Radio

Fortunately…

The first ladies of radio, Fi Glover and Jane Garvey have a new podcast out that’s really quite essential listening: Fortunately…

Glover and Garvey are fantastic radio people, and to a large extent, the joy of this podcast is just to hear them in fairly casual conversation with one another. Episodes are recorded in various non-studio places around the BBC in London.

In fact, the purpose of the podcast is to guide the interested listener to other things they might like across BBC Radio 4 and its sister station Radio 4 Extra (more on this anon). Each presenter takes it in turns to recommend something that they’ve listened to over the last seven days. Often these are current programmes, but sometimes they delve deeper into the archive. The key thing is that they have collated links to all these programmes and you can go back and listen to them in full at your convenience.

Since the primary medium of this programme is as a podcast (it’s not being broadcast on the radio), it’s very easy to either add a new podcast or find something on iPlayer Radio while you’re actually listening to their recommendations.

Now you might think that there’s already a Radio 4 programme that does this – it’s run for years and is called Pick of the Week. And you’d be right. Sort of.

Glover and Garvey are careful not to use the words “pick of the week” in any context where they’re too close together. But I suppose their point of difference is that as people many of us have come to “know” after hearing them so much on the radio, we’ll know the kind of things they’re likely to choose. You do need to know a reviewer to help determine whether what they’re saying will chime with you. Conversely, if I know that your tastes are markedly different from my own, then I will treat your recommendations with caution.

While I’m sure that every presenter of Pick of the Week assiduously listens to vast amounts of BBC Radio output, you do get the feeling that some editions are a little scripted, and that the presenter may not always be quite as diligent as they present themselves.

Fortunately… exists in a podcast-only format, and I suppose it’s a slight shame that three episodes in, they seem to be restricted to national BBC radio output – more specifically the Radio 4 network. Such is the wealth of good radio, guiding listeners to otherwise unknown gems around the various networks is a worthy service, but adding in some third party podcasts might be interesting too.

At one point in an episode, Helen Zaltzman’s name came up, initially described as someone who does a lot of crafting. This was quickly elaborated upon as not being the only thing we’d know her for (she’s a regular guest on programmes like Woman’s Hour, where she has indeed talked about crafting). But it felt like they were avoiding the obvious – she’s actually rather famous for making popular podcasts like Answer Me This and The Allusionist, to the extent that she’s been doing a two-hander live show with Roman Mars of 99% Invisible fame.

I’d hope that perhaps in due course Fortunately… expands its remit to include other radio stations and particularly podcasts. One of the main issues facing both podcast creators and listeners, is discovery. How do you find out about new shows? Some of the broadsheets make a good effort to alert readers, but for the most part, it feels that successful podcasts breed successful podcasts: This American life begat Serial. Serial begat S-Town. And so on.

While the cream is said to rise to the top, I’m not sure that’s always the case if the cup is incredibly deep, and the cream goes rancid before it gets a chance to reach the surface – to enormously overstretch a metaphor.

Incidentally, was I the only person left a little disappointed by the discussion about podcasts on The Media Show a couple of weeks ago? There was a pre-recorded interview with Brian Reed, presenter and producer of the excellent S-Town, before a short state-of-the-nation discussion about UK podcasts with Caroline Crampton of The New Statesman’s SRSLY and Ellie Gibson of Scummy Mummies.

The tenor seemed to be that the UK couldn’t do big podcasts like S-Town because it’s expensive and there’s the BBC here which cripples the opportunity. But I’m not entirely sure that we were comparing apples with apples here. As Reed had pointed out in his interview, much podcasting in the US is still a few people sitting around a microphone plugged into a laptop. A massively successful podcast like Marc Maron’s WTF, for example, is still recorded relatively simply in his garage.

It’s only the very top layer of podcasts that is are at the heavily produced and expensively made level of This American Life, Gimlet, Panoply or Radiotopia. And yes, US scale, and a less well funded public radio system means that there’s more space for podcasts to breathe. But neither of the podcasters in the studio was really in the same market as those big beasts. Indeed, I’m not sure that even the BBC could have put through the resources that went into something like S-Town, where the story germinated for a number of years before finally being made as a standalone series.

But, the aforementioned Allusionist is part of the successful Radiotopia family and is made by a Brit, and the podcasting output of organisations like The Economist, The Guardian and The FT is first rate by any measure, utilising sophisticated sound design and first rate production. However, it’s clear that the UK podcast advertising marketplace has not yet developed to as significant an extent, which means that nobody is getting rich (or even moderately wealthy) just yet. Spin-off live events, books and other merchandising are still a requirement.

There are high quality podcasts being made in the UK. Many of them will be celebrated this weekend at the first British Podcast Awards, and I’m just not sure that was entirely reflected in the piece.

Disclaimer: I am one of several producers on The Cycling Podcast, which is nominated in the sport category at the awards.

Hans Rosling – Forming His World View on Facts; Not Feelings

In my recent RAJAR piece, I made reference to the sad news that Professor Hans Rosling had died.

Rosling was a Swedish professor of global health, and had found fame in a series of videos and programmes – notably beginning with a widely shared TED talk – that elucidated stories behind data in a way that made that data understandable. And he did this remarkably well.

Over the weekend BBC Two repeated Don’t Panic – The Truth About Population, which if you haven’t seen it, is well worth spending some time with. Some of your preconceived notions and worldviews will be shattered.

Then at the start of this week Tim Harford presented a really superb special edition of More or Less on the BBC World Service to remember Hans. It included memories of the man from people who knew him and worked with him, as well as excerpts from some of the programmes he’s made over the years.

I can’t recommend it highly enough.

In particular, I went to watch the live broadcast of a programme Rosling contributed to on the spread of Ebola in west Africa, and the ways in which it was combatted. Extracts appear in the special edition of More or Less.

Towards the end of the episode, there was a very powerful moment when producer Ruth Alexander, recalled visiting him at home at the end of last year. Rosling had appeared a number of times on More or Less, and made other programmes for the BBC. He’d still been keen to do another interview, even though he was very ill at the time with pancreatic cancer.

Alexander: “He said to me, ‘Please will you carry on this in your future work?’ And I think what he meant was, will you carry on looking at the facts, forming your world view and reporting on the state of the world based on facts. Not feelings; not what you think is probably true. But what is demonstrated by the facts and the statistics before you.”

Presenter Tim Harford agreed that this was a challenge to all of us.

RAJAR Q4 2016

RAJAR

Once more, this post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the past 9 years, and it’s my favourite RAJAR analysis tool. So I am delighted that I continue to be able to bring you this RAJAR analysis in association with RALF. For more details on the product, contact Deryck Pritchard via this link or phone 07545 425677.

All views here are my own!

The first RAJAR release of 2017 represents the results of radio listening at the end of 2016, measuring up to and including the week before Christmas.

In overall terms, radio remains strong. 90% of the population listen to the radio at least once a week, listening for an average of 21.5 hours a week – just over three hours a day. The average age of a radio listener is 47 (excluding under 15s as RAJAR does), and all these have been pretty constant over time. But who “won” RAJAR, as I was asked in the office today?

National and Digital Services

Well it’s not Radio 1. The station is down in reach and hours, down 3.2% in reach on the quarter and down 7.4% in reach on the year. Hours figures are slightly better. Radio 1 will of course point you towards their online successes including their YouTube channel. But they’re in tough position, as are many stations aimed at a younger audience. As I mentioned in a piece on some separate RAJAR Midas research last week, 15-24s are far likelier to be using streaming services. That also means, incidentally, that Radio 1 will continue to struggle to try to drag its average age down from 35 (Again remembering the under 15s aren’t really counted).

Radio 2 probably isn’t the “winner” either. I mean, it is in the sense that it’s by far the biggest station in the country, but reach was a fraction off this quarter, down 0.6% on the quarter and down 2.7% on the year. Hours were up though, to back over 180m a week.

Radio 3 did well this quarter, up on all measures – notably up 7.2% in reach and 17.0% in hours on last quarter, the best the station has had in 14 years. But the overall winner?

Radio 4 did very too. It’s reach was fractionally up on last quarter and 3.7% up on last year. And it has recorded its best ever listening hours under the current methodology (which goes back as far as 1999), up 8.4% on last quarter to 133m.

I would think that you would squarely put that down to a tumultuous political period both at home and abroad.

I think Radio 4 may have a strong shout.

Five Live did very well too, perhaps for very similar reasons. While it’s audience wasn’t record breaking like Radio 4’s, reach was up 3.8% on the quarter while hours were up 4.6%. A new football season won’t have harmed things, but either way, this was a very solid result for the station.

At some point 6 Music is probably going to have to stop breaking records, but it hasn’t reached that point yet. While its reach was fractionally down on last quarter’s record size, it is still 5.8% up in reach terms on the year. More to the point it now has record hours, with more than 23m, up 6.5% on the quarter and a massive 15.1% on the year. The average 6 Music listener is 43 and listens for a record 10 hours a week.

Radio 4 Extra had a good quarter, up 6.9% in reach and 10.7% in hours on the last quarter. On the other hand, without nearly as much cricket, Five Live Sports Extra’s performance plummeted downwards.

Absolute Radio had a pretty awful quarter, down 19.0% in reach and down 13.8% in hours. But this came after a record breaking quarter last time, and their current figures are still both up on the year – suggesting that last quarter’s results were, how shall we put this politely, “freak.” The station still performs well.

Absolute 80s, its biggest digital brand climbed after last quarter’s slight dips. The station was up 4.9% in reach and 10.8% in hours on last quarter. But it’s still down from where it was a year ago, down 3.5% in reach and 4.5% in hours. Undoubtedly a consequence of switching from D1 to D2 as I’ve mentioned in the past.

Classic FM had a fairly uneventful set of results down in a few measures but up in reach on the quarter. The station performs consistently well with just over 5m listeners and around 35m listening hours. With an average of 6.6 hours per listener, this is in line with recent RAJAR results. Go back a few years and it was over 7 hours, and the station might like to get people listening a bit longer.

LBC reports itself nationally on a six month basis, and its latest signing, I think you know who, only started presenting this quarter. I’m slightly surprised to see its reach and hours were down quarter on quarter, reach down 6.4% and hours down 3.6%. This obviously came after the Brexit vote. However, post the referendum, it’s clear that Radio 4 has done very well as people try to understand what it actually means. So I’m surprised the station has fallen back a little. Perhaps LBC’s audience preferred the run-up to the referendum, while the Radio 4 audience needed to then make sense of it. I’m probably being too simplistic. However LBC is still well up on the year, 17.2% in reach and 25.4% in hours.

TalkSport’s results are a little mixed with reach up to over 3m again (up 5.3% on the quarter), after dipping just below that last time. But hours are back down to 18.3m after a couple of quarter at over 21m hours. Colin Murray left the station in this period, and that had a knock-on shake-up among talent. Average hours are still above six.

TalkSport 2 is continuing to improve however. In its third set of results it has its best reach to date at 294,000, although hours slipped a little. The station is performing consistently, and will take time to grow.

The other new stations that Wireless Group launched on D2 last year are suffering a little however. TalkRadio was well down on both reach and hours from last quarter, with a reach of 252,000 and 615,000 hours. Average listening of only 2.4 hours per listener is very low for a speech station. Virgin Radio is also down with 324,000 reach and 758,000 hours. I suspect that what both of these are going to need is some serious investment in marketing. Picking up a recent copy of Saturday’s Times, I did notice a Virgin Radio ad in the Saturday Review section. I’m not sure the extent to which News UK’s newspapers are providing advertising space for these radio services, but I suspect that continued marketing investment is going to be needed.

Kiss saw some decent results with an increase in reach by 1.1% and hours up 7.4% to 22.7m, while Magic saw dips in reach on both the quarter and the year nationally, while hours were up on the quarter and down on the year.

Radio X nationally saw it’s reach fall back a modest amount on the quarter, but still be up 2.4% on the year. In terms of hours it’s up 2.2% on the quarter and a mighty 34.4% on the year.

In terms of the big networks, the Capital Network was down slightly this quarter (-3.3% in reach and -2.6% in hours), but up on the year (+3.9% in reach and +4.3% in hours). The Heart Brand was basically flat from last quarter which is when it was introduced as a measurement with the addition of the new Heart Extra (which itself did not have a happy second result).

The Big City Network has been in the news over the last couple of days, following the publication of some very restrictive sounding style guidelines that were published on social media. In RAJAR terms, the stations’ performance this quarter was pretty flat.

The Absolute Radio Network reported its largest ever reach with over 4.5m (up 1.3% on the quarter and up 3.3% on the year). Notably Absolute Radio 90s and Absolute Radio Classic Rock both had record reach figures this quarter too. Could 90s be the new 80s?

Breakfast

I won’t say too much about breakfast except to report some of the bigger changes. Nick Grimshaw had some good results for this quarter, being up 2.2% despite Radio 1’s overall fall in reach. Chris Evans also increased his reach slightly on the quarter, although like Grimshaw, he was down on the year.

The Today Programme on Radio 4 was up 11.7% on the quarter and 20.3% on the year, to nearly 7.5m listeners a day. This undoubtedly reflects Radio 4’s overall audience increase as mentioned above.

Christian O’Connell had another set of record reach figures in spite of falls on the main station. He’s tantalisingly close to 2m daily. But Rickie, Melvin and Charlie have the biggest national commercial breakfast show with over 2.2m, up 20% on the previous quarter. Melvin Odoom, of course, had mixed luck in this period being kicked off Strictly in the first week of the 2016 season, but returning to win the Christmas special. So it’s hard to say what impact that may or may not have had on the show.

Chris Moyles on Radio X continues to pick up listeners slowly but surely with 717,000 this quarter, up 2.0% on last quarter and up 7.2% on last year.

London

The biggest commercial station in London is Kiss, with 1.86m listeners – up on last quarter but down on the year. Capital just pips Magic for second place, although it has fallen below 2m again with its lowest reach since 2007. Magic has also seen its reach fall this quarter.

Next largest is Heart, although it’s figures are in freefall right now – down 19.1% on the quarter and 24.3% on the year. I’d wait another quarter to thoroughly check there’s a trend, but it really does seem there is.

Of note is the fact that Radio X has increased its reach this period to 430,000 – up 13.8% on the quarter. It’s still down on the year, and it feels that there’s work to be done there.

Commercially, breakfast in London is all over the place, with nearly every breakfast show changing a double-digit percentage from last quarter. And none of them have over a million listeners. That’s not a healthy state of affairs.

The best placed is the Kiss breakfast show with 983,000, up 15.2% on the quarter (although down on the year). It leads the Capital breakfast show by just over a million. Dave Berry is down 15.4% on the quarter and 18.4% on the year. Of course, he is shortly off from Capital to Absolute Radio, so it’ll be really interesting to see who Capital gets. Will it be a reshuffle of the current deck, or will they look for a personality not necessarily known for radio?

Magic is third biggest, and shows the smallest change in the market, being up just 5%. LBC is fourth, and shows good growth being up 16.2% on the quarter and 4.3% on the year.

Heart’s breakfast show really isn’t performing too well right now. Jamie and Emma are down 18.6% on the quarter and 29.3% on the year. And while Christian O’Connell had an excellent result nationally, his London figures are poor, down 16.2% on the quarter and 10.4% down on the year.

I confess that I’m slightly concerned about a small trend in under 35s not listening to the radio at breakfast at all.

I’ve kept the chart’s base at 0 to be fair, but note a very gentle downward’s slope, and a sudden extremeness in variability towards the latter period of the chart. Something to watch.

Digital Listening

Digital listening is down very fractionally to 45.2%, and reach is at 57.9%, but neither is especially concerning. Next quarter will add some new Christmas devices into the mix, and will probably bring some continued growth.

Others

There are always a couple of new stations in RAJAR, and this quarter is no exception. Perhaps most notably, Thames Radio is being measured for the first time. The service is available on DAB in London and online, featuring some very famous radio names from yesteryear including Neil Fox, Pat Sharp and Tony Blackburn amongst others. Their first RAJAR sees a reach of 15,000 and hours of 13,000, which must be said, is a disappointing set of results.

Bubbles

On Tuesday this week came the news that Hans Rosling, statistician and professor of global health, had died aged 68. He had a way of making dry sound statistical stories vibrant with his presentation technique and imaginative charting won him world fame. He presented TED Talk videos and a couple of BBC documentaries. All are worth checking out.

There was a nice piece on The Today Programme on Radio 4 yesterday with Evan Davis and Professor David Spiegelhalter of the Royal Statistical Society, talking about the impact he had as a statistical storyteller.

Specifically, working with Gapminder, he developed a way to animate data using bubble charts to help tell some of those statistical stories. Those who have been reading my RAJAR blogs over time, may recall I used to publish RAJAR charts using those animation techniques on this page – bubble charts. I only really stopped because they were becoming a little too unwieldy, and Google Charts weren’t properly able to cope with the underlying volume of data.

However, I thought that it was worth bringing back at least a cut down version of one of these charts following Rosling’s death. So the bubbles are sort of back.

The below chart tracks a selection of national radio stations and brands over time. I’ve limited the list to those who report quarterly data.

(If you’re attempting to see this on a mobile… well good luck! Try a laptop later on.)

So you know what you’re looking at, in the default settings as I’ve published it, the x-axis is the average age, while the y-axis displays % male. So a station in the top right-hand corner would be an elderly male station, while a station in the bottom left would be a young female station.

The size of the circle is related to that service’s total hours.

If you hit the big “play” button, you can watch the stations shift and change slightly over time.

Probably the most interesting station to watch is 6 Music as it gets larger and very slightly older over time.

As I say, I’ve by no means included every station, and in particular those that I’ve chosen are national three-month services. Perhaps I’ll return to a bigger version of this another time.

Further Reading

For more RAJAR analysis, I’d recommend the following sites:

The official RAJAR site and their infographic is here
Radio Today for a digest of all the main news
Go to Media.Info for lots of numbers and charts
Paul Easton for more lots analysis including London charts
Matt Deegan will have some great analysis
Media Guardian for more news and coverage
The BBC Mediacentre for BBC Radio stats and findings
Bauer Media’s corporate site.
Global Radio’s corporate site.

Source: RAJAR/Ipsos MORI/RSMB, period ending 18 December 2016, Adults 15+.

Disclaimer: These are my views alone and do not represent those of anyone else, including my employer. Any errors (I hope there aren’t any!) are mine alone. Drop me a note if you want clarifications on anything. Access to the RAJAR data is via RALF from DP Software as mentioned at the top of this post.

RAJAR MIDAS – Winter 2016

It has been a while since I’ve properly looked at RAJAR’s MIDAS survey, and it really does bear some close attention because it gives the most accurate picture of audio consumption in the UK right now.

As a reminder, MIDAS is a separate survey to the main RAJAR measurement, in which over 2,000 respondents are asked in detail about their audio listening habits by platforms, location, device and who they’re with.

It’s there to provide additional listening information and generally add ‘colour’ to the main RAJAR survey. Over time it allows some tracking in behavioural changes.

The full dataset is only made available to RAJAR subscribers, but RAJAR publishes a very good summary, and this provides plenty to get stuck into.

The key measure is Audio Share – the percentage of time spent listening to various types of audio. This is also known as “Share of Ear”, although I believe this is trademarked by Edison Research who carry out similar research in this area in the US.

Of course, simply saying “audio” is too simplistic because, for example, watching YouTube music videos is undoubtably a competitor to traditional audio sources for some audiences. So MIDAS does measure video as well as audio, although in most of the charts below, visual media has been excluded.

Share of Audio % (excluding visual)

The topline results show that live radio accounts for 76% of all audio consumption. The next closest category is digital music (downloads) at 9%. To put this in context, here is how radio’s share has performed over the most recent MIDAS surveys:

Careful examination of this data would seem to suggest a few things:

  • Radio remains vastly important in the audio world. While the last couple of MIDAS releases showed it declining a touch, it seems to have bounced back this time around. I’d be surprised if it didn’t fall some more over time since there are such strong radio competitors. But there’s still only one gorilla in this room.
  • Online Music Streaming (OMS in the above chart – e.g. Spotify, Apple Music) is growing. They seem to be growing as digital music tracks and CD listening is declining. Do you pay 99p at iTunes for a track or £9.99 a month for as much as you like? Consumers are shifting towards the latter.
  • Listen again is growing a bit, while podcasts remain static. The latter in particular definitely suggests something different in the UK, from say, the US.
  • Vinyl and cassette is basically static (although the graph doesn’t really show that it was at less than 1% at the start of the period displayed). You can safely treat all those news stories about vinyl’s resurgence as the hyperbole they truly are. Yes, a few albums are being sold as nice to have items, but in the scheme of things, they don’t amount to much in behavioural changes.

Now this chart doesn’t show the whole story. As I say, only RAJAR subscribers get the full dataset of MIDAS, but RAJAR publishes different aspects of the data in each release. And this time around they’ve published the demographic breakdown of listening. Indeed I think some of this has been presented at the Salon de la Radio in Paris over the last couple of days.

This shows some really clear differences by age group.

  • 15-24s spend 51% of their time listening to the radio (the green bar above) compared with 88% of 55+’s time. Radio is still the clear leader, but in time spent listening there is a competitor on the block.
  • Online Music Streaming is vastly more popular amongst 15-24s than other demographic groups. 15-24s spend 21% of their audio time on these services. This drops to just 9% for 25-34s and right down to 1% for 55+. This is as clear a behavioural change by age as you’re likely to see.
  • If you’d asked me to predict which age group spends the biggest proportion of their time listening to CDs, I have definitely said it was an older group. But in fact, the actual biggest group is 15-24s! Are they borrowing others music, or perhaps they can’t yet afford a Spotify subscription?
  • Podcasts are most popular amongst 24-34s, spending significantly more time than other age groups.

One thing to be careful of is that these are percentages within each age group. It’s important to note that overall volume of time spent listening will be different by different groups. So amongst CD listening, 5% off 55+ listening might be significantly more hours than 6% of 15-24s (the data doesn’t let us see).

What will be interesting to see is future growth of streaming. While there are free/bundeled streaming options – notably Spotify, or Amazon’s free offering for Prime members – there is surely a top limit to those prepared to pay £9.99 a month for music? There are ways to reduce the cost including family plans and logins shared with others; and some will happily bounce around different services taking advantage of free three month trials, creating new disposable email accounts as necessary. But continued growth within the UK market still isn’t clear.

Hours isn’t the whole story of course, and it’s worth looking at reach too. That shows that usage is much closer for most of the platforms. So while 90% of 55+ listen to the radio accounting for 88% of their listening, 82% of 15-24s listen to the radio but it accounts for just 51% of their listening.

Audio Reach % By Age Group

A couple of other charts. Ever wonder what people are doing when they listen to the radio?

Live Radio by Activity

Most radio presenters will recall being told to broadcast as though they were speaking to a single listener. There’s a good reason for that. A slight majority of radio listening is done alone, although this changes for younger listeners who listen more socially.

Live Radio by Who Listened With

Other things of note:

  • While most services are split evenly by sex, podcasts are notable for being significantly more male than female – 61% v 39%.
  • While laptops and tablets are used a lot for live radio, on smartphones the majority of use is for digital tracks and on demand audio.

There’s more in the original presentation which you can download on the RAJAR website.

Source RAJAR/IpsosMori. Sample 2,191. Conducted November 2016.

Farewell to the Arqiva Awards; the Continued Fragmentation of the UK Radio Industry

Towards the end of last year we learned that after 21 years, the Arqiva Radio Awards (previously the CRCA Awards) have now come to an end. The awards, which were contested by commercial radio alone, have been a mainstay of the calendar for many years now. Many might recall that in years gone by when the awards were held during the late afternoon and early evening, following a members’ conference, and they’d often then be followed by the notorious Xtracts party – a bus being laid on to transport party goers from one event to the next.

But this isn’t just sadness for bygone years of drunken revelry amongst industry peers; it’s one fewer opportunity for staff at commercial radio stations to receive plaudits from their colleagues. Awards aren’t just there to proudly display in receptions and boardrooms; they’re there to make staff at stations feel special – important in an industry that nobody really enters to get rich.

RadioCentre will continue to support the newly launched Arias, and it looks like the Radio Academy will be consulting to make changes next year, so that the BBC won’t necessarily be quite as dominant. I wish these new awards well.

However it’s curious to read from James Cridland that Arqiva itself was happy to carry on sponsoring the awards. Sadly, that suggests that there continue to be significant differences of opinion in how these awards should be run within the radio industry itself. Recall that Wireless Group and UKRD already declined to enter the awards.

Earlier last year, I noted – only slightly facetiously – that Sound Women appeared to be the only UK radio organisation supported by the wider UK radio industry.

With Sound Women winding down operations, I’m not sure that there’s a single organisation or body that covers the entire UK radio spectrum. RAJAR is perhaps the closest, although many smaller stations either can’t afford RAJAR, or don’t find that it offers them value for money.

And it’s not as though usurpers to radio’s crown are going anywhere: Spotify, Apple, Amazon and Google are all continuing to invest millions into audio, and we are unquestionably seeing behavioural changes at the younger end of the market.

I’m not suggesting that the presence or absence of an awards ceremony will make much difference in stopping that growth. But it’s indicative of an industry that’s not prepared to unite when it’s useful. Awards do reward excellence in radio and audio; and excellent audio is surely critical to the future of the medium.

The Cycling Podcast Review of the Year 2016

I seem to have been a little backwards in coming forwards with details of this edition of The Cycling Podcast put together by yours truly and published over the Christmas period.

Obviously it won’t be of enormous interest if you don’t follow professional cycling, and you’ll miss all the running jokes if you haven’t listened to previous episodes of the programme. And if you do follow cycling, and already listen to The Cycling Podcast, then you should have already heard it.

Nonetheless, a certain amount of effort went into making this, since we all know that searching for audio clips is relatively slow going. You can’t easily “scrub” it as you would video.

Radio Times – Boxing Day 2016

So you’ve made it through to Boxing Day. Assuming you’re not hitting the shops for the sales, or off to some sporting or outdoors activity, you’ll be settling in at home looking for more entertainment.

Here are my choices and anti-choices for Boxing Day from the Radio Times.

As ever, click the link below to see a larger-scale photo.

Boxing Day TV

Click here for larger TV page.

Boxing Day TV 2

Click here for larger “digital” TV page.

Boxing Day Radio

Click here for larger radio page.

Radio Times – Christmas Day 2016

Happy Christmas!

It feels as though everyone and their mum has released a Christmas Message™ this year. However, I shall simply try my best to satisfy the nation’s TV watching by sharing once more pages from my copy of the Radio Times.

Hopefully this will help you find some of the programmes the rest of your family will talk through anyway, and some others that you will have to leave the room for when someone insists on watching it.

As always, these are best viewed large. You really will struggle on your smartphone. Links below each image send you to something legible. There are two scans of TV and another for radio.

Come back for Boxing Day!

Christmas Day TV

Click here for larger TV page.

Christmas Day TV2

Click here for larger “digital” TV page.

Christmas Radio

Click here for radio page.

(For those who missed it, I did one of these yesterday for Christmas Eve. Well, it may be useful as there’s iPlayer/ITV Hub/All4 etc.)

TeamRock: An Autopsy (I Never Understood You)

The sad news, just ahead of Christmas, is that 73 staff who worked for Team Rock, have lost their jobs as their company has entered administration. The Daily Record reports that just seven staff will be kept on to help administrators.

It’s a disappointing end to a business that I never quite understood.

Team Rock Ltd was the company properly launched in 2013 by Billy Anderson, with ex-GMG executive John Myers as chairman. The group bought Classic Rock and Metal Hammer magazines from Future Publishing, and also announced that there would be a new national digital radio station – also called TeamRock (Which never did make any sense to me as a consumer brand).

It was a competitive marketplace for rock radio with Planet Rock, itself recently sold to Bauer, Kerrang! and Absolute Classic Rock all on the airwaves, the latter pair also owned by Bauer.

At launch it was reported that the station would not carry spot advertising, instead relying on sponsorship and promotions:

“Spot advertising on niche radio stations is an outdated model. While TeamRock is a much wider business, radio will play an important role in our development,” said their Chief Executive Billy Anderson.

They promised a different mix of rock music, and from all accounts, they did deliver that, going deeper and further away from the mainstream than other stations. But all commercial radio stations rely on robust business models to bring in revenues – to pay staff, transmission costs, rights holders and so on. Traditionally that has been an ad-funded model – stations play music, and interrupt that music with advertising breaks.

Now that’s not necessarily the only way to make money, and a commercial station might make between 20% and 40% of its revenues through other means – promotions (paid for competitions), sponsorship and concert co-promotions for example. And some religious stations are built almost entirely around listener donations.

Stations are always looking for new revenue streams, and nobody is sitting still.

Beyond this, a radio station could conceivably form part of a larger business’s marketing budget. In TeamRock’s case, perhaps promoting a profitable stable of music magazines. And the internet has brought subscription models – paying for your favourite radio stations. Various groups have tried that model to greater or lesser success.

I wasn’t alone in wondering about their business model. Matt Deegan wrote about it at the time, noting the difficulties smaller groups have selling spot airtime.

TeamRock never went onto RAJAR, so we don’t know how successful they were as a station in terms of listeners. That immediately becomes a challenge when you’re talking to advertising agencies and trying to do sponsorship deals. Promoting concerts is a little simpler since the promoter will quickly know how good you are at selling tickets.

But broadcast radio isn’t cheap. There are significant costs in getting national DAB transmission, and it was notable when TeamRock came off the platform in July 2015.

The company obviously needed some serious capital to buy the magazines and set up the station, and Harwood Capital’s investment vehicle, North Atlantic Smaller Companies had a shareholding, raising a reported £13m-£15m in 2013.

Later that year, they received a £650,000 grant from Scottish Enterprise in return for delivering a significant number of jobs in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, although the group also maintained offices in London.

But on-air, it felt that the commercial opportunities were scant. When the station came off DAB they said they’d be concentrating on streaming and podcasts, with a million registered users.

Money was clearly becoming an issue, and at the end of 2015 they carried out a new funding round of £4.5m again with North Atlantic Smaller Companies, including, seemingly, a £2m investment from Scottish Enterprise.

The most recent results filed with companies house showed the business as having reported a loss of £8.8m in the year to March 2015, from a loss of £4.3m the previous year. The accounts show a £6.5m turnover, but with a cost of sale of over £2m, and expenses of over £12m, they were haemorrhaging cash (although at least one of the directors was taking home £126k).

Earlier in 2016, the station got rid of its remaining presenters, and then in the summer, John Myers left.

It was clearly the beginning of the end. Reports suggest that the directors were looking for a further cash injection, or to make a sale, but they didn’t complete a deal and so they have now ceased trading.

According to ABC, for the year 2015, Classic Rock was still selling just over 51,000 copies a month (down from 56,000 three years ago), while Metal Hammer was at just under 21,000 copies a month (from 26,000 three years ago). You would imagine that Classic Rock is probably still a viable product – perhaps even Metal Hammer. Mojo, by way of comparison, currently sells 70,000 copies, and Kerrang! 24,000, so perhaps there’ll be a sale of these assets, with maybe Bauer best placed to add these to its portfolio reducing overall costs at the same time. But we’ll have to see.

It’s all a bit of a sorry tale really. There was never a clear business plan that made a great deal of sense – at least to this observer.

A lot of people have lost their jobs, and a number of private equity investors have lost their money. You would think that Scottish Enterprise should have questions asked of it too, in particular the timing of the £2m investment at the end of 2015.

[Updated to correctly name Billy Anderson as launch CEO] [Update 2: Fans, readers and listeners are donating to a crowdfunder to get some cash to the redundant staff. At time of writing they’ve raised over £50,000.] [Update 3: TeamRock’s magazine assets have been sold back to Future for £800,000. That’s quite a tidy earner for Future who initially sold them for £10.2m in 2013. Sadly, I wouldn’t imagine that a significant number of jobs will be saved however.]

TechCon 2016 – The Return

One of the casualties of the changes surrounding the Radio Academy was that TechCon, the one day conference about radio and audio technology, fell by the wayside.

Fortunately, it was gamely picked up by Ann Charles, Aradhna Tayal and Andy Buckingham, who took the conference independent.

Running a conference is not for the faint-hearted, with real costs incurred for things like the venue hire, kit, catering and dull things like insurance. These are largely upfront costs before you’ve sold any tickets. And of course the more specialist a conference is, the more limited your potential audience might be. In a media landscape that has seen a reduction in the number of sizeable radio players, that can mean that it’s challenging to sell tickets.

I spoke to a colleague recently who attended another specialist conference, and they noted that almost the entire audience was made up of speakers and panelists.

So congratulations to the team for filling the room with more than 150 people, and thanks too to the sponsors of the event – notably Broadcast Bionics, Arqiva, KTN, RCS and the IET.

By its very nature, TechCon can get technical – and so it did. But never so much that an interested layperson couldn’t understand what was being talked about. While I won’t list every session from the day, in no particular order, here are some of the great takeaways I came away with:

  • The science of acoustics and machine learning is utterly fascinating. This is the sort of work that allows Amazon Alexa, OK Google or Siri to work as well as they do. Cleopatra Pike and Amy Beeston from the Universities of St Andrews and Sheffield, talked about the science and some of the challenges of this kind of automation, and about how machine learning is driving a lot of this. And if we move to object based radio, as Dave Walters talked about, there’s the possibility of this becoming a little easier.
  • There is no definitive conclusion on the future of radio according to research conducted by Nicky Birch of Rosina Sounds for the British Library. The report interviewed a lot of people, and while change is clearly afoot, nobody really knows what that’ll mean who how fast it will happen.
  • Some van drivers have illegal gizmos that they plug into their vehicles to block GPS. This is primarily to prevent their employers being able to track them with built-in GPS trackers. But Simon Mason of Arqiva pointed out that this one of many problems they face when trying to keep transmitters like the national DAB network in sync with one another. More generally he talked about satellite navigation solutions – a timely talk since the European Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), Galileo, is due to begin operations by the end of this year. That brings three systems to European users, sitting alongside the American GPS and Russian GLONASS systems.
  • We heard lots about the development of in-car audio. One interesting perspective is how the likes of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are received by different car manufacturers. Because they essentially offer a single solution to every vehicle, a luxury car manufacturer is no longer able to differentiate themselves from a budget car manufacturer. Everybody gets the same experience. We also saw a potentially scary video of self-driving cars handling a junction autonomously (similar to this video). It’s going to take a little getting used to.
  • Nigel Fry of the BBC World Service, told us how hard it is to broadcast to countries where governments might prefer you not to broadcast.
  • It’s possible to broadcast a radio station making use only of the sun. Even in London! Issa Kassimu of Internews, who is powering such a station in South Sudan, ran us through some calculations. The key point is that you do have to factor in the wattage of your kettle. Everyone wants a cuppa after all!
  • Ofcom is looking forward to licencing more small-scale DAB licences – although it may be a few months before they start to invite applications.
  • To broadcast the (re) launch of Virgin Radio from a moving train, Phil Critchlow of TBI and colleagues from Vipranet used twelve different 3G and 4G connections from four network operators. That still doesn’t help for some cuttings and tunnels, and probably isn’t enough for you to stream Netflix either!
  • Everyone loves binaural. I know you know I know this, but Chris Pike of BBC R&D was able to demo this live with wireless headphones. He played some audio from one of the two binaural productions broadcast a year or so ago (you may recall I went to an event for one of these). We also got to hear some of the audio from the BBC’s VR “Taster” experiment, The Turning Forest, viewable in Google Daydream, Google’s VR application.

And that’s without me mentioning Software Defined Radio, making and broadcasting radio using only cheap phones, and building new studios in tight confines when you have a hatful of new national speech services to launch!

To anyone who attended and couldn’t ask a question because there was just so much to get through – apologies. That was probably my fault as I was doing my best to keep everything running to schedule. One of the downsides of running a conference in a theatre is that, at the end of the day, a production wants the theatre back to put on a show. So we had a very tight turnaround. (That’s also why I wasn’t live Tweeting as I ordinarily would)

I’m sure that the conference will be back next year, so head over to the TechCon website and add yourself to the list!

David Lloyd has a nice writeup of the day, Arqiva has also written about the event, and Trevor Dann features the conference in this week’s RadioToday Podcast.

See you there next year!