May, 2018

Podcasts and Paywalls

There seems to be something of a brouhaha* just now in podcasting land over the idea that some podcasts might live behind a paywall, and I thought it was worth thinking about that a little more.

It was reported at the end of last week, that Amy Schumer has signed a $1m deal with Spotify to make a podcast for them. Furthermore, this is likely to be first of many comedy podcasts that the audio streaming business is looking to create.

This created a certain amount of uproar. Nicholas Quah (of Hotpod) writing for Vulture asked “How Will Amy Schumer’s Huge Spotify Deal Change the Podcast Industry?

Meanwhile Kevin Goldberg at Discoverpod thinks it could be bad for future podcast distribution. While examining the logic behind such costs, Goldberg fears a little for the medium:

“Podcasts were created to be openly distributed through an RSS feed. Exclusivity ultimately threatens one of the basic tenets of podcasts. Though I think most listeners realized this free ride wouldn’t last forever — and with every “Netflix for podcasts” analogy I see online in my heart I knew it as well — it’s still a bit upsetting to see the stake in the ground (again, I’m assuming Schumer’s new podcast will only be available on Spotify).”

What I would say is that all that makes a piece of audio a “podcast” is its RSS delivery mechanism. Yes, there have been great leaps in the range and quality of audio production, driven in large part by the explosion of podcasts. But there has always been a wide range of audio available, and different delivery mechanisms for that audio. An open RSS feed is only one.

The earliest forms were cylinders, shellac discs (e.g. for 78 rpm records), and via radio stations. In time, a variety of improved delivery types became available until today’s landscape which includes broadcast (analogue and digital), physical media, streaming and downloads – some of it free, and some of it behind paywalls of varying types. Audiences have become more used to listening on demand, but the models remain varied.

We may listen for free, programming supported by advertising (or a licence fee or a donation). Or we pay a subscription to “rent” access to the audio. In yet other instances, we buy our own copies of the media – either physical or download.

Changing tastes, fashions and business models mean that that distribution methods ebb and flow.

Podcasts tend to fall into the category of downloads or streams that are often advertising supported. But by no means are they alone.

Comedy is a particularly interesting area to explore, because disseminating comedy – and comedy audio in particular – has a long a varied history. Once upon a time, you would have had to go and see a comedian to hear them. Until well into the last century, vaudeville and music halls reigned with their variety acts including comedians. Bigger names toured countries and built followings. They rose up the bill, and could demand bigger cuts from houses.

Beyond that, radio helped them build out their popularity. Radio shows helped make some comedians household names. Before the advent of television, they might have made a few films to cash in on their success, but you could expect radio and variety shows to provide the bulk of their income.

Yet the recording industry played a role from the outset. Even as Thomas Edison was introducing his cylinders to an eager public, he was recording perhaps the first “comedy albums” with Cal Stewart and his Uncle Josh recordings.

As recordings moved to disc, comedy records went with them, and during the post-war period as recorded music grew significantly in popularity, comedians worked in the medium. There were “party records” – with material too blue or risque to be broadcast anywhere that might be sold under the counter. But beyond them, popular comedians of the time recorded albums. Among them Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Bob Newhart, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Beyond the Fringe, Bill Hicks and Eddie Murphy.

These albums sold in great numbers; these comedians effectively working “behind a paywall.”

We don’t know yet what Spotify will do with their Amy Schumer programme. It may well remain a Spotify exclusive – another reason for you to subscribe to Spotify. Perhaps it will be Spotify exclusive for a limited period of time before being made available on every platform – ‘windowing’ in the parlance. There may or may not be advertising. Time will tell.

But in effect, this is no different to a record label in years gone by signing a comedian up to release a comedy album. The form may be different; the material more contemporaneous. However, the similarities are there.

And this is hardly unique. In 2015, Russell Brand did an exclusive deal with Audioboom. He got payed a sum that may have been adjacent to the $1m Schumer is reportedly getting.

Amazon’s Audible has been busy signing up dozens of exclusives to offer as part of its membership scheme. The most successful so far, has perhaps been Jon Ronson’s The Butterfly Effect, which was kept exclusively on the Amazon platform for 6 months before becoming more widely available on podcast platforms. Other Audible exclusives (free to subscriber programming, as distinct from their regular audiobooks) have largely remained on the Audible platform alone.

Ricky Gervais, who did a lot to popularise podcasts back when The Guardian was a backer of his early podcast series, later moved the show behind a paywall by selling episodes in the ‘audiobooks’ section of the iTunes store. More recently he has been making series for US satellite radio broadcaster Sirius XM. These episodes are made available free to Sirius XM subscribers, but again are paid-for episodes for everyone else.

Many of Slate’s podcasts contain extra segments exclusive to paying Slate Plus subscribers. In the case of the popular Slow Burn podcast, entire additional episodes were exclusive to those subscribers.

Many podcasters who use donation funding as part of their model record exclusive episodes for those backers (including The Cycling Podcast, for which I am a producer). Often Patreon is used a way to facilitate this.

All of these are legitimate business models, and it’s not really clear to me why anyone would worry. Generally speaking the biggest audiences will only be available free to air as regular RSS feeds that will work across all podcatching software. Even going ‘app-exclusive’, will instantly see audiences fall. Recall that something like 55-60% of podcast listening still comes from Apple apps. It’s instructive to see that the music industry has tended to move away from significant platform exclusives.

Once you add paywalls, then potential audiences fall. On the other hand, the economics may make sense for the podcast’s producers or a specific platform.

On the most recent Recode Media with Peter Kafka podcast, 99 Per Cent Invisible’s Roman Mars said he doesn’t want to go down the subscription podcast route.

“Right now, I don’t think we have the overall mass to support that change,” Mars said. “We had 70 years of broadcast television to get to a point where we could hone it to people’s [needs]: They need it in their lives and pay a certain amount so they can have ‘The Sopranos.’ I don’t think we’ve had that period of time with podcasts.”

Except, I don’t think that’s true. We’ve been selling comedy since the dawn of recorded music, while also making it available free of charge, via radio broadcasts and latterly podcasts.

If paywalls are too confusing, then they will fail. But particularly with comedy, history suggests otherwise.

I do appreciate that, as with Netflix, a certain amount of this is just stealing a march on competitors and gaining market share at cost. Recall that Netflix is not yet in profit. They become profitable when they have enough subscribers to sustain their investment in programming. They’ve made a bet that they will reach this tipping point. Similarly, Spotify is not yet profitable. They too are chasing increased subscriber numbers in the hope of reducing costs overall. In the meantime, they are looking for a means to drive those subscribers.

In general, I would always want my podcast to reach the widest possible audience. Podcasting is still in a growth phase after all. Think of all those people who have yet to discover podcasts (particularly Android phone users). But if someone wants to go subscription only, then that’s for them. And I don’t think it damages podcasting overall.

I would argue that they’re probably not podcasts however.

*What an excellent word.

**Netflix doesn’t release ratings, but I think I’m on safe ground here, if you look within countries

Bulletproof

Oh dear. Sky One’s big new glossy action drama is pretty awful.

Before I explain why, I will admit that I’m not the target audience for this show. But nevertheless, this show is just all over the place.

Bulletproof is trying to be a 2018-vintage action cop show set in London. Imagine The Sweeney or The Professionals, mixed with the buddy-cop smart dialogue of films like Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys.

You’ve got Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke as the two bodies, their hard nosed boss, their girlfriends and their co-workers. Then you’ve got the baddies in the first episode, some Slavic car thieves (Gone in 60 Seconds?), who are tooled up to the max. Walters and Clarke and co-creators with Nick Love (The Football Factory, The Sweeney (2012)).

From the opening credit sequence, which has big bold graphics, and lots of shots of our heroes in full action mode as if from a 1980s TV show, we know exactly where we are. Or do we?

Very early on, an informer gets murdered in front of them (with some slightly dodgy CGI), and they’re on the tail of the car thieves, starting with a car chase. It’s not entirely clear why heavily armed bad guys would run over an informant right in front of the police, when they could quietly murder her at their own convenience some other time, but let’s not get bogged down with such details right now.

There are, however, instantly massive problems with the script.

The buddy-buddy side of things runs throughout, but having seen a character horrifically murdered in the first few minutes, nobody really seems to care about her much, given everyone gets sidetracked with other japes and tomfoolery. Then someone remembers that they have to catch the criminals because of the senseless murder.

Noel Clarke’s character in particular seems to be the most useless policeman in the Met. He suspects his girlfriend of cheating on him, and rather than paying attention on a stakeout, he broods over who he thinks the culprit is.

Having crashed their car in the chase – well, set off the airbags anyway – they have to get a lift home, and to win over their uniformed colleagues, Clarke’s character says, “Keys, plod,” to the first uniformed official he meets. Yes – I bet that goes down well in the station.

Later, he inadvertently shoots a colleague in the shoulder during another chase. But no worries, he’s soon drinking and joking with Walters at takeaway van somewhere. Only later does he discover that the bullet just missed a major artery. Phew. Especially as they’d disobeyed orders to take on the villains rather than waiting for backup.

Their colleagues actually get captured by the bad guys since they stupidly joined a case conference via a video link while they were staking out the bad guys. I’d have thought that standard procedure when hidden in the bushes is not to distract yourself with Skypeing your colleagues.

And needless to say that Clarke and Walters, when not practising on the gun range, walk around their Met office with their guns in shoulder holsters all the time, because that’s what American cops do. None of this signing them in and out of the armoury for them.

Look, I get what this is trying to be. A big action series with characters who appeal to a younger and more diverse audience. We’re not supposed to take it seriously.

But the tone is just all wrong.

Clarke’s character is miserable throughout, except when he’s on the phone trying to sort out whether to get free-range chicken for their family meal or not. So those scenes jar, even though they feature Clarke Peters no less. The handbrake turns in mood are just wrong. You have to go one way or another. You can have stupid silliness – all the villains having sub machine guns, even though they’re just loading cars onto a container ship – but you have to do that all the way through. The relationship elements just get in the way and feels wrong – particularly as we’re straight into a failing relationship. Don’t overload the episode with backstory – we can learn more about the tricky relationships as we go, not the whole hog in episode one. And especially, only once we know that they’re good at what they do, can we start to emote with them, when their flaws are revealed. In a US series, you know that this would bookend the episode, and not get placed into the middle of the episode.

Mostly importantly, to root for our heroes, we need to see proof early on that these are good cops who are great at their job. Instead, we quickly find out that one of them doesn’t like high speed car chases even though we’re going to get a lot of them in this series. This is a curious characterisation to give one of the leads in an action series anyway. The joke is going to wear thin very quickly.

Why not introduce the characters being really good at their jobs by way of introductions. Sure, it’s a little hackneyed, but it gives you action up front, and shows the viewers that these are good cops who can do the job brilliantly. Coming away from episode one, we more have the feeling that they are utterly useless at what they do, getting their informant killed, their colleagues kidnapped and then shot, ignoring orders and generally endangering the public at large!

The action sequences are fine, although they don’t feel as expensive as they want to feel. Just because you have a drone, it doesn’t make things look automatically glossy. Cars don’t crash during chases – they just end up with a loose boot and deployed airbags.

And although this is firmly set in Laaandaaaan, it seems to have been mostly filmed in Liverpool. Which explains why the locations feel a little off. The Sweeney and The Professionals were firmly shot where they were set. Again, that feels like a bit of cost-saving going on.

First episodes are hard – you have to set up the characters and give us enough of a story to get us hooked, but this missed the goal by a mile.

Big action series aren’t trivial to make. The same channel that showed this also showed A Touch of Cloth. We know the tropes of action series and the police procedural. We’ve seen Hot Fuzz. But most of all, the tone of the world we’re in needs to be consistent, and there simply isn’t the lightness of touch that a series like this needs.

Railplan 20/20

Hooray!

The new timetables began today, and although I had spent time looking at them previously, it wasn’t until they first properly kicked in today that I realised that on my section of the Great Northern rail network, we seem to have got something of the raw end of the deal, in two separate ways.

This became obvious to me when the train pulled into Finsbury Park this evening and was squashed full. But I’ll get back to the return journey in a minute.

I daily use the bit of the Great Northern network that goes into Moorgate. Trains run from Letchworth, Stevenage, Welwyn, and Hertford North, and go into Moorgate on the old Northern Line branch line, going underground at Drayton Park.

The good news is that the 40 year old rolling stock is getting replaced later this year (barely padded seats, and fewer seats notwithstanding).

The bad news is that the “Hertford Loop” bit of the line seems to have got the poor end of the deal from what I can see. Let me explain why.

I tend to travel into work between 08:00 and 09:00, returning via Finsbury Park between 18:00 and 19:00. I would suggest that puts me firmly within peak. Certainly some start earlier, and lines get busy from around 07:30, with trains also busy from around 17:30 on the return. After 09:00 in the morning or 19:00 in the evening, things get a little more relaxed.

As I grasped the new train times this morning, I couldn’t help noticing that many more trains seemed to stopping in more places. The line from Gordon Hill to Moorgate includes 15 stations. All trains stop everywhere between Finsbury Park and Moorgate, but during peak periods, many trains miss a few stops in between Gordon Hill and Finsbury Park, which means the operator can get a few more trains down the line.

Here’s the old morning timetable between 08:00 and 09:00. Because the times are a little arbitrary, I’ve included those within five minutes of that period.

GDH FPK

07:59 08:17 18
08:04 08:27 23
08:14 08:37 23
08:21 08:42 21
08:31 08:48 17
08:37 08:58 21
08:47 09:04 17
08:56 09:19 23
09:04 09:27 23

Ave 20.7

9 trains with an average journey time of 20.7 minutes. The fast of these is just 17 minutes, while the slowest (stopping everywhere) is 23 minutes.

But under the new timetable, spot the difference:

GDH FPK

07:55 08:19 24
08:00 08:24 24
08:11 08:34 23
08:18 08:39 21
08:25 08:49 24
08:41 09:04 23
08:48 09:09 21
08:55 09:19 24
09:00 09:24 24

Ave 23.1

The same number of trains, but an average journey time of 23.1 minutes. Slightly slower than the journey time of the slowest train previously!

And note that the fastest train is now 21 minutes. So the trains are stopping everywhere. My journey is 11.8% slower as a result.

OK 2.5 minutes isn’t much, but I do question whether the longer timetabled journey times are simply because the number of passengers is such that it took longer than the timetable claimed to get so many on and off, or whether the train operator is “padding” the schedule a little bit. An extra minute could save an awful lot in fines for late running…

How about the return journey?

FPK GDH

18:01 18:19 18
18:11 18:28 17
18:16 18:39 23
18:26 18:44 18
18:31 18:49 18
18:41 18:58 17
18:46 19:09 23
18:52 19:14 22

Ave 19.5

Previously there were 8 services taking an average of 19.5 minutes, with the fastest service taking just 17 minutes. Also note that the longest you would have had to wait for a train was 10 minutes, assuming you had just missed the previous service.

Let’s look at the new timetable.

FPK GDH

18:04 18:25 21
18:09 18:33 24
18:19 18:37 18
18:24 18:47 23
18:34 18:55 21
18:39 19:03 24
18:54 19:17 23

22.0

A slower average journey time, since only one service is “fast” at 18 minutes. Overall a 12.8% slower time.

Then there’s the fact that there’s one fewer service running between 18:00 and 19:00. And then notice that the longest wait time is up to 15 minutes. If you arrive at 18:39 just as the doors are closing – as I did this evening because the Kings Cross – Finsbury Park train I was on had its own timetable “padded” leaving it waiting outside the station for an available platform – you have to wait a full 15 minutes.

One fewer train in a busy part of peak has a serious knock-on effect on other services, leaving them very full. With new housing developments popping up all along the line, passenger numbers will continue to rise. A development close to Gordon Hill has planning permission for 500 new homes, and while not all the adults living in those homes will use the line, a significant proportion will – potentially significantly increasing the 2,000-3,000 who commute daily from the station currently. Passenger numbers have already grown 27% since 2010/11.

Anyway, apologies for the long detailed rant about why my commute is a little slower. I realise that others have it much worse. And at least, when the new trains arrive, I’ll be able to spend all that extra time charging my devices and using WiFi, even if there are fewer seats to sit on.

[UPDATE]

I wrote the following in the comments, but it’s worth stating here:

I suspect in my instance, the reason for the increased journey times is that services that stopped at Alexandra Palace, Hornsey and Harringay – the part of the line shared by both Welwyn and Hertford branches – were previously shared evenly. But with changes to schedules on the GTR lines from Peterborough and Cambridge, with some services now running further and going via the Thameslink Core, they just felt it was easier to make more Welwyn services “fast” and load the all stops side onto the Hertford North branch.

That doesn’t explain removing a peak service from the return route, with a 15 gap between services.

I’m hoping that these timetables are “evolved” a bit as the new timetables bed in.

And then thinking some more, another issue came to mind, as I travelled in this morning.

One of the problems with all-stopping services is that they get full. This isn’t going to impact me, but I strongly suspect it’ll impact passengers at Alexandra Palace, Hornsey and Harringay. Those key trains around 08:00-08:15 are going to get very full before they even reach these final stations. That’s just an exercise in frustration as people fail to board.

In the past some trains would skip stations further out, perhaps running fast to Bowes Park. That left space by the time they reached somewhere like Harringay (the closest station to Finsbury Park). Others filled up earlier and skipped those later stations.

Under this timetable, it seems most trains are stopping everywhere, and that won’t work.

GDPR

No, I am not asking you to re-sign up to my website. You’re OK.

But if you’re based in the EU like me, then you’ve probably been swamped with direct emails from businesses asking if I can confirm that I’m happy to continue to receive their missives. This Friday, GDPR comes into effect and appears that essentially every company ever, has only considered the implications of this in the last month or so, despite it coming into law back in 2016.

The thing is that there is a lot of, often contradictory, advice floating around, and a lot of medium to smaller sized companies feel like they’re going to lose out.

The general principle of GDPR – that citizens should be in control of their own data – is excellent. And yet, we know it’s never as simple as that.

Furthermore, advice is often not entirely clear. Unless you’ve actually hired lawyers expert in this field, you may be lost. Indeed, even if you do speak to lawyers expert in this field, you might still be lost. And that’s difficult, because people and businesses want to understand what practical steps they need to take.

Hence we’ve had a barrage of emails in the last couple of months, which has become a torrent in the last weeks.

But amidst that torrent, there seems to be two general types of email that are being sent out:

  1. Please confirm that you want to continue to receive email from us.
  2. We’ve updated our privacy policy. Have a look here.

It feels like the smaller the company you are, the more likely you are to send the former – perhaps because you don’t have advice to do anything else.

While the larger company you are, the more likely you are to have sent the latter.

A case in point would be businesses who use Mailchimp for their email solution. In general terms, these are likely to be smaller companies – since big groups tend to invest in their own often internally-managed email systems. Users of Mailchimp have in effect told their customers that they must collect consent from all their subscribers. Therefore, it’s been noticeable that many of the Mailchimp powered lists I’m on have been busy getting me to resubscribe.

And the reality is that in many of these cases, I purposefully gave a company my email address in order that they could send me emails, and as long as they said they weren’t doing anything dubious with my details – selling them to someone else for example – then I don’t believe that these resubscribe missives are always necessary.

But given that there are enormous fines attached to GDPR misuse, everyone plays it safe. And that comes with an enormous cost – more of which later.

Compare and contrast with much larger companies. They are also affected by GDPR, but their messaging is very different. For the most part, they have been sending me emails saying that they have updated their privacy policy and providing me with a link to go and have a look. They also provide a link to unsubscribe, and probably include a message about how seriously they treat all of this. But they key is that, if I do nothing, I remain on their lists.

Now it may be that these larger companies have been more GDPR compliant for a while now, and that their batteries of lawyers have meant that they have consent already for everything they do. But this is essentially the approach taken by some of the giants of the industry. And these titans are far more likely to do things that have a real-world impact on me. Consider Facebook and Cambridge Analytica for starters.

The reason I said that there’s a cost to smaller businesses is that their email lists are likely to be decimated come Friday.

For starters, email open rates tend to be considered good if they reach 25%. So a single email is unlikely to be seen by upwards 75% of people to start with. Add to that the need to positively do something off the back of that, and you’re potentially facing an enormous fall-off.

Now add into the mix that everyone else is doing the same thing at pretty much the same time, and you can probably mark down that already small number again, as email recipient fatigue sets in.

By this Friday, a lot of businesses are going to have a lot smaller email lists that they did this week. I wonder if any of them will share that information?

Email marketing is perhaps the cheapest marketing a business can do. Even with low open rates, the cost can be close to zero in producing those emails, and if some companies’ marketing campaigns are to be explained, they counter this by using volume. You didn’t open yesterday’s or today’s email, but by God, you’ll open tomorrow’s!

Furthermore, email marketing can mean upselling products to your best customers. You already have a relationship of some sorts, so getting that person to spend more is easier than getting a new customer on board with a brand they may not have heard of.

This time next week, emails from Amazon won’t have stopped, but they may have dried up from that small UK-based cycle clothing manufacturer that I once bought something from, and who’s GDPR consent email I missed in my busy inbox.

RAJAR Q1 2018

RAJAR
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50.9%.

UK radio is now more listened to via a digital platform than it is an analogue one. The rise has been steady over a number of years but as the chart below shows, we’ve finally seen the percentage of all radio listening breach 50% this quarter.

As I said previously, while this theoretically should kick-start the process for a digital switch-over, I don’t actually foresee anything major happening at this point.

What I’m not saying is that a great deal will happen very quickly once the 50% mark is breached. While theoretically allows processes to begin for an analogue to digital switchover for radio, I just don’t see that happening very soon. Generally speaking other things are using up lots of Parliamentary time at the moment. Similarly, I suspect that recently announced radio deregulation will take longer than many might hope, because there just isn’t time to fit in the primary legislation required to do anything.

Ofcom published a good primer on the subject last year:

In July 2010 the Government launched its Digital Radio Action Plan. As part of this, it was requested that Ofcom produce an annual review of the digital radio market.

The Action Plan was launched to ensure that if and when digital switchover occurs in radio, it can be delivered at a time when the market is ready and in a way that protects the needs of listeners.

The Government stated that a decision on whether to set a date for digital radio switchover would be considered when the following criteria are met:

  • when 50% of all radio listening is via digital platforms; and
  • when national DAB coverage is comparable to FM, and local DAB reaches 90% of the population and all major roads.

The Action Plan was finalised in November 2013, and on 16 December 2013 DCMS announced that while there had been steady growth in digital listening, it was not yet the time to commit to a switchover. The last version of the Digital Radio Action Plan was published in January 2014.

And of course the one outstanding key challenge is in-car listening. At this point 33.4% of in-car listening is digital. That’s good, and the vast majority of new cars come with DAB as standard. But there are lot of other cars on the road.

Elsewhere, it’s also worth noting that Q1 each year usually sees a bump in listenership because of devices sold over the Christmas period. This year, an awful lot of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant devices were sold. But stalwart DAB radios always do well at this time of year too. Combined, they mean that post Christmas, people change the way they listen to the radio.

Radio Listening

Reach is up to 49.2m people a week, or 90% of the population. But average hours per listener have fallen below 21 for the first time, down to 20.8 hours a week. Inevitably that’s a consequence of other things eating into overall radio listenership.

I hate to keep labour the same point every quarter, but this is being driven to a significant extent by younger listeners. 15-24s now only listen for an average of 12.7 hours a week, which is a whole hour lower than the previous lowest figure. To put this in context, five years ago this group listened for 15.8 hours a week.

The one thing I would bring to bear from this, is that any formats or licences that target listeners by age groups – particular younger groups – are on a hiding to nothing. For example, Radio 1’s average age is 35 (down from 36 last quarter), and at this point, it’s essentially impossible to lower its average age.

National and Digital

It has been a decent quarter for Commercial Radio, with reach up 1.5% on last quarter and 4.2% on last year, just putting it ahead of BBC Radio in overall terms.

BBC Radio has more listening, despite seeing hours fall 3.2% on last quarter, and 1.5% down on last year.

The BBC national radio networks have all seen some disappointing numbers this quarter. Five Live is perhaps most disappointing with a fall in reach of 5.7% on the last quarter, to 5.1m (down 3.7% on last year). Listening hours are worse being 9.2% down on the quarter and 13.0% down on the year.

Such are the declines that I’d probably wait another quarter to be certain that they’ve not just had a bad RAJAR. While the Premier League hasn’t been the most exciting this year, there was plenty of football on during this period, and it was a generally busy time for both news and sport.

Perhaps all the listeners have gone to 6 Music, because they’ve had another superb set of results, with record reach and hours. Reach is up 8.0% on the quarter (up 8.0% on the year), to 2.5m. Hours are up a whopping 12.3% on the quarter (and up a more modest 3.2% on the year).

The interesting thing here is that 6 Music listeners might be considered to be the kind of people more likely to have Spotify or Apple Music (RAJAR doesn’t measure that), so the audience is rising at the same time as more of its audience has access to more music. Indeed, as with younger demos, 35-44s are seeing a gradual decline in time spent listening, which somehow 6 Music is overcoming. That said, the average age of a 6 Music listener is 43, and that has crept up from 38 over time.

There’s probably an interesting question to asked around the musical breadth of knowledge of a 6 Music listeners – or at least their desire to have one – and the need for guiding voices in the stations’ presenters. On the other hand, a station that plays a much tighter playlist might have less demanding listeners, and therefore find itself more susceptible to listeners switching to playlists on Spotify et al. That said, listeners to those stations are probably less likely to spend £9.99 a month on music.

But I’m hypothesising wildly here. Let’s get back to the numbers.

Radio 1 will be disappointed with its fall this quarter after a decent set of results last time. It’s down 3.8% in reach on last quarter, although it’s up 4.0% on last year. Hours are also down, falling 7.7% on last quarter, but just falling 0.5% on last year. More worrying is that the average listener spends just 6.0 hours a week with the station.

Radio 2 sees small falls too, with reach down a fractional 0.5% on the quarter while being up 2.6% on the year. Hours are down 5.1% on the quarter however, and down 2.5% on the year.

The station has just made some of the biggest changes to its weekday schedule that it’s done for years, but it’s going to be another couple of quarters before we can see the first results of that. And even then, the most notable change in peak, is a slight change in hours of Simon Mayo’s show and the introduction of Jo Whiley to the mix.

Radio 3 is down 0.9% in reach on the quarter, but up 2.6% on the year. Hours are somewhat better as it jumps 5.6% on the quarter and 2.7% on the year.

Radio 4 ducks just below 11m in reach with a fall of 3.0% on the quarter (down 1.8% on the year). Hours are up 0.9% on the quarter, but down 4.0% on the year. It’s not as though there’s a shortage of news, but one suspects there’s only so much Brexit/Trump that some listeners can take, hence the slight dip in reach after a strong run of results in recent quarters.

Radio 4 Extra has had a disappointing quarter with reach down 8.1% on the quarter, although up 3.1% on the year – which if nothing else shows that smaller stations can see their numbers bounce around. Perhaps more concerning is the 15.6% fall in hours on the quarter (and a 8.0% fall on the year).

The World Service remains fairly consistent with 1.4m listeners down 5.1% on the quarter, but up 7.4% on the year. Hours are up slightly with 3.4% growth on the quarter and 2.3% growth on the year.

Classic FM has had a solid set of results with reach down a little to 5.6m – down 1.7% on the quarter, but up 4.0% on the year. Hours are a little more mixed falling 4.1% on the quarter yet rising 10.2% on the year.

Talksport has had a some of its best numbers for a while, and has risen back above 3m again to 3.1m reach – an 8.9% rise on the quarter and a massive 14.3% rise on the year. Meanwhile hours are back over 20m and are up a massive 25.4% on the quarter and 13.5% on the year. The station continues to receive newspaper marketing support from its parent company News UK, and they again seem to be more active in the sports rights market. Although not in this RAJAR period, they have recently bought some England Test cricket rights for upcoming overseas tours to Sri Lanka and the West Indies, while they also had exclusive radio commentary of the recent Anthony Joshua fight.

Digital sibling, Talksport 2 has some positive numbers with reach up 1.0% on the quarter, although up 15.9% on the year. More importantly, hours are up 37.2% on the quarter and 49.9% on the year. Perhaps their EFL rights which largely sit on Talksport 2, are beginning to pay off?

Good news for Talksport 2 listeners and others on the SDL mulitplex, is that owner Arqiva on Tuesday announced that they will be extending the reach of the mulitplex by a further 4m with 19 new transmitters due to come on board.

That will also be useful for TalkRadio, which had some positive numbers as well, with reach up 30.6% on the quarter (32.8% on the year) and hours massively increasing, up 55.7% on the quarter (up 155.7% on the year). While these are good numbers, there’s no doubt that the format is expensive, and the station needs to see more growth to get it from 316,000 reach closer to somewhere around 1m.

Absolute Radio had some great results last quarter, but slipped back to 2.4m this quarter, down 7.3% in reach, although still up 11.4% on the year. In hours terms they were flat – really flat. 18,517,000 last quarter v 18,514,000 this quarter. And they were up 6.4% versus last year.

Christian O’Connell leaves Absolute Radio tomorrow, before he relocates to Australia to present the breakfast show on Gold FM in Melbourne. These therefore aren’t quite the final set of results for his tenure at the station.

The wider Absolute Radio Network has fallen a little, down 3.2% on the quarter, although still up 7.2% on the year in reach. Hours fell 4.4% on the quarter and were down 2.0% on the year.

Absolute 80s, however, did better this quarter, growing 5.8% on the quarter and up 14.8% on the year in reach. It also rose 13.5% in hours on the quarter, but fell 11.1% on the year.

Recall that Absolute 80s has a new competitor on the block in the form of Heart 80s, and the newcomer has better coverage being on D1 rather than SDL where Absolute 80s moved to (Again, the increase in coverage of the SDL mux should benefit Absolute 80s in due course).

Heart 80s also grew, rising 20% on the quarter (it’s too new for year on year figures), while hours dipped 5.5%.

For those keeping score, Absolute 80s is 161,000 listeners ahead of Heart 80s with 1.560m listeners. Although as an aside, it’s clear that the two stations, whilst both featuring music from the 80s, are actually quite different. Read this excellent and enlightening Twitter thread from Nik Goodman to get a better understanding of the differences.

Partly as a result of the success of Heart 80s, the Heart Brand (including all the local Heart stations, Heart 80s and Heart Extra) overall has had some good results. Reach is up 3.6% on the quarter and up 6.1% on the year, while hours are up 1.9% on the quarter, although down 1.9% on the year.

Sister network, Capital Brand, fared less well with reach down slightly – down 0.7% on the quarter and down 0.8% on the year. Hours fared slightly worse, perhaps reflecting wider listening behaviours in their target age group, with a fall of 7.1% on the quarter and a fall of 7.8% on the year.

The Kiss Network targets a similar age group, and saw falls on the quarter, although better results compared with this time last year. Reach was down 0.8% on the quarter but up 9.0% on the year, while hours fell 12.2% on the quarter but were up 3.2% on the year.

The Magic Network didn’t have a great quarter with reach down 3.4% on the quarter, although up 5.8% on the year. Hours are down 3.7% on the quarter and down 2.7% on the year. None of their digital sister stations, Magic Chilled, Magic Soul and Mellow Magic are doing enormously well, with only Magic Soul seeing an increase this quarter. Mellow Magic is the biggest of the three with a reach of 432,000 and 1.7m hours.

LBC is one of the better performers this time around, and whatever you think of it, their mix of politically charged presenters and the various politicians (and ex-politicians) that they get in for phone ins, seems to work well for them.

Reach is up 7.1% on the quarter and 21.5% on the year to 2.2m. That’s their biggest ever audience under the current methodology (You’d probably have to go back to the 70s or 80s to get a bigger audience for its FM in London, and at that time, there were only two commercial stations in the capital).

Hours aren’t quite a record, but they’re up 0.3% on the quarter and 5.7% on the year.

Jazz FM isn’t a station I mention too often, but I probably should. Their reach is up 16.1% this quarter (and up 22.4%) on the year, to 591,000. Hours slipped to 1.7m – down 18.7% on the quarter, although up 7.6% on the year. I mention this particularly to put their numbers in perspective with some of the other newer, but smaller digital stations.

London

The London radio market is always worth looking at – if only for signs of things to come. The average London listens to 19.4 hours of radio a week – so a bit less than the UK average. In part, that will be due to fewer people driving in London, but it might also be down to things like propensity to subscribe to other audio services.

19.4 hours isn’t the lowest we’ve seen – that was 19.1 hours a week back in Q2 2017. But it’s definitely part of a trend that last saw the average London listening to the radio for more than 20 hours being back in the middle of 2016.

I will also dutifully point out that the most listened to radio station in London is, as always, Radio 4 with 2.7m listeners. That’s followed by Radio 2 with 2.1m, itself very closely followed by Capital London, also with 2.1m (I’m rounding here for simplicity).

So Capital is the reach leader commercially (Radio 1 has a reach of 1.6m). The station is up in reach on the quarter (up 1.4%), but down on the year (down 4.6%). In hours terms, it’s not so good, with a 7.9% fall on the quarter to 9.0m hours and a 16.6% fall on the year.

Heart London is the commercial music leader in terms of hours with 10.1m, up 11.6% on the quarter and up 8.8% on the year. Reach is down 4.2% on the quarter but up 7.0% on the year.

Another figure to mull over when comparing the two Global stations is their respective average hours. For Heart it’s 6.7 hours a week, but for Capital it’s just 4.2 hours a week. That feels very low for a market leader. Just a year ago, it was 4.8 hours a week.

Kiss is a close competitor to both these two services, with 1.9m reach (down 3.7% on the quarter and up 8.3% on the year) and 9.6m hours (down 10.1% on the quarter and up 14.4% on the year). It has 4.9 hours per week average listening.

But the actual commercial hours leader in London is of course LBC which has grown in London as it has done nationally. Reach is up 3.3% on the quarter and 17.1% on the year to 1.3m, while hours are basically flat at 11.2m (down 0.1% on the quarter and down 3.0% on the year). It’s listeners spend 8.9 hours a week with it. And interestingly, their average age has just fallen to 49. LBC is perhaps younger than you think…

Magic has not had a great set of results this quarter in London, falling 12.3% in reach on the quarter and down 5.7% on the year. In hours, they’re down 11.6% on the quarter and down 4.6% on the year.

A couple of other Global services with good figures are Radio X and Smooth. Very different, but both showing positive moves.

Radio X has seen its best reach since its rebrand from Xfm, and indeed even if you include Xfm’s numbers, it’s best figures since 2013. It’s reach is up 4.3% on the quarter and remarkable 40.5% on the year, to 531,000.

In terms of hours, it’s an even better story, with hours up 14.3% on the quarter and up 81.9% on the year to 3.7m. That’s an average of 7.0 hours a listener per week, and the best hours the station has had since it was Xfm in 2004! Global has spent a lot over time marketing the service, and it may be coming to fruition.

Smooth said goodbye to Russ Williams on breakfast, but he left as the station put on 13.3% reach in London on the quarter (and up 6.6% on the year), while hours were up 6.8% on the quarter and up 0.3% on the year.

BBC London‘s numbers have been a little all over the place of late. Last quarter they had some incredibly good record breaking numbers, and things have, perhaps, “normalised” a little this quarter. Reach is down 20.9% on the quarter, but still up 38.0% on the year to 454,000. Meanwhile hours are down 50.5% on the quarter, but up 59.6% on the year to 2.1m. The station’s numbers are, frankly, bouncing ridiculously. 50% swings between quarters don’t happen, and it suggests that measuring the station’s audience is hard.

BBC London aside, it feels like RAJAR in London isn’t swinging around as wildly as it had in the past, which is much better for the currency.

MIDAS

RAJAR’s MIDAS survey isn’t actually part of the regular RAJAR release and was published last week. But I thought that there were a few things that were worth mentioning here.

11% of the UK population listen to a podcast in any given week – that’s 6.0m people (down very slightly from last time around, although the trend remains upwards).

Radio’s share of all audio is at 75% which is the same as last time around.

But if there’s a theme, it’s that the share of audio that is live radio for 15-24s has fallen below 50% for the first time. In the Winter 2017 survey it was at 50% for this demo, and 63% for 25-34s. However, in this new release, the share amongst 15-24s has fallen to 46%, while that among 25-34s is the same as before. On the other hand, on demand music services (e.g. Spotify) has grown from 28% to 34% for the younger demo.

This rate of change is fast, and it’s entirely conceivable that within a year, radio will have fallen below on demand music services for 15-24s.

At the moment this is a youth oriented issue. Among 35-54s, only 6% of audio is on demand music, and it drops to 1% for 55+. That offers some comfort to radio, but it will need to adapt to match the growth of these new services.

The full MIDAS release is here.

Further Reading

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

The official RAJAR site and their infographic
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
The BBC Mediacentre for BBC Radio stats and findings
Bauer Media’s corporate site
Global Radio’s corporate site

All my previous RAJAR analyses are here.


Source: RAJAR/Ipsos MORI/RSMB, period ending 1 April 2018, 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.

Three New Exhibitions

There are some really good exhibitions on at the moment in London. Actually, there are always really good exhibitions on. But over the weekend I went to three new ones, and all three were really good, and well worth visiting in their own rights.

I spent a May Sunday visiting the three and using a Boris Bike to travel between them.

My first stop was the Victoria and Albert Museum where they have just opened The Future Starts Here which aims to show “100 projects shaping the world of tomorrow.” That could make it sound a little dry, but there are some real things of substance in here. From food to society and democracy, everything is covered.

The exhibition explores electronics that are there to help us – the first thing you see is a robot that will seemingly do the laundry for you, to exosuits that could help those who require extra support or strength. Sometimes there are projects that are relatively simple – reusing old smartphones to do other tasks around the home.

Other times, these are much bigger projects – underwater drones, or 3D printing building to live in on Mars.

The exhibition asks questions of the future of democracy. They even have an exhibit which shows Alexander Nix of Cambridge Analytica famously explaining what his company claimed it was capable of, speaking at a conference. I laughed out loud when I saw they’d included that!

The exhibition is there to challenge us, and ask us questions. What is the future going to mean for us?

It runs until 4th November 2018.

From there it was a ride through Hyde Park around Buckingham Palace, through Westminster and along the South Bank to Tate Modern. They’ve just opened a new exhibition – Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art.

This is an exhibition to be experienced rather than described. The images – mostly photographs – are broad, and arranged thematically by subject. The tale is told of abstract movement and photography moving in parallel as artists began to understand what was achievable. Sometimes they utilised nature – other times very close up imagery to present us with things we mightn’t understand.

I went away quite enthused and keen to explore some of the themes in some of my own work.

Shape of Light runs until 14th October 2018.

Finally it was over the bridge and into the City to the Museum of London, somewhere I’ve not been for a while. They have a new photographic exhibition called London Nights. It displays an enormous range of often extraordinary photos taken over the last hundred years or more. While today we expect our smartphones to be able to take halfway decent photos in the lowest of light, it’s worth noting that photographers in the past had to go to great lengths to take photos in such conditions. Some of the earliest pictures, showing London’s fog-filled streets, are therefore remarkable.

The real fun can come from seeing everyday shots of London from the past, particularly in familiar settings. Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus appear repeatedly, with the people and the signs being fascinating.

The exhibition is thematically structured, and reaches right up to some very contemporary photographs. But sometimes a photographer like Bill Brandt will have photos in a variety of sections, seemingly able to cover it all.

Often it’s the very ordinary that becomes extraordinary. There are a series of perhaps a couple of hundred contact prints taken in the fifties, and even though the images of are “just” of people, you can’t help staring into the lives of those captured at that moment in time.

The exhibition catalogue is particularly good and worth mentioning, being published by the excellent Hoxton Mini Press who publish some excellent photographic books. Furthermore, compared with many equivalent exhibition catalogues, it’s really good value at just £14.95 for a hardbound copy (for exhibition ticket holders).

London Nights runs until the 11th November 2018 and is well worth a visit.

Gursky

In 2011 a record price was set for the sale of a photograph. Rhein II by Andreas Gursky was sold at Christie’s for $4.3m. It was the then highest price paid for a photograph (and likely remains so). Compared to the Leonardo da Vinci Salvador Munci painting that was sold for $450m last year, that’s a relatively modest price. But photo sales are more interesting.

First of all, there’s the fact that they’re largely reproducible. While a painting is one of a kind, a photographer can make as many, or as few, prints as they choose. A photo might be sold in editions of as few as 1 or as many as several thousand.

Gursky reportedly sells in editions of six, with two artist proofs. Without any attribution displayed elsewhere in the recent Hayward Gallery exhibition, I assume that the exhibits in the Gursky exhibition currently nearing the end of its run at the reopened Hayward Gallery, are all artist proofs.

I went along to the exhibition because, frankly, I’ve never really got Andreas Gursky. What I mean by that is that while I appreciate his skill as a photographer, and the grandiosity of his works’ scale, I have never seen him as an artist far and away ahead of other photographers, as the prices of his pictures tend to suggest.

I wanted to see if my eyes would be opened by this exhibition. Was I missing something? Why are some of his photos traded for millions of dollars?

Reader, I still don’t really understand.

Gursky absolutely makes powerful pictures, often detailing man’s impact on the landscape. And the scale of many of his photos is really important. They are often more than 2 metres wide or tall, some bigger than that. And Gursky’s style is to have the lens wide open – everything should be in focus. Furthermore, and importantly, many of his images are composite photos made up from several images, with a significant amount of post-processing in software like Photoshop. Gursky is clearly a master at this kind of thing, because as he flattens out perspectives, you can’t see the joins.

I think the most obvious photomontage for me was a picture entitled Tour de France, which purported to show the race heading up a mountain. Except that somewhere in the lower portion of the image you could see the King of the Mountains banner – which would almost always be somewhere near the top. The images were probably taken from a helicopter, and I’m not certain they were shot on a single mountain. You can’t see enough detail, but some of the “leading” cyclists don’t seem to be accompanied by camera bikes which would ordinarily be the case, while groups further down the mountain do.

And Gursky also makes his colours pop quite a lot, often adding an almost ethereal glow to the pictures.

So these are heavily manipulated images. But they don’t pretend to be anything but that. And so I’m not sure.

Some of the images are not even taken by him. The exhibition features a satellite photo of Antarctica. I suspect that it’s a heavily manipulated collage of many satellite images, and it’s possible that Gursky commissioned his own images from a satellite photography provider. A second image of the North Atlantic claims to have had much of the clear water created with software. So perhaps Gursky was using imagery from a platform like ESA’s Earth from Space.

In another photo entitled Supernova we see a relatively decent example of astro-photography, but nothing especially impressive.

Returning to that record selling Rhein II, which is displayed here, and what’s most remarkable about it is how unremarkable it is. Another photo-montage, Gursky has removed a powerstation to leave nothing else but the grassy banks, the river, and the sky.

I’m probably being unfair. Gursky’s images are impressive, and he does have something to say. But I can’t claim to have been converted by this exhibition. I would put him in a similar category to Damien Hirst, in that I can see the talent, but I don’t really understand the appeal, and certainly don’t understand the prices that are achieved by his works.

Anyway, if you’ve not seen the exhibition, it’s too late, as it closed a couple of weeks ago.