radio

RAJAR Q1 2017

RAJAR

Once again, 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.

It’s RAJAR time again, when the UK radio industry releases a new set of listening figures. And this is the first release of 2017, featuring a smattering of new stations.

In overall terms, there are a few declines this time around. Overall radio is down 2.4% in terms of listening compared with the previous quarter, although it is up 1.7% on the same time last year. Reach too is down slightly on the quarter but up on the year.

In particular, BBC radio seems to have taken a bit of a hit this quarter, being down 2.9% in reach and 3.6% in hours; whereas commercial radio is only down 1.2% in reach and down 0.8% in hours.

In reach terms, the BBC and commercial radio remain very evenly with matched with commercial radio just edging the BBC with 64% reach compared to the BBC’s 63%. While in share terms, the BBC has 53% of radio listening compared with commercial radio’s 45% (the other two percent or so is non-RAJAR measured radio services).

Overall 89% of the population continue to listen to the radio at least once a week – a figure that has remained constant for many years now.

Digital share is something everyone in the industry pays attention to, and it’s now up to 47.2% of all listening being digital – that’s a big jump in the post Christmas RAJAR period. And it’s really closing in the symbolic 50% digital level.

National and Digital Services

It hasn’t been the best quarter for Radio 1, with reach down 4.8% on last quarter and down 8.1% on last year. It now reaches 9.1m people a week. Five years ago it was reaching 11.1m a week. Obviously its target audience is the most challenging of the BBC’s radio services to target, as I’ve said on many occassions before. While listening was again down on the quarter, it was actually up fractionally on the year. Again, Radio 1 will look to its iPlayer and YouTube footprint.

Radio 2 is also down a little both on the previous quarter and the previous year in terms of reach. But it’s nothing to write home about, and the station remains vastly larger than any other in the country (and many other stations in the world – although I would point to the BBC World Service English service reaching 66m a year…). Hours are very strong though, and although it they’re down slightly on this time last year, those were record numbers then. Radio 2 is still a beast of a station.

Radio 3 had what can only be described as a disappointing quarter, down 11% in reach on both last quarter and last year. Hours were particularly poor, down nearly 20% on last quarter and 15% down on the year. It’s not clear to me what’s happened, but the current listening levels are within the bounds of what it has done previously over the last few years.

While Radio 4 has fallen away from it’s Brexit high a couple of quarters ago, it’s still 5% up on the year in reach and nearly 6% up on the year in hours. This is a good set of numbers, and the station has had a reach of over 11m for four quarters in a row now, when historically 10m was more its norm. Sister station Radio 4 Extra has also had decent numbers.

Five Live has had a disappointing set of numbers too – perhaps not able to capitalise on such a fairy tale Premier League season. It’s down 6.5% in reach on last quarter and down 7.5% on the year. While hours aren’t as bad, it’s interesting that in these highly politicised times, Radio 4 continues to do well, but 5 Live doesn’t.

6 Music, needless to say, confounds all of this. It’s up in everything meaning that it has also once again set record reach and hours figures. It has 2.351m listeners spending 23.4m hours a week with it.

As with Five Live, Talksport hasn’t done so well this quarter, being down 9% on the quarter and 12% on the year in terms of reach. Hours are much better with even a slight uptick on the quarter. Although with less than 3m reach and 20m hours, they will want to do better. Sister station Talksport 2 showed a slight dip on this quarter still hovering around the 250,000-300,000 range for its reach. Hours are a bit more concerning being 10% down on the quarter.

Talkradio got a bump in hours, but is down a little in reach to 238,000. While I’m convinced that there’s room for more speech radio, perhaps it needs further tweaking. Meanwhile Virgin Radio was up in reach and up in hours. While it has yet to return to the levels of the first set of numbers it posted, this at least is encouraging.

Classic FM ticks on by, flat in reach on the quarter, but up nearly 5% on the year. Hours are down slightly on the quarter but up nearly 7% on the year. It comfortably stays north of 5m listeners and has around 35m listening hours putting it in a good place.

Absolute Radio is up slightly on the quarter, and essentially flat on the year in terms of reach. Hours is much better story, with something of a bounce back from last quarter, being up 12%. Across the entire Absolute Radio Network, reach is down a little, but hours are up, and the brand has 4.2m reach and 33m hours (similar to the size of Classic, but with a much more valuable target audience for advertisers).

Radio X is making solid progress nationally up 5% on the quarter in reach and up 6% on the year. Hours are also up, and with a fair wind, it should break 10m listening hours within the next quarter or two. It certainly seems to have some traction.

LBC nationally is performing outstandingly well. it has just short of 1.8m listeners (up 6% on the quarter and up 16% on the year), while hours are closing in to 20m. Listening is up a whopping 27% on the year! This is one station aside from Radio 4 that really is prospering right now.

Capital is doing decently across its whole brand. While reach and hours are down a little on the quarter, they’re up on the year, and the brand still has 8.3m listeners spending 47m hours across the various Capital stations.

The Heart Network and Brand’s listeners (the latter includes Heart Extra) have drifted away a little in recent quarters and this is no exception. Nothing stunning, but still downwards. It’ll be interesting to see if a recent new TV ad does much to turn its fortunes around.

The Magic Network got bolstered this month (see below), but it was still down a little in reach. Hours are better, with now more than 20m Magic hours across the network. Magic too has recently invested in a TV ad, the results of which won’t hit until next quarter.

The Kiss Network has fallen back a little for the second quarter in a row, with a reach still just ahead of 5m, while hours have fallen back below 30m. The brand has done really well to maintain its audience when you compare it with the difficulties Radio 1 has had.

The Smooth Brand is not one I think about a lot, but it’s a real performer for Global with 5.4m reach and nearly 40m hours. It dipped a little this quarter but is a very solid performer if it can hang on to that listening.

Finally a couple of new stations. Union Jack, which has been on the air for several months now, has posted a reach of 71,000 with 265,000 hours. It’s a low cost station (broadcasting at easily the lowest bitrate of any DAB music services), but it probably needs a larger audience in due course.

Meanwhile Magic Soul, which began as a summer pop-up, has a reach of 242,000 and hours of not inconsequential 1.3m. A decent enough start for the service from Bauer.

Finally there’s Share Radio. It has just announced that will be coming off DAB soon, continuing as an online-only service. It posted its first set of numbers, with 17,000 reach and 40,000 hours. The difficulty the station has is that it’s demographic target market is far too specialist for RAJAR to accurately capture. It’s analogous to Bloomberg TV which previously came off BARB in the UK because although the service is definitely on in the right offices and on the right trading floors, it’s not something that the BARB panel can easily pick up.

Breakfast

I’ll leave others to spend more time on breakfast, but Nick Grimshaw saw his show fall as the overall station did. He’s down 4.2% in reach on the quarter and 5.4% down on the year. Unfortunately for him, that’s the lowest Radio 1 breakfast show figure since the current RAJAR methodology started back in 1999.

Over on Radio 2, Chris Evans put on nearly 2% to his audience this quarter – that’s nearly 9.4m listeners. Down a little on this time last year, but still a very successful show.

In commercial terms, Bauer has the top two shows in the Kiss breakfast show with Rickie, Melvin and Charlie with 2.1m listeners, while Christian O’Connell across the Absolute Radio Network is just behind with 1.9m listeners.

London

Who’s number one in London? Well of course it’s actually Radio 4. But you probably want to know how the commercial rivals stack up.

Capital can still shout loudly about that position. With 2.2m listeners, it’s jumped a frankly unlikely 30% on the quarter bouncing back from last quarter’s low. Looking back, that really does look like a freak quarter. Kiss is the next closest in reach with 1.8m listeners.

However in hours terms, LBC gets the crown with 11.5m hours (up 28% on the year!). This compares with 10.8m for Capital and 9.2m for Heart.

(Sorry, I’ve just realised I managed this report without a single chart. I promise to do better in future!)

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
Mediatel’s Newsline will have lots of figures and analysis
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 2 April 2017, 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.

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.

Amazon Echo – A Longer Term Test

Amazon Echo

I bought my Amazon Echo on its official UK release back in September last year. I wrote about it at the time, but I thought it might be worth checking back in here to see exactly how I’m using it. Right off the top, I’ll note here that I use Alexa multiple times a day, every day.

The first thing I’ll detail is how I have my Echo(s) setup. My original Echo sits in my living room. In fact it rests fairly close to the television. But interestingly, because of the direction of the TV speakers, the Echo will still hear me even with the TV on in many cases.

But more recently I also bought an Echo Dot to go in my bedroom. I have a very old hifi system there which still sounds amazing and has a single Aux socket. Until buying the Dot, I had a Chromecast Audio device dangling from the socket, since Chromecast serves most of my audio needs. I keep music on Google Play Music, and apps like iPlayer Radio and PocketCasts both support Chromecast.

I was faced with a dilemma when I got the Dot though. I wanted the audio from that to come through my speakers as well, but I obviously didn’t want to be plugging and unplugging wires every time I wanted to switch device. A single Aux socket, with the device permanently switched to that presented a problem.

The solution was a small mixer. This might seem like overkill, but it allows you to plug two (or more) audio sources into a single auxiliary socket and hear audio from both sources at the same time. So I can play music from Google Play Music via Chromecast, while also checking the weather via the Echo Dot. The only downside is some extra kit (and attendant audio cables), and that my mixer has quite bright LEDs (I used some LightDims tape to darken them. Yes, they are expensive, but I’ve used them on a couple of gadgets around the house).

With two Echo devices, it’s interesting to see them work together. If I stand in my hallway, I’m within range of both the Echo in living room, and Dot in the bedroom. But the two Echo devices decide between themselves which one should handle the request, and the other will go silent. In practice, this means I don’t actually have to worry which device I speak to.

I’d be tempted to get a further device for my kitchen where I have a very decent DAB and BlueTooth equipped radio. A fullsize Echo feels like overkill, yet a Dot really needs an auxiliary speaker to function. We’ll have to see. And as I said in my original review, the sound from the Echo itself isn’t great, in that it’s not the best standalone Bluetooth speaker ever. It’s slightly perverse that my much cheaper Echo sounds so much better because audio from it is passed to a decent pair of speakers with good stereo separation. So music does sound good on it.

But how about some specific use cases?

Radio

There’s no getting away that the Alexa environment is fantastic for listening to the radio. It’s just so easy to say “Alexa, play Radio 4” or “Alexa, Play 6 Music” and hear the station at a moment’s notice. As I mentioned previously, the default radio service is TuneIn, and it can very occasionally get muddled, but in general terms it works well. I installed the RadioPlayer “skill” (adding “skills” is the means to adding specific additional functionality to Alexa, and something done through the Alexa app or website), but it’s unquestionably more wordy to say something like, “Alexa, ask RadioPlayer to play Absolute Radio.” Yet, it is more likely to work.

At the weekend I asked Alexa to play TalkSport during a football match, and for some reason I got what I assume is TalkSport’s ex-UK streaming feed via TuneIn since it didn’t contain football. Going via RadioPlayer fixed it, although then I went back to the default TuneIn version and that seemed to be working too. Strange.

One thing you don’t seem to be able to do is simulcast radio (or other music) throughout your home on multiple Alexa devices. So if I start listening to the radio in my bedroom, I can’t seamlessly continue listening in my living room. I can start up a stream there, but it will be out of sync. In essence I have to stop the bedroom stream and start a living room stream.

I’m not aware that I can stream the same music throughout the home either. On the other hand Google Chrome does allow this, by creating groups of speakers you can send a single audio source to. And of course, this is famously a major selling point of Sonos.

I think that these Voice User Interface controlled devices will undoubtedly drive additional radio listening, since tuning into a station is so easy. But there is the qualifier that people need to know and remember your service in the first place. My DABs radios at home receive upwards of 120 radio services, and I can’t remember them all. I can browse them fairly easily though, and I might stumble upon something I like, similar to the way you might scan through stations in a car. With Alexa, you need to know what you want in the first place. That favours big brands.

Lights

This is the real game-changer for me. I have a Hue Bridge and bulbs, controlling the lighting in my hallway and living room, and it’s still wonderful to get Alexa to turn lights on and off. Hue allows you to group lights together as “rooms” or groups of rooms. For my set-up I have two lights in the “Hall,” and three in the “Living Room.” Together they are know as the “Flat.” But I do need to annunciate properly to get them to work. If I drop the “H” on “Hall” (I’m a north Londoner after all), it won’t work. Sometimes I concatenate “Flat lights” to “Flatlights” and that won’t work either. I just have to moderate my voice a little. But overall it’s wonderful.

Alarms and Timers

I realise that I’m using some very expensive technology to do something that a £5 Casio watch is quite capable of, but it’s still really nice to be able to say just before settling down at night, “Set alarm for 7am.” And for cooking you can just shout, “Set timer for 20 minutes” when you slam the oven door shut on something. I confess that it was actually an Apple Siri advert that made me realise I could do this!

I will admit that I’ve asked it on more than one occasion what the time is. Yes, I wear a watch. But no, it’s not always on my wrist. And when you’re rushing around in the morning, barking out a command to Alexa is surprisingly useful.

Weather

I use Alexa’s weather forecasting all the time. “What’s the weather?” “What’s the weather tomorrow?” Yes I have weather apps on the homescreen of my phone. And breakfast radio and TV is full of weather forecasts. But it’s nice to have, and it’s highly localised.

The only issue I had was with my precise location. In the app, you enter a postcode and that determines your location. I live in a town, but five miles up the road from me is a tiny village. For whatever reason, Alexa was convinced I lived in that village. Now the weather in both places will be identical, but having Alexa say, “The weather in Botany Bay is 5 degrees…” was just annoying. I ended up giving an alternative local postcode to get it to say the name of my town correctly.

News

I use Alexa a certain amount to give me the news headlines. There is now a reasonable selection of news in there from the default Sky News, to a selection of BBC national and World Service offerings.

The one thing I would say is that not everyone wants quite the same type of news. There is a world of difference between Radio 1’s Newsbeat and a BBC World Service summary. While at the moment, there is a reasonable range of offerings (try BBC Minute for something a little different), in audio terms, one size doesn’t fit all.

Sport

Sport remains a real shortcoming for the Alexa environment. When I first got my Echo, I was shocked to discover that the only British teams I could add as favourites were English Premier League clubs. What’s more, the only data that Amazon seemed to be taking was from the Premier League. No other clubs or competitions existed. And while we’re at, no other sport existed either.

Even very recently, when I looked again, there were no Championship sides, Scottish Premier League sides, or indeed anyone outside of the 20 clubs in the Premier League.

Looking today, I see that finally Amazon has added additional football clubs. A quick search suggests that there’s a pretty full range of football clubs that can be selected – right down to some non-league sides. But it still seems to be an exclusively football selection. I couldn’t find any cricket, rugby union or rugby league sides. I can’t find a favourite tennis player, an F1 team or track and field athlete either. Amazon at least needs to add other major UK team spots to Alexa to give a proper rounded offering.

They do at least seem to have more data sources that they subscribe to. I can get the latest Champions’ League scores for example – something that was missing back in September when I first bought the device.

A lot of work still required, and therefore I mostly rely on apps to deliver me accurate and up to date sports scores.

Music

Oddly enough, despite this being a killer application of Alexa, it’s probably the functionality that I’ve used least. You can choose from “My Music Library”, “Prime Music” and “Spotify” as music sources (curiously, they also list TuneIn in the app), while you can also have “Amazon Music Unlimited” (Amazon’s Spotify competitor) if you subscribe to it. Despite lots of imploring to give it a test-ride, and the ability to get a cheaper subscription for a single Echo device, I’ve not bothered. Similarly I only very rarely use the free Spotify service. My music is stored in the cloud on Google Play Music, and locally on a NAS drive. As a result, I mostly use Google Play Music via a Chromecast device to listen at home.

That said, I’ll occasionally try something from Amazon’s “Prime Music” offering. The problem is that I simply don’t know what’s in the Prime music catalogue and what isn’t. So rather than be disappointed, I’ll look elsewhere.

It’s worth noting that “My Music Library” is largely made up of any music you’ve bought via Amazon as either digital tracks or auto-ripped CDs. You are also able to upload a 250 tracks from iTunes which hardly feels generous. I can add a quarter of a million more for a further £21.99 a year. I’d be tempted were it not for the fact that Google lets me store 50,000 tracks free of charge.

The other thing to consider is that you need to know what you want to hear to launch it. That means remembering an artist, or playing a favourite playlist. It’s not so great for discovering new music or exploring the outer reaches of a music collection.

Bluetooth Speaker

I found it to be a fairly painless process to pair my smartphone with my Echo, and it will usefully let you switch that connection on and off by voice. “Connect to device,” or “Disconnect from device” will do the trick. The only thing I’m not sure about is how many devices you can set-up to be connected to an Echo, and more importantly can you make sure the right device is connected?

The advantage of having this connection of course is that audio that won’t work with Alexa can be played through its speaker. In general terms, I’ll still use Chromecast ahead of Alexa for this, especially since the speakers I have my Chromecast dongles plugged into, sound much better. But it’s nice to be able to connect.

Travel

Alexa is keen to get you to detail your commute so that it can provide travel information. But by default, it assumes that a “commute” is a car journey, and the only information it will give you relating to said commute is traffic information. That’s great if your commute is a drive, but useless if you use public transport.

The National Rail skill is an essential add-on for me. While navigating it to work out a specific train journey can be difficult, it is fairly straightforward to set up a commute. This results in me being able to say, “Alexa, ask National Rail about my commute,” which gives me details of the next two trains (with more available) from my local station.

There are also third party tube skills to allow you to check the status of your preferred London Underground line, and I’ve recently used Bus Stop which also uses the Transport for London API to query my local bus stop. Every London bus now has GPS and every stop a unique code meaning that TfL can generate real-time data for when your next bus will be at your nominated stop. Again, useful for timing departure from your home.

Now it’s not as though there aren’t mobile apps and websites that can give me all this data, but in the morning when you’re rushing around trying to leave on time for work, the voice interface is perfect for giving you up-to-date information.

Podcasts

In truth, I don’t use Alexa for podcasts. It’s not that it won’t play them. It will. However the selection is based on what TuneIn supplies. But for my personal use, I need an interface with PocketCasts which is my preferred podcasting app. I have both the Android and web apps, and between them, they keep me in sync with what I have and haven’t listened to. I can pause a podcast on my mobile app, and pick-up on a laptop. For me to use a podcast app on Alexa, it would need to take account of all of that.

If PocketCasts were to build an Amazon skill then I’d be there. But PocketCasts is paid-for software, and I’m not sure whether currently Amazon Skills can be sold, or whether the developer is working on something.

Other

I do wish the Alexa app was better. It’s slow to load – perhaps because it’s checking to see whether it’s in range of devices or not. And some key functionality is buried a little deep within the menu structure. For example, to change news sources, you have to go into the Settings. It’s not a top level menu item.

The addition of IFTTT was nice, and opens up a wealth of potential. However, so far, I’ve not used it properly on my device.

There are a number of really bad skills that you can install, and Amazon probably needs to do a slightly better job in highlighting useful skills and downgrading poor ones with limited functionality, often feeling like they’re the result of people hacking together personal tests.


Amazon Echo Speaker Grill

Alexa Summary

Amazon sends out a weekly email newsletter highlighting new skills or phrases to try. Sometimes these are themed, or include jokes, which is fun. The reality is that you will get more out of Alexa the more time you spend with it. You need to recall specific key words and phrases to get the desired results. It can be frustrating if you forget how to do something.

The key to having a good experience is for Alexa to respond in an appropriate manner to your request. If you have to think too hard about how to frame a question for Alexa, then you won’t do it.

It would be nice if Alexa had a more flattened structure. Currently it seems to work with a number of base level skills built in, but for more complex requirements you have to remember to invoke a particular skill.

So if I ask, “Alexa, how’s my commute,” it will ask me to set up my drive to work. I then have to remember to say, “Alexa, ask National Rail about my commute,” which gets me the response I wanted.

I’d like Alexa to intelligently realise that I invoke the National Rail skill far more than the similar sounding built in skill, and to therefore answer me with what I really wanted. Think of it as a kind of audio auto-complete.

And Alexa needs to understand context a bit better. If I’ve just asked one thing, then the next question might be in response to the answer I’ve just received. Outside of specific skills, Alexa treats most questions in complete isolation. Google Home does seem to achieve this better, allowing you to string a series of questions and answers together in a more natural manner. Speaking of which…

Google Home

We know that Google Home’s UK launch is around the corner. In many respects, from demos I’ve seen and from what I’ve read, the skillset of Google and Amazon’s devices are actually very similar. The difference is perhaps the backbone of Google Assistant which lies behind Google’s voice interface. It can use everything Google already knows about me to deliver more personalised responses. Google has a distinct advantage here. It already knows my football teams, the locations I travel to, the news I want to follow and my appointments calendar.

Furthermore, I’ve invested in the Chromecast ecosystem, and have my music on Google’s servers (Although I don’t pay for Google Play Music Unlimited, and as a consequence, frustratingly I don’t get all their playlists built around the technology they bought from Songza. This, despite that being available to US users.).

Maybe in time, I will transition across to Google? Google Assistant will be built into future devices. Whether it comes to my HTC10 (now running Nougat) I’m not sure. But I’m led to believe it will be coming to the Nvidia Shield which I use for a lot of streaming. But always listening microphones do come at a power cost, and excess battery power is not something many phones have right now.

Conclusions

What I do know is that I’m satisfied where I am at the moment, and Amazon’s technology works well, some specific shortcomings notwithstanding.

Do I have privacy concerns with all of this? Absolutely. If it were shown that either Amazon or Google was uploading audio outside of when I specifically asked it a question, then it would be leaving my home instantly. But they seem to have been good to their word thus far.

As I was finishing up writing this piece, I read two separate pieces from writers who think Alexa has been oversold: a very contrary view from a Forbes writer, and another from Quartz. Both writers are frustrated that Alexa isn’t smarter than it currently is, that it can’t understand language better, and that generally is should be better out of the box. Another complaint is that Alexa doesn’t handle context too well, and that you have to utilise skills properly to get the best out of Alexa. I agree with both writers on some issues, but to my mind Alexa is extraordinary out of the box. It’s certainly not a “glorified clock radio” as the Quartz writer puts it. It will clearly get better over time.

Addressing a couple of specific concerns: I’ve certainly had no issues with transport details – I use the separate skills that I noted above. More importantly I’ve not ordered nor accidentally ordered anything so far from Amazon with the Alexa. In fact, I’m not convinced that it’s a terribly useful way to do shopping aside from a few staples – the kind of things I’m unlikely to use Amazon for regardless (Grocery shopping on Amazon in the UK really isn’t a great experience just yet, and I’ve got better options using a UK supermarket to fulfill such shopping).

Terms like Artificial Intelligence (AI) get bandied around far too much right now, when what they really mean is that the business is adopting algorithms to help with personalisation and the like. But beyond that, there is machine learning or deep learning, and that is meant when the term “AI” is used. But this isn’t AI as in the Spielberg film – autonomous thinking robots or whatever.

However the deep learning techniques do mean that speech recognition is improving in leaps and bounds, and the current range of devices should grow with it. The Echo, after all, is broadly speaking a speaker, some microphones, and an internet connection. While some work is done locally, the heavy lifting is in the cloud. These things will improve.

Five months in, and I’m very happy with Alexa, and use it a lot.

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.

Celebrity RIP Tweets

We have just come through 2016, and for many, it won’t be fondly remembered. Election and referendum results notwithstanding, there were a number of deaths – often of people very much revered.

Today, when someone dies, we learn about it almost instantly. The news will turn up in social feeds. Alerts on our smartphones will tell us about breaking news.

And if you don’t personally get the news that way, it’s entirely probable that someone near you will hear it that way. Then you might switch to a 24 hour news channel or put on the radio.

We live in a continuous 24 hour news cycle.

The old idea of news cycles has long since gone. And that means that when something happens, we need instant analysis and reporting.

Yet the reporting of someone’s death can really grate with me. If the name is big enough – say, David Bowie – then everything stops.

Breakfast TV and radio that day was thrown over to rolling news and reaction to his death, with the announcement having come at around 7am UK time.

But actual details about the death are initially likely to be limited. A manager will have perhaps put out a brief two-line statement saying that the person died peacefully in their sleep, and that’ll be about the long and short of it. It’s possible that it was well known that the person had been ill for some time, or it might come as quite a shock – an unforeseen heart attack perhaps.

However, the media has hours of airtime to fill. Fans want to remember their heroes.

The first thing that reports of a celebrity death will include is quotes from their peers. And these now tend to come from social media – especially Twitter.

The problem is that it can almost feel like there’s a rush on for other famous, and not-so-famous people to have their say. Now of course, the democracy of the internet means that we can all have our say, and while another artist may have been friends and worked with the deceased star, someone else might have been inspired by that person, or perhaps just loved their work.

But in the media, he who shouts first, gets quoted first. So instead of a carefully curated collection of thoughts of those who perhaps we’d be most interested in hearing eulogies from, we get the thoughts of those who happen to be Tweeting soonest.

It can be as simple as whoever wakes up and hears the news first is the person who’s thoughts lead the news bulletins over the next few hours.

“Tributes have been coming in for Deceased_Star. Talent_Show_Winner said, ‘I always looked up to them. I was really proud that I was able to sing one of their songs in the semi-final of Talent_Show. They inspired me.’ Meanwhile Twitter_Loving_Comedian said, ‘It was a privilege to work with them at Charity_Event.'”

Well, thanks for that.

I’m not saying that the comments made by said famous folk aren’t heartfelt and don’t count. I can’t tell you whether someone is posting something on Twitter because it makes them look good and relevant that they comment, or whether it’s just an earnest tribute towards someone who was important to them in whatever way.

But at 7.15am there are scores of journalists scouring Tweetdeck looking for anything any famous person says. So a politician with a reactive PR person gets in early, but older and wiser people – who would previously either actually been called by a journalist, or released a statement via an agent – don’t get heard early on. (Read a great piece by Andrew Collins based on one particular Tweet here.)

I understand the difficulty on the other side of the fence. You’re a music journalist, and suddenly every broadcast outlet and newspaper is calling you asking you to either speak on air, or write 1,500 words for tomorrow’s edition – and needing to be online by lunchtime.

There’s a brilliantly funny story by ex-Word editor and Whistle Test presenter, Mark Ellen, in his book Rock Stars Stole My Life, who relates being called by broadcasters everywhere to comment on the death of Michael Jackson. The running gag was that Paul Gambaccini – seemingly always on top of every news producer’s contact list when a musician dies – was stuck in traffic in a cab.

But they’re journalists, and that’s to be expected. And anyway, I’m not really talking about them.

I’m talking about news reports that are full of basically random famous folk. Yes, the facts can probably be summarised in a couple of lines, but there are hours to fill! And so we get pretty much whoever’s available at short notice and whoever happened to hit Twitter first.

In due course, over the following few hours, a better selection of comments is gathered. Relevant friends and artists have their thoughts collected. And the TV channels stop using the same B-roll footage that they found on YouTube, archivists delivering much better quality, interesting and relevant pictures*.

* Although this is likely to be the subject of a future blog. Despite having a vast wealth of digital material at our fingertips, it’s disheartening how many television obituary packages seem to consist of badly captured and screen-grabbed footage. When Liz Smith died recently, ITV News’ obit seemed to consist of footage simply grabbed from the BBC iPlayer of a recent Royle Family reairing. Even allowing for this being over Christmas, surely a higher quality source could have been found?

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.