service, that Sky and Virgin Media had both been very keen to stop. Their problem was basically that it’s a competitor. Even as Sky develops its own Anytime+ service which will be rolling out to some users very soon, they realise that they’re limited in what they can offer and to who. Constrained by the lack of a return path, and the inability to use the vast bandwidth they’d need if every one of their customers wanted to stream different programmes at different times, they instead thrown their legal might behind trying to get it stopped.
Of course, even if they had managed to slow things up, it’d be pointless. Apple TV is out already – even if it has basically nothing available to UK users aside from film rentals. And Google TV is just around the corner. YouView will compete in this field. Who doesn’t want a box that offers Freeview+ service, is IP connected to allow viewers to watch the BBC iPlayer, ITV player, 4OD and so-on, as well as offering the ability to buy programmes?
You can see why Sky feels threatened.
That’s why it’s even more entertaining to read that now it’s happening, that Sky wants a piece of the action! But if it’s happening anyway, it’s probably better for them to be on the inside. Personally I think it’ll be very exciting and allow lots of people to monetise their programming in interesting new ways. And that includes audio by the way.

The BBC Licence Fee Settlement

It’s still really hard to quite get my head around how the BBC licence fee settlement plays out.
The quickest way to get a handle on what the BBC is being asked to do, is to read the letter to the BBC Trust from the DCMS website.
The key elements of the statement are:

  • The licence fee remains at its current level for the next six years (until 2016/2017), at £145.50
  • The BBC will fund the World Service, taking over from the Foreign Office.
  • The BBC will part fund S4C from 2013, although that channel’s budget will fall by 25%.
  • The BBC will fund BBC Monitoring, taking over from the government.
  • The BBC will fund a pilot rural broadband rollout.
  • The BBC will fund some local TV services.

I suspect that many at the BBC are still trying to get their heads around what this all means, although it’s fairly straightforward that this means a 16% reduction in costs. This isn’t nice, but is possibly better than expected, especially given the rumours surrounding the BBC having to fund the licence fees of the over 75s.
The real game-changer has to be the BBC taking on funding of the World Service. Currently the World Service broadcasts in 32 languages around the world on a wide range of platforms. If you’re someone like me, you tuned your Sony shortwave radio into the World Service to hear what was going on, and then perhaps you slightly surprised to discover the British news only played a small proportion of what the service talked about.
The BBC World Service is an invaluable public face of Britain around the world. While some may think that it’s a leftover from our Imperial past, I simply don’t believe that this is the case.
While the BBC paying for the World Service simplifies some of those conversations I’ve had with people from other countries when I try to explain that the Government doesn’t run the BBC (aside from the World Service) – something that’s sometimes not clear to people who come from, say, Italy. Overall, it endangers continued support for some of those valuable services. That means Persian, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, Somali, Urdu, Kyrgyz and many more. The problem comes when the BBC is next trying to save some money. The licence fee paying proportion of the Kyrgyz speaking audience is likely to be very small. It becomes very hard to support that service when its largely directed into another part of the world. I’m sure that BBC Trust members and Mark Thompson currently have no desire to cut it, or any other service. But what happens when the next savings have to be made? It’d be less noticeable than reducing the hours of childrens television or making less Sunday night drama.
The S4C funding is more complicated, and I suspect that there’ll be legal challenges to what this funding settlement suggests. I’m not Welsh and I don’t speak Welsh, so I’m not in position to say whether it’s a good or a bad thing – although clearly nobody likes seeing their budget cut. S4C has been in some trouble recently, and I know viewing figures aren’t great. Of course a lot of that is due to fundamental changes surrounding digital TV. In the analogue world, most viewers in Wales watched some S4C even if they didn’t speak Welsh, since it was home to Channel 4 programmes too (indeed, when I lived in Bath, I used S4C as a kind of Channel 4 + “a bit – maybe a few hours, maybe a day” service to catch up with shows you missed).
BBC Monitoring is a great service, but if the licence fee is paying for it, then it really demands that licence fee payers actually get access to what they’re collecting and collating. Currently it’s data is available to the Government and private subscribers. If I’m paying for it, then I should have access to it. And that might break the service’s funding model.
Rolling our rural broadband is very important, since without full activity, it does mean that people are discriminated against in a technology economy, based solely upon where they live. But getting the BBC to pay for it is really shifting cash out of other ministries costs as part of the whole spending review. While broadband can and does deliver digital media, there’s no doubt that this is using the BBC licence fee for anything the government feels like. The problem is that next time there’s an agreement to be made, anything and everything – broadcasting related or not – will be looking towards that cash.
But the biggest waste of money, even if it’s the smallest actual amount, is the £25-30m that the BBC is being forced to spend on local television initiatives. It just seems ill-thought out on so many levels. This is Jeremy Hunt’s baby. He’s been looking at ways to build local television stations for a while now, although it’s hard to see how this will work. Just over a million pounds each, for twenty services, is basically nothing in television terms. Even in a world of Flip cameras and editing in iMovie, that’s not going to go very far. I’ll be honest – I don’t understand how these services will work. Nobody has really thought through the logistics of EPG positions. In any case, in the second decade of the 21st century, we should surely be looking at IP delivery. There’s no bandwidth for these services on Freeview since it’s a model nearly completely based on nationwide coverage, and now that YouView has been approved, and with services like Google TV and Apple TV meaning that getting IP delivered programming on your television is easier than ever before, this seems like the natural home. At this point, you have to ask whether it actually needs to be state supported. While I think that Hunt’s previous comparisons of Birmingham, UK with Birrmingham, Alabama were utterly bogus, US television is able to support local news services in major markets. London should be capable of supporting a service – perhaps piggybacking on what ITV does regionally. However, I don’t see why the state should be subsidising these services. The state doesn’t support commercial radio or local newspapers. So why TV?
I suppose that we should be thankful that the BBC has not seen its costs cut further, and that probably explains why they’ve agreed to what they have done. But it does leave a very uneasy taste in the mouth.
These are my personal views and do not reflect those of my employer. The settlement letter linked to above does mention BBC National DAB rollout plans.

Ed Reardon Live

In the last week or so, two different audio “things” that I’ve really enjoyed have stopped being published.
William Gallagher has hung up his microphone on the UK DVD Review podcast and I’m going to miss it immensely.
Meanwhile the chaps over at Speechification have also decided that they’re going to need to call it a day. They curated some wonderful speech radio.
While I’m neither about to take up the challenge of reviewing DVDs for a podcast, nor archive some of the best radio that you probably missed, I will point anyone here who’s interested in the direction of An Audience With Ed Reardon. Broadcast yesterday on Radio 4, and recorded live at this year’s Edinburgh Festival, it features our favourite down-on-his-luck writer taking us through his oeuvre with the help of two actors who Reardon is disappointed to discover don’t bring quite the gravitas that Rodney Bewes and Paula Wilcox might have done.
And the excellent news is that we have a new series of Ed Reardon’s Week coming in the new year.
Anyway, in the meantime you have fewer than six days to listen again, so I suggest you do so.

Radio Festival 2010

Radio Festival 2010
Unlike last year, I wasn’t able to liveblog the Radio Festival since the venue had “challenging” connectivity.
So instead, here are my notes from the event to a lesser or greater degree, taken over the last couple of days.
This year, for the first time, the festival was held in Salford at the Lowry which is adjacent to Mediacity, where the BBC will shortly begin decamping with several of its services including Five Live. There were two rooms this year, which meant that there was lots of good stuff taking place elsewhere in the building and I wasn’t able to see it all. What follows is largely taken from proceedings in the main Quay theatre. As I understand it, the plan is that Salford will become the home of the Radio Festival in the same way that Edinburgh is the home of the Television Festival, and I believe that next year is already booked up.
I didn’t make it to Techcon, but the main festival opened on Tuesday morning with Tim Davie who spoke about the success of radio – A History of the World in 100 Objects has reached 10m podcast downloads (and I believe that they’re all now available to download), and the latest BBC Share of Ear research reveals that 81% of all listening is to radio, down just 1% from the last set of research.
Then we moved on to the first main session of the day which had the great and good of UK radio in one place: Tim Davie of the BBC, Andrew Harrison of RadioCentre, Ashley Tabor of Global and Paul Keenan of Bauer. Steve Hewlett of Radio 4’s Media Show was adjudicating…
The best opening line did come from Keenan who said in his introduction that he had “no experience of radio” putting him “in pretty good company up here [on the stage].”
It wouldn’t be a radio conference if we didn’t immediately get down to the nitty gritty and ask about DAB. Bauer still sees challenges with the technology and Keenan said that there hasn’t been a step change technologically. Ashley Tabor said that Global are “absolutely committed” to digital but that setting a firm date at this point wouldn’t be good for the industry. But that in every part of the country, there are services already available digitally that aren’t available on FM. He said that the next challenge is coverage: “The business model [of commercial radio] was not designed to sustain dual transmission.”
Tim Davie noted that going digital need not equal going DAB, and explained the importance of other technologies. That said, he couldn’t foresee a future without a broadcast backbone. He said that we need political will, and that this is the “biggest factor.” The over issue is coverage. He spoke about motorways and London (much to the enjoyment of an audience with plenty of northerners) getting their coverage improved as a first step. He wants coverage to increase beyond the 93% that the BBC has committed to.
He said that the bigger “negotiation” was the local layer of DAB and how that’s funded. Keenan said that this was the issue that nobody was talking about. Tabor agreed that this layer needed to be extended at the same time as national was built out. He said that commercial radio would do its bit, having already invested more than £200m. Davie said that they would work it through; he thought that there’ll be tensions about “who funds what” and that it’ll get “a little bit lively”. But it’s something we need.
Steve Hewlett asked if radio wasn’t stuck at 24.6% of all listening being digital. Keenan thought that moving Radio 1 and Radio 2 off FM and solely onto DAB would drive that figure. Davie, unsurprisingly, said that this wouldn’t be a great move listeners. Tabor introduced what I’ll call the Butch and Sundance approach, and said that we all needed to hold hands and jump off the cliff together…
Keenan pointed out that multiplex contracts were coming up for renewals, with 12 year options needing to be signed. Andrew Harrison said that DAB is the right technology when questioned on it. He pointed out that 12m DAB sets are out there, but conceded that new radios should include DAB+ for future proofing.
There was then a bit of side debate about how the 24.6% digital listening percentage is made up. For the record it’s made up of 15.8% via DAB, 4.1% from digital television platforms (Sky, Freeview, Virgin Media, Freesat and Tiscali TV), 2.9% via the internet (including mobile streaming) and 1.8% via unattributed digital platforms (we know the service they listened to was only available digitally – but the respondents didn’t say how they were listening, or they didn’t know). Tabor concluded that there were good things happening with DAB.
Tabor refuted rumours that have been circulating that he’s had any talks with Chris Moyles. Although he once was a flatmate of Moyles, he said that it wasn’t true that a deal had been done. He talked about their talent policy of bringing new names to radio like Emma Bunton and Jason Donovan. Hewlett referenced something that Paul Gambicni had criticised the radio industry of at a previous Radio Festival – that it was using too many TV faces. Tim Davie said that actually radio is a much easier sell than television to many people.
Davie said that presenter costs are coming down, but that the idea that radio was just full of TV people was a simplistic viewpoint. He referenced Radio 1Xtra and 6 Music as examples. Tabor pointed out that as a craft, radio is completely different to television. And Keenan said that getting people out of the BBC was not an issue – “we can compete well with the BBC.”
There was discussion surrounding a National Audio Office study into BBC efficiency, but Davie pointed out that presenters weren’t included. Hewlett wondered if the BBC wasn’t overly advantaged by being able to package deals with television contracts, but Keenan said that there was a world outside the BBC.
Asked whether Radio 1 and Radio 2 should be privatised, there was rare consensus. No. Nobody thought they should be. Tabor said that this was a red herring and wondered instead whether the services were doing what they should be doing. He thought that Radio 1 didn’t work hard enough to break new British bands. He said that having a publicly funded radio station providing a public service is a good thing. Harrison pointed out that public service and commercial services can dovetail well and used the example of Classic FM and Radio 3.
Things did get a bit more heated when Tabor accused Radio 2 of being too mainstream and having significant crossover with Heart.
A quick look at Comparemyradio.com is always useful in these discussions. At the time of writing, Heart London shares 36% of its playlist with Radio 2, while Radio 2 only shares 8% of its playlist with Heart London. In other words, Heart plays far fewer tracks than Radio 2. What Comparemyradio doesn’t show is how those comparisons would look in daytime… [Update: In fact you can look at daytime on Comparemyradio which I should have known! However, it shows that between 1000 and 1600, Heart London shares just 18% of it’s playlist with Radio 2, while Radio 2 shares just 6% of its playlist with Heart London. So Tabor’s argument doesn’t really hold water.] Another questioner wanted to know about the BBC sharing resources. Harrison talked about the RadioPlayer, which was being premiered at this festival, and highlighted the idea of non-exclusive rights. Football was mentioned, with Premier League rights being shared by the BBC, Talksport and, of course, now Absolute Radio.
Davie talked about the opportunities there were for other stations to broadcast concerts. He also highlighted BBC technology that was shared in technology such as RadioPlayer and soon, YouView (which Ofcom approved during the festival period).
Hewlett wondered whether losing the Rugby World Cup rights to Talksport was a deliberate strategy or a mistake. Davie said that it was neither and that what the BBC was presented with from the rights holder did not offer value for money.
A video question “came in” from Ed Vaizey. He wanted to know whether the panellists thought that the news should be sponsorable. At first the discussion diverted into a “heated debate” about what was local with Global and Bauer having different versions. Tabor spoke of national brands delivered locally, while Bauer had a different view with its network of Big City stations being less networked. There was a bit of a fight over Scotland where Bauer operate major stations in Edinburgh and Glasgow, two cities that Keenan said were very different. Global operates a single station across the two cities. Tabor, quite reasonably, pointed out that they had a single regional licence, hence their regional service.
Back on topic, Keenan didn’t feel that it was something that sat comfortably with him. Tabor said he’d like the opportunity to see the news sponsored. He said that as long as it was kept editorially separate, it would be fine. He said that other information like the weather and traffic and travel was successfully sponsored. Harrison thought that the opportunity should be there.
The next session I saw, was one that I was actually a part of. “Sexy Screen but Where’s the Radio” saw Dr Michael Weber of BMW, Mark Selby of Nokia and Mark Rock of Audioboo pitched against Matthew Postgate of the BBC and me (representing the whole of commercial radio). The discussion revolved around what radio was able to do to support car manufacturers like BMW who are putting these amazing screens in their cars. Weber wants pictures to go on the screens like he’s able to do when the car is hooked up to users’ iPods. This is doable with technologies like RadioDNS, although embedding slideshow in audio is perfectly doable (and Global is a good example of this), it does eat valuable spectrum that we need for audio.
The discussion surrounding mobile was set against the launch, just prior to the festival, of Nokia’s new DAB radio accessory. In an excellent move for radio, the device will plug into Nokia’s new range of smartphones, including the flagship N8. The key with mobile is that there’s a return path built in allowing feedback routes for listeners and things like tagging.
Finally we heard a bit about how services like Audioboo, and perhaps more widely adopted, Facebook and Twitter can help radio. I again tried to explain how commercial radio was and could monetise these technologies. But since I was on the panel and spoke a certain amount, I’ll try to objective and not say much more here!
I missed most of Jeremy Vine’s interview with Culture minister Ed Vaizey which had been recorded in advance. But I assume that the video will find its way onto the internet in due course. The big takeout I got was that he used Five Live to go to sleep to. I did see Vine then interview Digital Radio’s Ford Ennals, after he’d first given a speech about the state of play so far.
The key taking from Ennals speech was that for digital radio, it’s a matter of when and not if. Vine’s interview was relatively combative, but Ennals defended himself well, although admitted that it will be a challenge to move into a digital radio world (I don’t think anyone believes otherwise).
One of the highlights in advance of the festival was always going to be a session chaired by Andy Bird of Disney International. Entitled “Nobody Does it Better – Creativity in 80s Manchester” it was both a look back at the heyday of Piccadilly Radio in the 80s when Timmy Mallett and Chris Evans worked alongside a young Andy Bird and the then station manager Colin Walters.
Bird said that radio today can seem like an iPod with a voice. Mallett was on good form regaling us with a story about getting locked out of the station overnight having put an LP on. And he spoke the freedom to play Adam and the Ants twelve times in an hour during a teenage targeted programme. He did come across as a tough task-master though.
Evans said that he learnt a lot from Mallett – and perhaps he became quite tough as a consequence, rejecting poor ideas. He said that sometimes people would come to him with a selection and he’d throw them all away and want another one… “now!”
Mallett wants more programming for the young in the evenings. He said that what we have now is “The Top 8 at 8” and in the meantime, the youth are just surfing porn.
Evans bemoaned the lack of live shows, and said that he’d spoken to someone at Juice recently who’d never even presented live on the radio!
In a free-flowing discussion there was a lot of bemoaning the lack of creativity in radio, especially commercial radio.
The next session was about team work and featured adventurer Felicity Aston and the Director of Elite Performance (and Rugby World Cup winning coach) Clive Woodward.
After a brief video with Suggs telling us how much he loved radio (similar videos came from many other celebrities over the festival), Will Gompertz, the BBC’s arts editor chaired a session featuring non-radio types as well as Jane Ellison from Radio 4 who was responsible for A History of the World in 100 Objects.
The session began with a video featuring a selection of creative highlights from the last year including adverts, music videos, websites and dramas. Robin Wright of Engine and WCRS talked about creating The Sun’s Terry Venables World Cup commercial. He talked about the brief which was to use The Sun’s columnists. He said that creativity can help when limitations are placed on what he’s able to do.
He talked about the fast turnaround now required, although all ideas still need incubation.
A challenge posed to the audience was: how do you get everybody in the UK to give 50p? So far his best idea was to kidnap the Queen and hold her to ransom!
The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Orange was come up with in two days, but there was lots of time spent afterwards finessing it.
Wright thinks that the radio community still has a huge chip on his shoulder he believes, and he spoke passionately about neural studies that show how well radio works with the internet and how powerful a medium it can be: “A really exciting creative zone.”
Andrew Shoben of greyworld showed a video with some of their creative art pieces including something commissioned by Radio 3. He said that he believes that we can all be creative, but that self-censorship is the biggest problem. “That’s daft”, “That’s too expensive”, etc. He said that at greyworld there are no bad ideas, and they have a great imaginary room full of amazing scientists who can do anything. So you don’t have to worry about the mechanics of an idea.
One wonderful thing they came up with is a set of railings. You can run a piece of wood along normal railings and each plays the same “note.” They created some railings that “played” The Girl From Ipanema when you ran a stick along them.
He said that creativity can’t be taught, but it can be fostered.
Jane Ellison showed a video that demonstrated how far beyond just a radio programme, A History of the World became. The series wasn’t questioned from the outset and there’d been no opposition from TV thinking that perhaps they should do it – because they weren’t told about it!
Next up was East Meets West produced by a certain Clive Dickens. Emma Barnett, Digital Media Editor of the Telegraph chaired the session beginning by questioning whether UK radio was insular and learnt enough from other countries.
Larry Rosin from Edison Research opened things up and he talked about some recent findings surrounding 12-24 year old radio listeners in the US. Their self-reported radio listening has dropped by half over the last ten years, while their internet usage has trebled. The internet has changed massively in the last ten years, and he said that in the US broadcasters had ignored in particular Pandora – this is a business that just two years ago nearly collapsed. Now more people listen to Pandora online than all other music sources combined. In Canada, CBCradio3 has become the number one music discovery brand in that country, demonstrating what radio is capable of doing if it reacts correctly. Rosin also highlighted WTOP, a Washington news station that has catapulted itself to the top of Washington’s radio stations as a news service. He said that it was rivalling the Washington Post as the first choice of news locally, and had overtaken TV services.
Andy Bird (who’d we’d seen earlier) is chairman of Walt Disney International and he spoke about two of their brands – Radio Disney and ESPN. They have a breakfast show – The Mike and Mike Show – on ESPN Radio which is so popular that it’s broadcast on the ESPN2 TV channel. He also spoke of the importance of iPad and iPod applications, saying that they’d built a World Cup application that drove one third of their listening during that tournament.
He then moved on to talk about Radio Disney which was brought under the auspices of the Disney TV Channel three years ago. He said that Disney were strong believers in vertical integration and that they believed in building their own radio stars.
But then he moved onto Latin America where Radio Disney wasn’t perhaps what you expected. While the top 20% of the population had access to cable TV and were able to watch Disney Channels or go to movies, the other 80% couldn’t. They could be reached through Radio Disney. And in this way they could be reached by the brand. Bird ended his presentation with a wonderful video that highlighted how important the channel became to listeners as callers phone in when they were in labour with their children, or just to tell someone they loved them when they were depressed.
Prashant Panday is executive director of Radio Mirchi in India, part of the Times of India group (in turn owners of Absolute Radio). He explained that commercial radio was only 10 years old in India, while commercial television has been around longer with around 500 channels costing just a few pounds a month to receive. He said that there were around 200 stations in the country – although this is due to increase by perhaps another 1000 in the next couple of years.
He explained how important “activations” were in India – what we’d consider events. He said that 15% of Mirchi’s revenues came from these areas. He ran through some example activities from brands such as Pepsi and Idea (one of the 12 mobile phone operators active in India).
The evening saw first a recording of two episodes of Just A Minute which will be broadcast later in the year. But before the recording could begin, Nicholas Parsons, who’s hosted Just A Minute for 43 years now, was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame by Trevor Dann (outgoing) chief executive of the Radio Academy. Parsons was given a standing ovation!
Later in the evening, David “Kid” Jensen, Bob Harris and Dave Lee Travis were all also inducted into the Hall of Fame, while Lady Gaga sadly wasn’t available to receive the Nielsen Award for the Most Played Artist on UK Radio 2010, and awards were made to Alan Robson of Metro Radio and Tim Westwood of Radio 1 and 1Xtra.
Wednesday saw an early session entitled Show Me The Money, as well as a session all about local radio which addressed the question in light of the networking of services like Heart and, soon, Capital Radio.
Host of the conference, Richard Bacon then interviewed Jeremy Kyle. Although he stopped doing his most recent radio show about three months ago, and is now concentrating on his UK and – soon – US shows, he explained how much he loved radio. The session was quite punchy in places, and I thought it interesting that Kyle had a piece of paper to hand with a Charlie Brooker quotation! (Brooker’s not a fan, you’ll perhaps be unsurprised to learn). An entertaining session that you can read more about at Media Guardian.
The penultimate session in the main Quays theatre was with Will Page of PRS. He presented a great presentation that I’d do a disservice if I tried to summarise in much detail here. But he talked about how perhaps Chris Anderson’s Long Tail theory didn’t apply in the music world as much as it might. He showed how the editorial content of We7 meant that it had a different tail to Spotify which has less editorial lead. We7, in other words, plays more hits.
He talked about Pandora in the US, went into details surrounding charts and in particular detailed how important live music now was, overtaking the value of recorded music in the UK – something that a few years ago would have been unbelievable.
Finally Penny Smith interviewed LBC’s Nick Ferrari in an entertaining end to the festival. Ferrari has worked at a few interesting places and for some interesting people. So he was very engaging and full of stories about characters such as Kelvin MacKenzie. A good session to end on.
I’ve no doubt that in due course, there’ll be full audio appearing on the Radio Academy’s website. I certainly hope so as there were plenty of sessions I’d like to catch up with – not least all the ones that took place in other rooms of the conference. There was also diligent coverage on Audioboo and by Festival Radio with a team of volunteers – some of whom were familiar faces from stints at Absolute Radio – rushing around interviewing contributors and attendees, and broadcasting the results on the service that was available to large parts of the UK via the MXR multiplexes on DAB, as well as online (and through the iPhone and Android Radio Festival applications). And of course outlets like Radio Today and Media Guardian were busily moving covering the conference.
In summary a really good festival, and I look forward to going again next year.
Note that this is crosspost from Onegoldensquare.com since I was obviously only able to attend the Radio Festival because my employer paid for my attendance!

The Social Network

The Social Network seems to have caused something of a stir in the digital world – particularly amongst those who are more digital envangelists.
They’ve seized on the fact that writer Aaron Sorkin (who’s script is based on Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires) is someone who doesn’t use social media like Facebook or Twitter, and that superficially, the film suggests that Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook to get back at an ex-girlfriend.
But I think that is to miss the point of this excellent film. Is it a completely accurate representation of Facebook’s foundation? Of course not. Have characters been contracted or eliminated? Certainly – it’s a dramatisation. Are there many women in it? No. Not because it’s misogynist, but because there aren’t a great deal of women amongst the main players of the story.
It’s a drama and a well-told drama. While the film is not especially kind to just about any of the key protagonists, that’s an almost unavoidable situation. I’m guessing that Sorkin worked from lots records from legal hearings, if only to avoid the production being bogged down in a legal minefield itself, it seems the fair thing to do. Facebook became the subject of two separate major legal situations (and undoubtedly many smaller ones), with in many cases the settlement being confidential.
I must admit that going into the film, I wasn’t sure how compelling I’d find it all – Harvard kids becoming insanely wealthy – but in fact you get swept along with the drama. While there are some familiar tropes such as scene in which a student asks Zuckerberg if a girl is single or not, and he liteally races off to incorporate this feature into Facebook, essentially coding is dull. David Fincher keeps it lively, although as ever in films, it’s all about the tap-tap-tap of the keyboard, and very rarely the altogether quieter click…..click of the mouse (actually the sound of even demon-coders).
The performances are uniformly excellent with Jesse Eisenberg playing the geeky Zuckerberg, while Andrew Garfield, last seen by me in the Red Riding trilogy on C4, playing his sometime friend Eduardo Saverin. Justin Timberlake is great as the playboy Sean Parker (previously of Napster fame), and Armie Hammer plays both of the Winkelvoss twins – fact that I didn’t reallise until afterwards – I’ll be paying close attention to the US rowing teams in 2012.
Even the music from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is very good. All in all, well worth watching. There may be some flaws, but they really shouldn’t detract from a fine film, where all is not black and white.
It’s interesting at a time in the UK when there are serious discussions about the power Rupert Murdoch might wield, that this film does make you think a little more about the power that Facebook now has. I am uneasy with it, yet I’ve not deleted my Facebook account. I do try to pay close attention to the ever moving privacy settings. And if there was a flaw with this film, it might have been to address the privacy aspects of Zuckerbeg – or lack of his cares about them. The widely reported IM message sessions spring to mind.
But in the end, it’s well worth going to see, with the script alone making it worth a trip to the multiplex.