radio

Where Next for ILR?

When LBC launched in 1973, it was the first Independent Local Radio (ILR) station in the UK. Capital Radio was the second station, launching just a eight days after LBC. In due course, there would be more than 200 such stations across the country.

Today, we must wonder whether we are beginning to see the endgame in that phase of UK radio. As has been widely expected since Ofcom relaxed its Localness Guidelines in October last year, Global Radio has announced the cessation of all its local and regional breakfast shows across Capital, Heart and Smooth. In essence, these will become fully networked services, with just a single show on weekdays not coming from London.

It will also merge a number of services as allowed for by Ofcom, resulting in the closure of a number of offices. (I would anticipate that the current transmission splits will remain, since that will continue to allow them to have highly localised advertising – a Brighton car dealer won’t want to advertise in Portsmouth and vice versa.)

There’s a lot to take in here, and first and foremost, you must think of the staff who will be losing their jobs in the coming weeks and months. There are going to be a lot of people losing their livelihoods.

Consolidation has invariably led to a diminished workforce in radio. While perhaps some of those people will be able to find other audio jobs – there is a burgeoning podcast world for example – there will certainly be people who end up leaving radio and the industry altogether.

Only a very small handful of people ever get rich from radio. Most people who entered the industry did so because they were passionate about it. And it’s many of these people that we’ll be losing.

And with those people will go much of the development structure for bringing new talent into the industry. Down the road, that might hit the industry.

I’m not simply thinking of on-air talent either – there are a lot of production staff, engineers and sales people who are likely to be affected by this too. My Twitter feed has been a stream of commiserations and sadness today – from right across the industry. Even if you aren’t directly affected, there’s an understanding that it could have been you.

It’d be glib to say that the writing had been on the wall for a while. I think most have known that. But it doesn’t make it any more comfortable. That said, the structure of our wider society, and its media consumption is constantly evolving, and there are no certainties about how things will look tomorrow.

Truly, the times they are a-changin’.

What Next?

Changing a breakfast show is never something a station does lightly, and changing so many at the same time will probably cause some listener backlash. How strong that resistance will be may vary within different stations’ areas.

Global has a level of experience of this, having re-branded many heritage stations over the years. It’s a big job to do all in one go, but there’ll be marketing support behind it.

Capital v Radio 1; Heart and Smooth v Radio 2

As reported by Radio Today, Global wants to take on Radio 1 and Radio 2 directly. If you consider the reported figures for the various Networks (excluding sister stations like Capital Xtra), you can see that in reach terms, Capital is within the same ballpark as Radio 1, while Heart and Smooth cumulatively are close to Radio 2.

However, Radio 2 has an enormous hours advantage over its commercial competitors. My suspicion would be that losing Chris Evans and Simon Mayo isn’t going to make a great deal of difference to those hours when we get the next RAJARs.

What I would now anticipate is that Global will go out and heavily market Capital once it has made changes to the breakfast shows on 8 April – just over a month away. Global has never really stinted on marketing spend, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a major TV campaign to support bus sides and, of course, a substantial outdoor campaign (cumulatively, they have a 35% market share of the UK outdoor advertising industry). Similarly, expect campaigns for Heart and Smooth later in the year.

While I wouldn’t expect Global to do anything like Wireless Group is doing with Virgin, in going ad-free, I would expect them to sign a big name headline sponsor for the new national Capital breakfast show. And we might also see the return of some stunts. Plenty have noticed that only Radio 1 has really done properly interesting and elaborate stunts on air recently. Only last week they ran an engaging Escape Room game with Greg James.

Perhaps we’ll see the return of really big breakfast promotions – big cash prizes, and truly imaginative output. Time will tell.

In a world that is become increasingly self-curated, FOMO is a powerful beast. If you were listening to the Spotify playlist on your way to work, but didn’t hear the amazing thing that was happening on the radio that everyone else is talking about, then you missed out!

Radio 1 v Capital will be interesting to observe.

I think Heart and Smooth v Radio 2 is more complex and nuanced. While Radio 2 has subtly shifted its music younger recently, the success of the station is in no small part due to what they’re doing when they’re not playing music. The talk, the interaction, the guests and so on. I’m not truly convinced that Heart and Smooth are in a position to take that on.

And of course the BBC always has the advantage of not having to get away 10-12 minutes of advertising an hour.

Giving Up Market a Market Leading Advantage

But make no mistake, there’s a big risk here as well. Global is shrinking 42 breakfast shows down to 3, and the number of drivetime shows is falling from 23 to just 10. Some of those shows will be market leaders – or at least commercial market leaders.

If you replace a local show, with someone who knows the area and is popular amongst local listeners, with a show that comes from London, is that local audience certain to stay around? That’s particularly the question you have to ask if there’s a local rival that is still coming from the area.

It’s possible that in some instances, the really big stars will have been persuaded to shift to one of the remaining local drivetime shows. But there’s also an opportunity there for some rival local stations to pick up those leading presenter locally and get them over to a rival station toute suite.

At the very least, if I was a Global rival I would consider making localness a big part of my next marketing campaign, pointing out that my presenter is broadcasting live from the city they’re broadcasting to. Make sure those sweepers tell listeners that you’re live from the locality.

Localness

Do audiences even need their radio stations to be local any longer? They have mobile phones that give them the news, weather and traffic information. Don’t audiences just want to be entertained by the biggest and best shows?

The strange thing is that, yes, sometimes people do like localness. It can’t be repeated often enough that the biggest TV news programme of the day, and cumulatively, often the biggest overall TV programme of the day, is the 6.30pm local BBC news bulletin.

Who do people turn to when there are freak weather conditions? Or when the local car plant is announced as closing down? Or when there’s a search for a missing person locally? Or just a discussion about the closure of local libraries?

Is this territory all being ceded to the BBC?

BBC Local Radio is making a concerted effort to represent local communities more. And with the decline in local newspapers, and the abject failure of local TV, the BBC almost certainly maintains the biggest local news organisation in the country. However much of a supporter of the BBC I might be, it can’t be healthy for there not to be any significant competition.

There is also Community Radio of course – there are approaching 300 community stations across the UK.

But they have some significant limitations placed upon them. They are materially limited in how much advertising revenue they can make, and unless they’ve got onto one of the experimental DAB multiplexes, their broadcast footprint is usually very small.

All of that means that they usually run on a bit of a shoestring and rely heavily on volunteers. And even though there are more community stations than local commercial stations, their cumulative coverage is much smaller. Large metropolitan areas are often un-served by community stations, or they’re targeting very narrow (but nonetheless underserved) audiences. These stations are too small to be measured by RAJAR, so they struggle to provide audience figures to their funders. Community Radio isn’t easy.

But it must be said that every time Ofcom advertises a licence for a community service, there is usually a stream of applicants who want to have a go.

What Happens Next?

I don’t know.

We’re only really talking about Bauer here. The other remaining groups are so small that they can probably network themselves as much as they wish. Or they’ve just sold their local assets to Bauer anyway.

I would expect that Bauer will observe carefully what happens and make their own decisions from there. It’s not inevitable that they’ll plough the same furrow as Global. As I’ve said here, there are opportunities in some areas for them to fight for local audiences. But at the same time, it would be naive not to think that ultimately there are potential cost savings that come with networking.

Today, the opportunities in radio certainly seem to be happening at a national rather than local scale. But consider too that the industry is facing a rearguard fight against the onslaught of multi-billion dollar streaming companies who are targeting those billion or so listening hours a week that UK consumers spend with the radio.

Not that any of this salves the wounds if you’ve been affected by today’s news.

IP Contributions on the Radio

This morning I Tweeted this, and it got more than a few likes:

(NB. I apologise for the misplaced apostrophe in end’s – it should have been ends’. And using both today and this morning was tautological.)

This came after I heard two interviews on Radio 4’s Today programme, and a third on Five Live, all of which had to be abandoned earlier than planned when the IP audio delivery with the remote contributor started to break down.

Now, I realise that in all of these cases, someone on the production will have probably given the contributors advice about how to sound good, ideally using wired internet connections, or at least being in a good WiFi area. They’ll have told the contributors to make sure that others weren’t using the internet at the same time, as well as ensuring that they’re they’re using the best microphone that they have to hand and so on.

And I know that when these kind of remote contributions work, they sound good. But in every case today, I heard the telltale sounds of the bitrate changes mid conversation. We’ve all used Skype or similar and heard the same thing. The audio suddenly changes from clear to closer to telephone call quality, before getting better again.

The problem is that to the listener, this detracts enormously from the message, because it’s very distracting. In every circumstance it would have been better if the interview had been conducted at a lower bandwidth all the way along. In many cases, a phone call would have sufficed if the line was clear.

I realise that these systems do usually work. I’ve been a contributor to podcasts and broadcasts myself, without any perceivable problems. Likewise, I know that phone interviews have to be abandoned when they line drops in quality, the presenter apologising and suggesting that they might try again (They rarely do though, because in the case of breakfast radio, the schedules are planned to within an inch of their lives).

But I would strongly argue that a consistent sound at a lower bitrate – i.e. phone quality – is better for listeners than a flaky connection at a higher quality.

RAJAR Q4 2018

RAJAR

This post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the many 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.

Legacy media isn’t supposed to be this interesting. In the last few weeks we’ve seen the following:

  • A wholesale change in some of the biggest (and smallest) breakfast shows in the land, with Zoe Ball taking the reigns at Radio 2, Lauren Laverne doing the same at 6 Music, and Chris Evans stepping into sort-of-old-shoes by “returning” to Virgin Radio.
  • Bauer launched Greatest Hits Radio.
  • Bauer then announced the launch of a brand new classical music station headlined by Simon Mayo. This will probably be packaged alongside previous purchase Jazz FM to provide a compelling offering to agencies.
  • Deloitte highlighted radio has having a good 2019 despite all its external challenges.
  • And yesterday, Bauer (them again) went out and bought two of the remaining small commercial radio groups in Celador Radio and Lincs FM Group, giving it a little extra market share to close the gap on commercial leader Global Radio.

None of this impacts on radio listening this quarter, with none of the new shows really getting any proper numbers until the May RAJAR release, and more completely in August (Since for all these new breakfast shows. there is at least one week of Q1 19 when they weren’t on).

But this is all indicative of a strong sector. There are likely to have been strong smart speaker sales over the Christmas period, with new form factors like Google’s Home Hub likely to have proved popular. Radio remains a strong offering on these devices, and some – not least the BBC – are investing in much more comprehensive voice offerings.

So after all that positivity, it’s a little disappointing to report this quarter’s RAJARs are down fairly comprehensively across the board.

All Radio reach is down 0.4% on the quarter and down 0.9% on the year to 48.4m. Fractional, but it means that we’re now at 88% of the population listening each week (from 89%).

More concerning is listening, which regular readers will know I’ve been keeping a close eye on for a while now. All Radio listening is down 2.3% on the quarter and down 3.5% on the year to 1.002 billion hours a week.

That all equates to around 20.7 hours per week of radio for each listener. That’s an all time low.

That overall fall in listening inevitably gets reflected in individual station results.

National and Brands

Radio 1 slips away from last quarter’s decent results, and is down 2.3% on the quarter and down 4.7% on the year to 9.375m listeners. In hours terms, the drop is starker, down 7.1% on the quarter and down 8.0% on the year to 56.9m hours. These numbers almost in themselves spell out the importance of BBC Sounds.

Radio 1 Xtra did a little better, with reach up 1.9% on the quarter and down 0.8% on the year. Hours were 10.0% up on the quarter and down 12.4% on the year.

Radio 2 marked the end of an era which saw Chris Evans depart breakfast, and Simon Mayo and Jo Whiley depart drivetime, the former leaving altogether like Evans. The station itself was bucked the overall trend being up 1.7% on the quarter, although down 3.9% on the year in reach terms, with 14.9m listeners. Listening hours were a similar story, being up 3.3% on the quarter but down 4.4% on the year to 181.7m.

It wasn’t the best quarter for Radio 3 which was down 5.6% on the quarter and down 6.4% on the year in reach. That said, 1.8m listeners isn’t far off the usual 1.9m listeners. The launch of Scala will be interesting to examine later in the year. In terms of hours, they were down 5.1% on the quarter although up 6.9% on the year to 12.0m

Radio 4 was down 1.5% on the quarter, and down 6.8% on the year to 10.5m listeners. Hours are more worrying, down 5.0% on the quarter and down 7.8% on the year, to 112.6m, the lowest listening figure since Q2 2006. Brexit fatigue? The growth of podcast listening? Rival stations? All things to be investigated and examined closely by whoever becomes the new controller of the station following the announcement in January that current controller Gwyneth Williams is leaving.

Sister station Radio 4 Extra fares better with its reach up 6.0% on the quarter, but down 5.9% on the year to 2.1m. Hours are up – up 5.5% on the quarter and up 9.1% on the year to a record high of 14.5m hours. Perhaps some of those hours do come at the cost of listening to the mothership station. [A gentle reminder that with RAJAR you can never definitively say that listeners left from Station X and went to Station Y between quarters because RAJAR respondents are different each quarter.]

Radio 5 Live has not prospered too well this quarter with reach down 1.3% on the quarter and down 8.9% on the year to 5.0m. Hours are also down, falling 6.5% on the quarter and 6.9% on the year to 32.7m.

No records for 6 Music this quarter – no obvious ones anyway. Reach fell 16.1% on the quarter, although it remains up 0.3% on the year, with 1.5m listeners. Hours were also down on the quarter, down 3.0%, but up up 17.9% on the year. Again, these were the last figures for the station before a slight reshuffling of the decks.

It’s fair to mention that the BBC World Service has had a good quarter in the UK – up 5.3% on the quarter and up 3.0% on the year to 1.6m reach. Hours are up 9.2% on the quarter and up 11.9% on the year to 8.2m.

Perhaps the best performing commercial station this time around was LBC which achieved a record reach across its national network of 2.2m. For reach, it was up 5.6% on the quarter and up 9.3% on the year. In hours, it was up 5.8% on the quarter and up 6.8% on the year to 21.7m.

This was the first quarter that saw Eddie Mair takeover their drivetime show, and his move away from Radio 4 was supported by a reasonably sized marketing campaign. Comparisons need to be made carefully because LBC nationally reports using 6-month data, but the Q4 2018 data shows a 7.4% increase in reach for Mair’s 4-6pm weekday slot, to 715,000 (Over in his old 5-6pm Radio 4 stomping ground, Evan Davies saw a 2.0% drop in reach to 3.8m).

Classic FM feels like it’s going to be more in the frame than Radio 3 from the arrival of Scala, but until we hear the new station, it’s probably too early to say. Classic FM is a very solid performer, and that’s the same this quarter, with reach up 2.4% on the quarter, down 6.4% on the year to 5.3m listeners. That’s where the station has consistently sat for a number of years now. Hours were up 2.7% on the quarter and down 8.6% on the year to 36.4m. A strong legacy brand, with an unrivalled commercial FM network means that this is not going anywhere fast. Global continues to invest in name talent – picking up Moira Stuart from the Radio 2 breakfast show most recently.

Talksport’s numbers were pretty solid this quarter. Reach was flat on the quarter (literally the same 2.959m as last quarter) but up 0.6% on the year. Hours were up 0.3% on the quarter and up 5.4% on the year at 19.3m. You still feel reach should be north of 3m and hours above 20m, but the station continues to poach sports exclusives including overseas cricket commentaries. And separately, parent Wireless Group tries to bash 5 Live by commissioning a report that says that 5 Live doesn’t do enough hard news. Mandy Rice-Davies’ famous quote springs to mind.

Over on Talksport 2, reach has grown 16.8% on the quarter (flat on the year) and hours are up 22.7% on the quarter and up 56.7% on the year – but those are all from modest bases.

No Chris Evans figures yet, but Virgin Radio is worth looking at. It has seen its reach increase 8.0% on the quarter, down 7.5% on the year to 447,000. Whether the station needs to get 2m, 3m, 4m or more, there’s a way to go yet. Again, the serious marketing only began in January, so this is really just a baseline measure. Better news in terms of hours, which were up 25.2% on the quarter and up 17.6% on the year to a still modest 1.7m hours overall.

Talk Radio still really doesn’t seem to have found its feet, although its numbers are up this quarter. Reach is up 15.7% on the quarter and up 26.9% on the year to 302,000. Hours are up 24.1% on the quarter and up 30.9% on the year to 1.3m.

Magic was also a big commercial winner, across both the main station and their network of services. You may recall that Magic took the somewhat bold decision to go 100% Christmas songs from 30 November. Previously, only digital stations had changed their playlists quite this radically. And although this change will have only contributed a couple of weeks’ worth of data into the quarter, since the measurement period ended on the 16th December, you suspect that this wasn’t a terrible decision. Magic saw its reach grow 7.1% on the quarter and 7.4% on the year to 3.44m, while hours were up 1.7% on the quarter and up 9.7% on the year to 18.45m.

Across the whole Magic Network including Mellow Magic and Magic Chilled, they had a record reach figure of 4.22m, up 4.0% on the quarter and up 8.3% on the year. Hours were up 3.9% on the quarter and up 15.5% on the year.

I wonder if we’ll see a Global station – Smooth perhaps – replicate this move next year?

In yet another change, this was the final quarter in which Rickie, Melvyn and Charlie were on Kiss breakfast, before they up and move over to Charlie Sloth’s old slot on Radio 1. However figures for the station were disappointing, with reach down 8.6% on the quarter and down 12.4% on the year to 4.1m. Hours were down 9.9% on the quarter and down 18.2% on the year to 18.4m.

Over at Absolute Radio there were decreases on the main station with reach down 1.6% on the quarter and down 8.5% on the year to 2.4m. Hours were down 11.0% on the quarter and down 8.3% on the year to 17.0m. Across the Absolute Radio Network things were a little better with reach down 2.1% on the quarter but up 1.1% on the year to 4.8m, while hours were down 2.1% on the quarter and down 0.5% on the year to 33.8m. Interestingly, Absolute 90s had its best ever reach figures with 969,000 (up 6.1% on the quarter and up 30.1% on the year). Yet Bauer has just removed Absolute 90s from D1 switching it with Kisstory which moves across from D2. Kisstory is twice the size, so the switch makes sense, although the time is definitely right for a 90s station.

Capital Network has seen small falls with reach down 2.3% on both the quarter and the year to 7.3m. Hours are down 1.1% on the quarter but down 10.6% on the year to 36.2m. Capital XTRA performs pretty well despite being 2.6% down in reach on the quarter. It’s still up 14.9% on the year with 1.8m listeners. Meanwhile, hours are strong with a 9.7% increase on the quarter and a 13.4% increase on the year to 7.3m. Between them the Capital Brand has done OK nationally – down 1.9% on the quarter and down 0.5% on the year to finish with a reach of 8.3m. Hours are up 0.6% on the quarter but down 7.3% on the year to 43.4m.

Heart Network is modestly up with reach gains of 0.7% on the quarter and 4.1% on the year to 8.5m. Hours are basically flat, up 1.3% on the quarter and down 0.5% on the year to 57.6m. Add its digital sister stations into the mix, and the overall Heart Brand is up 0.8% on the quarter and up 6.2% on the year with a reach of 9.7m, while hours are up 1.1% on the quarter and up 0.7% on the year to 65.7m. A very solid powerhouse in UK radio then.

The Smooth Radio Network is up 2.0% on the quarter and up 4.3% on the year to a very good 5.1m, while hours are up 5.7% on the quarter and 12.9% on the year to 37.7m. Across the overall Smooth Brand there are modest gains too with overall reach and hours figures of 5.8m and 43.0m. You never entirely feel that Smooth is Global’s most loved brand, and yet it’s an incredibly strong performer.

Finally, Radio X Network is down 4.0% on the quarter, but up 4.3% on the year with a reach of 1.6m. Hours are up 0.5% on the quarter and up 22.9% on the year to 14.4m.

London Radio

In London. Radio 4 remains the biggest station in the city, just ahead of Radio 2. Radio 4’s reach in London was up 2.6% on the quarter but down 10.4% on the year to 2.48m. Hours were down 2.5% on the quarter and down 5.6% on the year to 27.8m. Radio 2’s reach is at 2.26m, down 3.2% on the quarter and down 8.2% on the year, while hours are at 24.8m, down 4.7% on the quarter and down 5.2% on the year.

Capital London has taken a bit of a tumble this quarter, with reach down 10.0% on the quarter and down 11.5% on the year to 1.87m. That still makes it the biggest commercial station in London in terms of reach. Hours were down 4.0% on the quarter and down 22.6% on the year to 7.6m.

By contrast, Heart London’s reach is up 7.3% on the quarter and down 2.3% on the year to 1.52m. Hours are up 20.9% on the quarter and up 4.2% on the year to 9.4m.

This quarter saw Kiss take a bit of a hit in London, reach down 16.7% on the quarter and down 19.4% on the year to 1.63m. Hours were similarly down 15.7% on the quarter and 30.4% on the year to 7.4m. That’s part of a slightly worrying trend for the station in London which has seen its hours fall each quarter for the last four consecutive quarters.

For the first time in a while, LBC hasn’t had as good quarter as the station has nationally. Reach was down 11.8% on the quarter and down 5.6% on the year, now at 1.1m in the capital. Hours were down 19.5% on the quarter and down 0.5% on the year to 11.1m. That keeps it as the biggest commercial service in London by listeners. However, I’m not wholly convinced that Remain-voting London is going to find new signing Jacob Rees-Mogg will add all that many additional hours…

Absolute Radio didn’t have a good set of London numbers, down 15.5% on the quarter and down 20.9% on the year to 726,000. Hours are down 24.2% on the quarter and down 2.2% on the year to 4.9m.

Magic in London made some gains in reach, up 2.9% on the quarter and up 2.7% on the year to 1.6m, while hours fell 12.0% on the quarter and down 5.7% on the year to 8.1m.

Radio X had a decent quarter in London, up 34.1% on the quarter (down 5.7% on the year) to a reach of 480,000. Hours were up 35.2% on the quarter and up 8.4% on the year to 3.5m.

Mixed results for Smooth London, down 12.8% on the quarter but up 8.9% on the year to 818,000 reach. Hours were up 18.4% on the quarter and up 44.3% on the year to 6.0m hours.

Further Reading

A quick plug for a piece I just published on podcasts and exclusivity.

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 16 December 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.

Bauer Launching Scala Radio with Simon Mayo

UK radio really is quite exciting at the moment!

Bauer has just announced the launch of Scala Radio, a new classical music station which will launch digitally on the 4th March 2019.

Simon Mayo is the big name signing. He’s been keeping everyone guessing about where he might be going since he left Radio 2 at the end of last year. Would he be joining Chris Evans at Virgin? Or taking over breakfast on Smooth?

Neither. Instead he’ll be on Scala Radio which is positioning itself as a ground-breaking classical entertainment radio station, offering classical music for modern life.

Mayo’s show will be weekdays between 10am and 1pm, and will feature interviews and features like “Classical Confessions.” (That 1pm finish should allow him plenty of time for him to get across Oxford Street from Golden Square to New Broadcasting House for his 2pm film show with Mark Kermode.)

Interestingly, Kermode is also going to have a show on the station exploring film music. Other presenters will include Angellica Bell, Goldie, Chris Rogers, Charles Nove, Mark Forrest, Sam Hughes and Jamie Crick. Both Forrest and Crick have previously been presenters on Classic FM. There’s no specific mention about who’ll be on breakfast.

Bauer says the station will be on national DAB and available via all the usual streaming methods. A couple of days ago, Bauer removed Heat from the SDL national multiplex, so it would seem likely that this is where Scala Radio will go. But unless they broadcast in DAB+, expect the service to be mono on DAB. [Update: Radio Today reports that Scala will be stereo on DAB. That means either stereo DAB+ with the current spare bandwidth, or they’ll get some more bandwidth from somewhere and get to 112kbit/s or 128kbit/s stereo]

It’ll be really interesting to see what kind of audience Bauer is targeting with this new station. I’ve often pointed out that although the incumbent classical music stations, Radio 3 and Classic FM would seem to target the same audiences, they don’t really.

Crossover between Classic FM and Radio 3 audiences, RAJAR Q3 2018.

As the chart above shows, Classic FM has the larger audience, but only a relatively small proportion of either station’s audience listens to the other station. And both Classic FM and Radio 3 have fairly stable audiences.

So the question is, where will Scala Radio fit?

Well the average age of a Classic FM listener is 56, while that of a Radio 3 listener is 59. So my guess would be targeting a slightly younger demographic, and possibly a little less ABC1.

Age demographics – RAJAR, Q3 2018
Sex and class demographics – RAJAR, Q3 2018

Depending on how broadly you define “classical” music, then there might be room for reaching a younger demographic. Bauer’s press release name-checks living composers like Karl Jenkins, Rebecca Dale, and Thom Yorke (of Radiohead), as well as long dead ones like Mozart and Holst.

I suspect that the popularity of Simon Mayo will give Scala Radio a good bit of help in getting the station off the ground and running early on. But as with Virgin Radio it will be interesting to see how much marketing Bauer puts behind this station. As the Wireless Group has done with News UK titles, Bauer has a wide range of sister magazines it can use to give market the station. Simon Mayo was getting an audience on over 6m on his Radio 2 drivetime show, and while that kind of audience would be beyond the wildest dreams of Bauer, it’ll be really interesting to see what it does do.

Radio really is quite exciting at the moment! The Deloitte report published last week, that was very positive about radio, doesn’t seem to be wrong.

PS. The name is interesting. La Scala is obviously the very famous opera house in Milan. But to me The Scala is a theatre near King’s Cross that used to show cult films, but now is mostly a music/club venue. Mark Kermode mentions it frequently on his and Mayo’s film programme.

[Update] See also blogs from Matt Deegan and Phil Riley on Scala Radio.

Breakfast Show Sponsorship

In his first breakfast show on Virgin Radio this morning, Chris Evans is reported to have said:

“This show will be commercial free for at least the next 100 years…”

That would suggest that, at least as far as Evans is concerned, that his new breakfast show is not going to be taking ads for quite some time. I’d previously hypothesised that Wireless Group’s strategy of not running advertising spots during the show would last until perhaps August or September this year once the Q2 RAJAR figures had come in. At that point, the show would [probably] be posting decent numbers and advertisers would want to be there. At launch, the only numbers that Virgin has to trade on are so small, that giving up advertising is probably worth it from a marketing perspective.

You will recall that Sky is the sponsor of his new show, and interestingly, Sky is credited in the advertising surrounding the show – something that is normal for TV sponsorship, but rarer with radio sponsorship. (I once suggesting adding a small sponsor’s logo to an upcoming breakfast show outdoor campaign to show willing to the sponsor, and was considered a lunatic for even countenancing it!)

Sponsorship and promotions – or branded content – is a major part of overall commercial radio revenues. It accounted for £110m in 2017. As a result, a number of the leading UK commercial breakfast shows have sponsors – often more than one, if you also consider weather, traffic and travel, and sports sponsorship opportunities.

For example, Absolute Radio’s breakfast show has, for many years, been sponsored by Wickes, while Magic’s breakfast show is sponsored by Bensons for Beds.

As the poster displayed above shows, Virgin Radio’s marketing is going big on the benefits of being ad break free. The question then, is how is this sustainable?

Getting accurate sponsorship revenues is notoriously tricky, and precise figures tend to be closely guarded secrets. For a big ticket breakfast show with a sizeable audience, a sponsorship deal is likely to surpass £1m a year, although how much it surpasses that figure is going to be down to a lot of other things, not least of which is the size of the audience. Radio advertising executives will create detailed promotional plans that give advertising buyers details of how frequently their messaging will be heard, not only during the show itself, but in other dayparts, calculating the overall audience size. Recall too, that this new incarnation of Virgin Radio has launched a couple of sister services – Virgin Radio Anthems and Virgin Radio Chilled – that will also carry the show. Beyond all that, there will have been discussions about how deeply the sponsorship is integrated into the show, and how the sponsor might be involved in other promotional activity.

Interestingly, during Chris Evans’ first show, alongside a multitude of guests that included Cold Feet star Fay Ripley and musician Richard Ashcroft, Evans also had comedians Rob Beckett and Romesh Ranganathan who star in a new Sky One six-parter. They also had a sports guest on the phone, one Gary Neville, a football pundit who is contracted to Sky Sports.

These are all quite legitimate guests for any show one way or another, but Sky integration seems likely to feature heavily.

How much is Sky paying for all of this?

Who knows. It’s rumoured that Wireless Group were out pitching sponsorship of the Evans show at a very high number indeed. A particularly healthy seven figure fee – and certainly substantially more than any other UK commercial sponsorship opportunities. Of course, any good salesperson starts pitching high, so who knows at what price it was actually sold for. But the fact that it was being pitched also suggests that although Sky was until relatively recently a sister company of News UK (owner of Wireless Group and Virgin Radio), Sky’s advertising agency probably still took a close look at what the Evans show is truly worth.

It’s also worth noting that for many years, Sky has been a strong supporter of commercial radio, and sponsorship has been a key part of that support. It sponsored Absolute Radio’s breakfast for many years, and has also been a major sponsor on Talksport.

Sky is the third biggest sponsor in UK commercial radio spending an estimated £16.8m in the year to November 2018 according to Nielsen figures published by Radiocentre. That places it as the third biggest spender in UK radio, very slightly behind McDonald’s and BT. (Notably, those figures also show that it had decreased its spend substantially in the past year. But also note that estimating sponsorship spend is particularly tricky for companies like Nielsen.)

Is the show sustainable with Sky’s sponsorship alone, assuming Evans is getting at least as much as the BBC paid him for Radio 2, in addition to the costs incurred in poaching the rest his team from the BBC?

If Sky paid even close to that big rumoured fee that Virgin Radio was asking for, then possibly. But Virgin will still need to run adverts across the rest of the station, which may come as a rude awakening for listeners who carry on beyond 10.00am when Eddy Temple-Morris takes over. Indeed it’s notable that Virgin hasn’t [yet] announced any additional big-name talent signings.

The much anticipated marketing campaign has begun. There’s a TV ad, which is clever (even if it does bear a certain similarity to a classic 80s comedy film) and London is home to a number of outdoor posters for the show. However, it’s not yet clear how large those campaigns are, and that may take weeks or months to become clear.

Probably the biggest marketing initiative thus far has been today’s wraparound of The Sun.

As for the show itself?

I heard about 40 minutes of it on my work to work this morning. But it’s day one, and Chris Evans is a professional broadcaster who knows what he’s doing. It’s not remotely worth reviewing the first day of a breakfast show, because everyone is finding their feet and as Nik Goodman pointed out a couple of weeks ago on Trevor Dann’s Radio Today Roundtable Podcast, many of those new features will be quietly dropped in a few weeks once they’ve not worked, while other things will organically start up as the show finds its feet again. (That said, Radio Today reports that Evans has directly brought across a number of features from his Radio 2 show.)

Of course that review logic didn’t stop everyone doing just that with both Lauren Laverne’s and Zoe Ball’s first shows, and it won’t stop those reviews of Evans tomorrow.

[Update] See also a great blog from Phil Riley on the economics of running Virgin Radio – and indeed, commercial radio in general.

Christmas Day Radio Times 2018

Happy Christmas everyone!

You’re probably stuffing your face with discounted Celebrations and Quality Street, or hitting the web early to get all those online sales.

There are probably a few arguments and the usual Christmas merriment. Some are already planning how soon they can return an unwanted gift – or at least re-gift it.

But there’s always Christmas television to keep the nation entertained. And let us not forget, radio too.

As ever, I continue my festive high- and low-lights guides to what to watch (and what not to watch) this Christmas.

If you need to give the TV a rest, then why not listen to some radio?

A reminder that clicking through on either image may make it more legible.

NB. I’ve been providing this “service” for ages now. The back catalogue is all here. 

Chris Evans – Ad Free?

Christmas Eve sees Chris Evans present his last Radio 2 breakfast show. Then he takes a few weeks off, before he reappears in brand new studios over in The News Building, just under The Shard by London Bridge station. There he’ll begin his new Virgin Radio breakfast show from the 21st January 2019.

When I took a first look at the news that Evans was leaving Radio 2 to “return” to Virgin Radio, I said that it was a big financial gamble by News UK. And that’s still the case.

But now comes news that Virgin Radio is going to run his breakfast show “with no ad-breaks.” Instead we learn that Sky is going to be sponsoring the breakfast show, and that promotions for Sky will be integrated into Evans’ show.

Now I’ll confess that I’ve always wondered if it was possible to run a full-service commercial radio station without any ad breaks, instead relying on sponsorship, promotions and other means to support the business. This isn’t quite that, as the rest of the schedule will continue to have ad-breaks, but it’s an unusual move as I’ll explain. However for the first few months of the new show, it does make some kind of sense.

Stations going ad-free during the launch phase aren’t an unknown thing. A number of digital stations, like Union Jack, have done it during their first months, in part because they don’t have any data to trade from at first. While Virgin Radio does have current data, Evans joining them makes January a new year-zero and creates a set of circumstances for going ad-free as I’ll explain below.

At the time of the Evans announcement, former radio executive Phil Riley tried to run the numbers on the deal. While these are definitely “back of the fag packet” calculations, they bear looking at, because it’s tricky to make the sums add up.

For a station the current size of Virgin Radio, there’s absolutely no chance that a Sky sponsorship would cover the costs of Evans (and his team), unless either they were taking a pay cut from what they were getting at the BBC, or Sky was paying massively over the odds for its sponsorship.

Neither seems likely to be the case. I don’t see Evans taking a pay cut – you expect Sky will definitely be paying a premium for exclusivity in the show, and there’ll be an expectation that Evans’ show will grow substantially beyond where the current Virgin Radio breakfast show is. But paying massively above the market rate?

Of course Sky and Virgin Radio owners News UK were related within the Rupert Murdoch empire previously. But Comcast has just bought Murdoch’s controlling interest in Sky, and completed that acquisition in October, with the departure of James Murdoch amongst others from Sky’s board. You feel that the recent announcement that Sky would cease to sponsor its spectacularly successful cycling team suggests that Comcast is definitely in control of the business and making its own sponsorship decisions

While it’s possible that some kind of “sweetheart” deal was signed prior that final acquisition, I still really don’t see Sky paying over the odds for a sponsorship property like that.

You would imagine that there’s still room for promotional activity beyond Sky’s involvement in the new show – i.e. sponsored competitions. These remain big business in the radio industry (And that’s why we’re more likely than not to see networked breakfast shows on stations like the Capital Network in the near future. You can do bigger and better promotions with greater creativity and impact if you have a single show).

Between those two revenue sources, perhaps the sums will lead to a break-even situation (if we exclude other costs like marketing). But going ad-free definitely means turning away spot-airtime money which is still the bulk of any commercial station’s revenues. And not having those spots has a wider impact on the station.

Ordinarily, you wouldn’t allow an advertiser to only buy spots in a big name breakfast show. You would limit those spots carefully, requiring advertisers to buy packages of spots across the whole station. If you want a couple of breakfast show spots, you’ll need to buy daytime, afternoon, evening drive and overnight spots as well. Those spots get packaged up, and you buy the whole package (Without these packages, there would be barely any advertisers overnight at all!).

By doing away with any breakfast spots, there’s less of an incentive for advertisers to bother buying slots elsewhere on the station.

I had assumed that Virgin would also invest in other parts of the schedule, perhaps picking up a few other high-profile names, but that doesn’t seem to have happened, and that potentially means that spot advertisers aren’t going to want to come to the station as much.

However the real reason to go ad-free – at least for the first three months until they get a set of RAJAR results that incorporate Evan’s listening figures – is because the current data is so low that there’s no significant loss. With just 1.3m listening hours across the station in the most recent RAJAR results – listening hours is the most important measure from a trading perspective – the loss of spot advertising revenue just isn’t that significant.

You may as well go out of your way to incentivise as many current Radio 2 listeners as possible to follow him across with the promise of no ad breaks, and accept what is a relatively small loss.

However, although they’ve not announced it as such, you would strongly suspect that once those first Chris Evans listening figures come through with the mid-May RAJARs, and start being traded on from early June, that ad breaks will duly make their appearance on Evans’ show. That would be my bet.

(As a side note, it would also be in most radio groups’ interest to lower their current ad loads as streaming music services become more mainstream, but that’s another blog for another time.)

In the meantime, I await an upcoming marketing blitz!

Setting Radio Alarms with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant

Across the rooftops at dawn

First a note of caution. This piece was published in November 2018, and it’s entirely possible – indeed probable – that things will have changed if you’re reading this at any point after that date. It’s also worth noting that I’m in the UK, and these solutions may not work in your region. Also, I’m doing this with the Android Apps for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. iOS apps may vary – but hopefully not very much.

It’s not entirely clear when the first radio alarm clock was created, but the Bulova M-781 from 1932 seems the most likely.  It was a grandfather clock with a radio built in that did indeed switch on according to a timer.

What is more certain is that over time, the radio alarm clock became a significant category in the radio world. Most manufacturers of radios built at least one, and probably more, radio models. Most still do. Having a radio turn on and wake you up in the morning is a basic use case for radio. Recall that the biggest radio audiences are to be found in the morning.

Fast forward to 2018 and what do you do to wake up to the radio in the morning?

Well, you could still go out and buy a radio alarm clock. While there are still a disappointingly large number of basic FM models that don’t look like they’ve had a refresh in thirty years, you can at least buy DAB models on most of Europe.

Many people use their mobile phones. But you’ve been busy buying smart speakers to kit out your home. Can you use these to wake up to the radio? In general, they sound better than your mobile’s speaker.

Well, yes you can. But it certainly isn’t easy. Indeed, when I asked a few owners smart speakers if they did it, I was usually informed that it wasn’t possible.

Before I started, I did a fair bit of Googling to see how easy it was. The methods I describe below have only become available relatively recently. So prior to that, the preferred solution was an hilarious hack. It involved recording yourself on your mobile phone saying something like “Alexa, Play Radio 1.” Then use this recording as an alarm sound on your phone. So at 7am or whenever, your phone pipes up: “Alexa, Play Radio 1” and then the nearby Alexa in your bedroom starts blasting you with Greg James. 

Of course if you happen to charge your phone away from your bedroom Alexa, then you could be in trouble. And let’s hope that you didn’t leave your phone in a jacket pocket or a bag the night before, or you forgot to put it on charge so that it went flat and as a result your alarm failed to go off. 

We’ll assume that your use case is that you’d like the radio to switch on perhaps 5, 6 or 7 days a week, with the station of your choice, at the volume of your choice. And perhaps you’d like to have different alarms set for the weekend. 

I don’t think that’s anything too complex. Before we continue, I should note that all the major radio apps have this basic functionality built in by default. BBC iPlayer Radio, Radioplayer and Tune-In all have this functionality – they all also have sleep timers too (BBC Sounds, for some reason, has not yet added this functionality).

But you want to do this by voice. Let’s see how easy it is with the Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. Note that I’m using Android apps throughout.


Google Assistant

To make this work, you need to use Routines from within the Google Home app. It might be possible to set this up purely by voice (as you can with Amazon Alexa), but if it is, I’ve not worked out how to do it.

I’ve got to be honest: while it has improved in recent iterations, I find the Google Home app particularly messy. I think it needs a top to bottom redesign since too many important things are buried away in sub-menus. I suspect that most users don’t use the app all that regularly, mostly using it when they set up new devices on their home network. So even if you work out how to do something, when you use the app again some weeks or months later, you won’t remember exactly how to repeat processes you previously worked out.

To set a routine, you should be on the same WiFi network as your Google devices. In other words, you’ll need to be at home to do this.

Within the App you go to your Account, and then Settings. From here you choose Assistant, and then scroll down to Routines

By default, Google has set up a number of example routines – Good Morning, Bedtime, Leaving Home, I’m Home etc. But all of these are voice activated. In other words, it would rely on you saying “Hey Google, Good Morning” to activate the Good Morning routine. 

You need to create a Custom Routine – and it’s entirely possible that in some regions, this isn’t yet possible. Google’s own help page claims that Custom Routines are US only at the moment – but it worked for me in the UK.

Click the + in the bottom right corner to set up a New Routine.

This is the key screen for setting up your routine, and the first box is perhaps the most confusing. Google wants you to have a spoken command for your routine – and that’s not optional. 

Now obviously, if you’re using this routine to wake-up, you’re unlikely to be in a position to say anything to kick-start the whole thing. The good news is that although you have to provide some words, they’re not the only way to fire off the alarm.

So click on Add commands and fill in the box with some text which you’re unlikely ever to need to say.

Press the left arrow to go back and next go into Set a time and day. This is pretty easy to complete, choosing a time and then selecting which days you want it to apply. You also need to select a speaker. And if you’ve grouped several speakers together into a Group you can start this routine on multiple speakers. In the example below, I’m using the speaker I’ve named Bedroom Mini. You can choose whether or not you want your phone to be notified as well.

Use the left arrow again to get back to main screen and you’ll have something like this.

Now press Add action.

Here you’re presented with a text box and a couple of suggestions from Google about setting a volume or giving you the weather. Again, you’ll be able to add multiple actions, so if you do want the weather before the radio kicks in, then here’s the place to do it.

Rather than use written words to set the volume, we’re going to go into Choose Popular Actions. Scroll down to the Your Devices section and select Adjust media volume.

Then press the cogwheel to set a volume level.

Use the top left arrow to navigate out of that menu back to the main screen, being sure not to press it again. That’s because you need to press ADD in the top right hand corner.

You should now have a routine that looks something like this:

Go to Add media and select Radio in the options.

Click on the cogwheel and you again get a blank box asking you type a radio station. Google gives you two BBC examples, but we’ll choose another station.

Again, if you’re uncertain what to type, try a voice command with your Google device first to ensure that you get the right station, and the right version of the right playing. You’ll want to make sure you get the right Capital or Heart!

Use the left arrow to get back to the main routine screen.

At this point you could add additional actions like switching on light bulbs or other smart home connected devices. We won’t bother here.

Then be sure to press the tick-mark and not the left arrow again to save your changes.

Your routines screen should now look like this.

And that should be it. Your radio alarm should be set. 

However, there is a lot I’d like to see improved in the Google Home app to make this easier. Not least the completely non-intuitive way to navigate it. Starting with my profile, then settings and then another sub-menu to even find routines is madness.

My biggest issue, remarkably, is timing! In my tests, the radio didn’t quite come on when I expected it to do. It would be perhaps one to two minutes late. This seems quite extraordinary, and I’ve no idea why, unless there’s some processing time on a Google server somewhere between me updating my routine and Google being in a position to serve it on my Google device.

As a result of this, I would suggest setting your timer early particularly if you value every minute of sleep you get.

I would also note that in at least one instance, my device failed to play the radio at all. An initial beep sounded indicating that the routine was starting, but then nothing happened.

Then there is an issue of zombie routines. In my tests, I twice created a test routine, then having finished with it, I deleted it. But later it returned unwanted and I had to delete it a second time – this time seemingly permanently. 

The next issue is the confusion about requiring some command words for a timer. It’s fine to have the option to use these, but for some routines, you just want them to work at the times of your choosing regardless.

Another key issue is that I can find no way to set the duration of the radio once it has turned on. Many radio alarm clocks will time out after a period of time, and as we’ll see, Amazon lets you do this. It could be particularly annoying if you fail to turn off an alarm when you go away for a few days. 

Finally, there’s no volume fading – the radio just starts instantly at your set volume. Google is not alone with this, but it would be nice to fade in the audio gradually.

Overall, it’s not a great experience using the alarm, with them not starting on time and even failures to start at all. I’d be nervous using it alone. Furthermore, the app is not intuitive, and even finding the right place to set them up is not simple. 


Amazon Alexa

In general terms, I think the Alexa app is somewhat ahead of Google’s right now. It’s slightly more intuitive. and overall I had less difficulty setting it up. Again, this is probably easier to do when you’re on the same WiFi network as your Amazon devices.

You can actually set an alarm by voice with Amazon Alexa! Thanks to Daniel for pointing that out. You won’t have quite the control that going through the app gives you, but this is by far the easiest way to do it.

If you say something like: “Alexa, wake me up every weekday at 8.00am with Radio 4” it should confirm the time and indeed set an alarm.

You can confirm this by going into the Alexa app and looking in the Reminders & Alarms section and selecting ALARMS.

You can go into the alarm and make adjustments to days of the week or the time.

Note that you can’t set up an alarm on the app this way if you want to listen to the radio! You have to first set it up via voice.

Also note that you have no control over the volume, which will be the previous volume set, or add in additional functions like switching on lights or reading the weather to you. Finally, the alarm will come through the device you set it on.

If you want more granularity, then you need to go into a different part of the app. You want to ignore Reminders & Alarms. Instead we now want Routines. 

Hit the + icon to create a new routine.

Then choose the + icon next to When this happens

Select Schedule from the list of options.

And on the Set Time page choose Select next to At Time.

That opens a screen that is mostly blank with a tiny time in the middle of it, defaulting to the current time. Press it and (in the Android app) you get the familiar Android clock allowing you to set the time e.g. 07:00.

Click Done in the top right hand corner of the screen when you’re happy and then choose Select next to Repeat. The default is Every Day but you can change it to specific days, weekdays or weekends. Of course you can set multiple routines for weekdays and weekends. We’ll stick with the default for now.

Select Done and you should have a screen that looks a little like this.

Now you need to Add Action. Press the + next to it. And you get a choice of things you can do.

It’s worth noting at this point that you could add multiple actions here. Alexa could say, “Good morning!”, then play you your news via whatever choices you have set in your Flash Briefing. 

But in this case we’ll just turn on the radio.

So you need to choose Music. Yes, even if you want to listen to Radio 4 when you wake up.

In Song, Artist or Playlist you need to spell out your preferred radio station. And an important note here is that it needs to be available on TuneIn. If it’s not, then this won’t work. If you’re not sure, try using your Alexa to see if it selects the right station.

Then in the Provider section under the word From, choose TuneIn.

Finally, you can set the duration of the timer. The default is 30 minutes. Press Set Time and choose a duration.

When you’re done, you should have something like this:

Click Next and you now have the opportunity to add further actions.

The one other thing we’re going to do is set the volume of our Alexa. Click the + next to Add Action and select Alexa Devices.

Select Volume and you get a slider to choose your volume.

Choose a number you’re happy with, then click Next and Add. You’ll notice that the volume is set ahead of playing the radio. If not then you can move them around using the = buttons.

Finally you need to choose the Echo device that the radio comes from. If you have multiple Echo devices, choose one in the From list. I don’t believe it’s possible to have routines play on multiple devices at time of writing.

Press Create and you should be done. A message will say that your routine has been saved and it will appear as an Enabled routine.

If you need to delete or disable a routine, select it and then use either the disable button to turn it off, or the menu dots in the top right to delete it altogether.

Note that you can also test the routine by going into the routine, pressing the menu button and choosing Play Routine. That should ensure that that TuneIn really does manage to pick the right station for you. This will also let you fine tune your preferred alarm volume.

In general terms, this solution works well, but I don’t think it’s completely intuitive. You might have worked out that you can wake up to a track, or a Spotify playlist (although for me that makes me think of Groundhog Day) but not realised that you could choose a radio station. 

The only key thing I’d like to be able to do is fade up the volume. It starts quite abruptly and a little bit of a fade might be better – although few radio alarm clocks do that.

If you have other smart home devices, such as light bulbs, you could switch those on too by adding a further action to your wake-up routine and choosing Smart Home. Again, it’s not perfect though. I have some Hue bulbs and the Hue app lets me brighten them slowly over time. The Alexa app just allows me to turn them on – albeit I can choose the brightness. A gradual increase in brightening might be nice. The Google Assistant is similarly limited in this regard. 

Other Options

The other thing you could try is IFTTT – the service that allows you to connect devices and apps together using the various APIs the companies make available. 

The only trouble with this is that it can be non-trivial to build these connections, and in any case, I’ve not found a way to do it. 

Summary

I’m really not sure why such a simple use case is so hard to achieve. I really shouldn’t have had to write a tutorial to explain how to do it.

When smart speakers first emerged, they quickly became the best internet radios you could buy – assuming your voice was understandable by the devices, and your choice of radio station was available to stream. Adding alarm functionality to these radios should be trivial.

As I note at the top, all of the above is true at time or writing in November 2018. Undoubtedly both Google and Amazon’s apps and devices will improve over time, and I trust that it will become easier to set a task like this.

Greatest Hits Radio

Interesting news from Bauer Media this morning. They’re launching Greatest Hits Radio nationally from January 7th, to sit alongside Hits Radio. Together they will form the Hits Radio Network.

It sounds like this new mostly networked service is being positioned as a slightly older version of Absolute Radio Network. It will target 40-59 “Reclaimers,” playing “the biggest songs of the 70s, 80s and 90s” from artists like Queen, Blondie, INXS and Michael Jackson.

The station is going onto national DAB, but interestingly is also going to replace Absolute Radio on the West Midlands 105.2FM frequency, as well as 105.9 FM in Liverpool (where Radio City 2 was already effectively this format).

This will also be the default AM service across Bauer’s city brands, but with separate English and Scottish breakfast shows.

This looks to be part of a larger dual-pronged approach to radio brands under Bauer. There are the big national brands like Absolute, Magic and Kiss, and now Hits. But importantly, they can sell national, regional and local advertising as Global can do with its brands.

But Bauer looks to be retaining local FM stations across primarily northern England and Scotland. And while I suspect that Global will jump fairly early “nationalising” its stations to a large extent, it’s not certain that Bauer will do this in peak. 

Trends in Podcasting: News Podcasts

In January last year, The New York Times launched a new podcast called The Daily. Spinning off to an extent from what the paper had been doing during the 2016 Presidential election, The Daily quickly developed a following. With a strong voice – both authorial and audible – in Michael Barbaro, it grew quickly. For a certain demographic, it became a must listen.

The Daily is excellent at digging into stories that The New York Times has covered in that day’s paper. A usual episode will deal with one or perhaps two stories, speaking with the Times’ journalists involved, and using clips and other archive material to give the story colour. The production quality is excellent. It’ll end with a summary of other things you need to know. The podcast is released early in the morning US time, so it’s available to listen on listeners’ commutes.

The Daily is by no means the first attempt at a daily news podcast. Lots of broadcasters have been doing lots of news things for an awfully long time. Many of them were spin-offs of radio programmes, but there were also standalone podcasts including ones from major newspapers like The Guardian. And there are certainly popular news podcasts. The Global News Podcast from the BBC World Service is the BBC’s single biggest podcast in terms of downloads, by a significant margin.

But somehow The Daily took off when others haven’t (or at least hadn’t).

Since its launch, The Daily has also become a syndicated public radio series, with episodes airing on a number of public radio stations after 4pm the same day, allowing it to remain a podcast-first property. Meanwhile the FX channel has ordered 30 episodes of TV version called The Weekly, with episodes going onto Hulu the day after broadcast. The series is due to start later this year. All in all, The Daily has become a very multimedia property for The New York Times.

To nobody’s great surprise, lots of other people want to get into the mix.

Recently The Guardian announced that it was launching a new daily news podcast presented by Anushka Asthana. Today in Focus has just launched. As with The Daily, Today in Focus concentrates on a single big story, although it is also carrying a second supplemental story too. In the first week Today in Focus has concentrated on Brazil’s new far right president, and the upcoming mid-term elections. The podcast is available early each morning, in time to be listened to for the morning commute.

The Guardian’s podcast managed to launch the same week that the BBC launched it’s new daily news podcast – Beyond Today. This launched at the same time as BBC Sounds, the big new audio app was formally launched by the BBC (it has been available in a public beta for a few months now). 

Beyond Today also follows the well-trodden path of concentrating on a single story. And as with Today in Focus, the podcasts tend to be around 20 minutes in length (The Daily tends to run twenty-something minutes a day). 

In the first week Beyond Today had episodes about Britain’s finances, ahead (or in fact just after) the budget, a very sad story about an Iraqi Instagrammer, middle class drug use (Although I think that episode missed a trick concentrating largely on a dealer and a real addict. It should have looked more closely at general users.), WhatsApp and a piece about who makes the news with Amol Rajan. Incidentally, although Rajan sometimes feels a little over-exposed appearing everywhere from The One Show on BBC1 to The Media Show on Radio 4, this episode is worth a listen, since it examines a real class issue in the media which often gets overlooked in issues of representation and diversity.

The one thing I’m slightly curious about is the name. When I first heard the name, I thought that it was a Today programme spin-off. But it’s not really, in that it has its own presenters – Tina Daheley and Matthew Price – and that it doesn’t sound at all like it’d appear on the Today programme. That said, I believe excerpts have indeed aired on Today this week. But I’d actually say that in tone, it’s closer to Five Live rather than Radio 4.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Slate has been running What Next, a

Interestingly, both What Next and Slate’s other daily podcast, The Gist, get published later in the day rather than earlier.

Earlier this year, Vox launched its own competitor,Today, Explained which it very much pitches as a more fun version of The Daily. You won’t be surprised to learn that it runs around 20 minutes. So you can maybe listen to three of these daily news podcasts if your commute lasts an hour!

Today, Explained is definitely more casual than some of the others, although the stories are always interesting. In the last week it has run episodes on white hat hackers (i.e. hacking for good, often identifying vulnerabilities and reporting them before bad guys can use this), universal basic income and fracking in Colorado amongst others.

Elsewhere, HotPod alerts us to The Washington Post hiring producers for its own upcoming daily podcast. It already has a daily political podcast – The Daily 202’s Big Idea which has been running for a while now. 

These are by no means the only news podcasts of course. There are plenty of news podcasts out there. But many of these are more like traditional news programmes. 

The BBC, for example, makes available in podcast form several of its flagship news programmes including the World At One and The Six O’Clock News from Radio 4, and Newshour from the World Service. All of these are the same as the broadcast versions.

The BBC’s flagship news programme domestically, is the Today programme. But that has a rather odd podcast presence. The radio programme runs for three hours Monday to Friday, so is too big to simply put out as a podcast – at least, not if you want people to listen.

Instead, Today publishes 3-4 separate podcasts a day. The first is inevitably the business news of the day, while the remaining 2-3 are based on segments of the programme, or gather together different segments on the same news story. The issue here is that the offering feels very piecemeal, and there’s little urgency in publishing the podcasts. Given the importance of the 8.10am interview – usually with a leading politician – the podcast may not appear until late morning, if at all. (Also, I’d love the podcast to lose the phrase, “You can listen to more free content from Today…” for obvious reasons.)

Of course the success of The Daily is in part due to it being available in time for listeners’ commute, so simply re-purposing morning news radio programmes leaves podcast rebroadcasts of radio news programmes at a slight disadvantage. But then, you probably shouldn’t be using podcasts to get “breaking news.”

As long as producers realise that they’re not trying to compete with 24 hour news channels that are rushing to break news, then podcasting publishing timescales can work well.

Publications like The Financial Times and The Economist do publish regular news programmes, but they have more weekly than daily output. Perhaps the closest equivalent I know of in UK radio is the BBC World Service’s Business Daily which is a Monday to Friday radio show that is nicely re-edited into a daily podcast. It’s business in its very broadest, and like The Daily has a deep dive into a different subject each day.

Could LBC do something interesting with Eddie Mair? A sharply edited 15-20 minute version of his 2 hour radio show? For some reason, there doesn’t yet appear to be an Eddie Mair podcast at all. LBC has had good success with viral videos, but I’m not sure that’s true in the podcast world. Interestingly, LBC is now winding down its paid-for download operation in advance of a new app that will let people listen-again, no doubt with targeted audio ads.

There is certainly room for a UK-focused daily podcast, and I’m sure other outlets aside from The Guardian and the BBC are working on them. I shall be listening.

[Update: Brett blogs about news podcasts and highlights a CBC called Front Burner.]

Note that these are my personal views, and do not reflect those of my employer.