Written by Radio

Crystal Ball Gazing at the Radio Academy

The latest Radio Academy podcast – the last of the series indeed – is about to be published by producer Heather Davies. It features, Trevor Dann talking to Global’s Nick Piggott, the BBC’s Chris Kimber and myself about radio five years hence.
I’m sure that, as Nick wisely said at the podcast’s start, a large proportion of what we said will probably turn out to be complete nonsense and not happen like that at all. But that’s one of the dangers of attempting to be media seers.
Before going on the podcast, I sat down and wrote some notes about things that might happen. Such is the way of these things, I only managed to talk about a couple of them. But since I put the notes together, I thought that I might as well publish them so I can be proved wrong in 2015.
BBC
– The current Charter runs until the end of 2016. So by 2015 we’ll be a long way down the road of renewal. I suspect that the licence fee will at least be flattened and perhaps reduced. That doesn’t mean that I’d welcome a massive reduction of BBC services as James suggested recently. Indeed such a move seems very doubtful indeed. The one service a Tory government is not going to play with is surely their members’ favourite radio station – Radio 4. Similarly, they’d play with Radio 3 at their peril. In the podcast, Trevor suggested that James identified the wrong service and it should be Radio 2. That’s an interesting idea – especially as Radio 2 was previously regional.
– Local is where there might be changes. But as commercial radio becomes a larger series of quasi networks, removing BBC Local radio would be very damaging. The decline of local newspapers could leave us with some big holes in local news reporting.
– Chris Moyles won’t be on breakfast on Radio 1. He’s 36 now and has just renewed for another 12 months. Will this be his last year on breakfast? Who knows.
– Radio 1 and 2 will continue to be under pressure from commercial sector and have to work ever harder to provide PSB commitments.
Commercial Radio
– There is a really interesting and important Broadcasting Code review at the moment, which could fundamentally change how commercial radio sounds. If the most flexible option put forward by Ofcom is adopted, then it’s even possible for spot-airtime as we understand it to dissappear. It won’t of course. At least not on most stations because spot-airtime is relatively easy to manage inexpensively. But it really is worth having a look at the very last page of Ofcom’s 110 page document to realise how extreme this could be.
– I’d predict at least one significant commercial service operating on a new hybrid model that involved a more intergrated commercial funding route. That means operating without commercial breaks.
– Note that these rules could also (re-?) introduce a form of “payola” into commercial radio. Stations would be allowed to include take payment to adjust their playlists. At this point, listeners’ trust in radio stations will become more crucial. What is and isn’t a service prepared to do? And how will listeners respond?
Digital
– By 2015, there’ll be a much clearer picture of where DAB and digital radio in general is. We’ve seen a couple of stronger brands going on D1 currently including Absolute 80s and shortly, Smooth. DAB set sales and broadband (both fixed and mobile) will dictate the digital pace.
– A more controversial idea is that Radio 1 and Radio 2 go DAB only in the same way that BBC2 has led the way going digital in switchover, and before that, when it launched in colour to push colour TV. Radio needs the same.
– The biggest challenge facing commercial radio is to drive up CPTs or cost per thousands. Especially digital CPTs that have been hitherto sold at a discount. The new IPA cross media research, TouchPoints, released last week revealed that radio accounts for 14% of the media day but only gets 4% of revenue, whereas press accounts for 7% of the media day, but 37% of revenues. Radio is terribly underpriced. Advertisers need to appreciate what a bargain they’re getting!
Online
– Key here is to drive upwards from its current 2.9%, the amount of listening that takes place online. Mobile apps will continue to become ever more important, with additional functionality meaning that they compete with aggregator and third party pieces of software.
– But there will still be really serious issues over bandwidth. The Government’s proposed “2 Mbps for all” minimum has been kicked into the long grass of 2015 because nobody can afford to do it. And mobile operators are already struggling under the weight of data usage. Despite what London-dwellers might believe, most of the population does not use an iPhone, Blackberry or Android device. But as prices fall, more will get these. Will the networks cope?
Competitors
– Spotify/Last.fm/mFlow/”Insert new undreamt of serveice here” – these are potentially the biggest concerns of radio. Tim Davie revealed a couple of topline stats from the BBC’s latest Eartime research on the last Radio Talk, and they show that it’s young people that are adopting these services the most. According to Tim, 82% of all “share of ear” (ie. listening to any kind of media, including YouTube videos) is to radio, which is a fantastic number. That includes listening to your own music on iPod or CD. But it falls to “about 60% among younger audiences.” Radio can sometimes be very short-termist, but these are our next listeners.
– While that might seem to be of most concern to stations like Kiss and Radio 1, it’s a problem for all of us, because if people get out of the habit of listening to the radio when they’re young, they may never listen again.
– Radio needs to re-energise its youth listeners. I’m concerned that networked evening shows have removed a bit of the community appeal that can gather together groups of listeners locally. Radio can be very social – like a good pub or bar where you can “hang out.” But that socialness can be dissipated by running only on a national basis. With large numbers of listeners, you can’t easily reflect the local music scene or hear regular correspondents that comes from with a slightly more initimate appeal.
-Of course this is an opportunity for non-group local services.
Podcasts
– Monetising them! We’re in the hands of Apple here, and they need to add the ability to buy podcasts rather than just get them free. They have the whip hand. Podcasts still aren’t really mainstream, although they’re moving in the right direction. More devices are gaining access to them, but this still needs simplifying. And it should be up to the producer whether or not they want to monetise them. (BTW: Just because the ability to monetise podcasts is there, it doesn’t mean that everyone will charge. Some will attempt it, and others will stay free.)
– And I’d love to see more BBC programming – once its slipped beyond the free iPlayer window – being available to buy.

On a seperate note, David Hepworth’s piece on a different model for speech radio is worth a read, as are the comments (and not because I’ve just contributed).
As ever, these are my own views and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer. That said, on the podcast, I was speaking as a representitive of said employer, Absolute Radio…