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!