Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Xfm - A Backward Step

This weeks news that Xfm is to get rid of its daytime line-up of DJ's and run a listener-powered, non-stop music offering between 10am and 4pm is an incredible move.

When John Plunkett at the Media Guardian first got wind of the story, he published a speculative "they're thinking about this idea", which usually means the story has been leaked, but he couldn't confirm it completely!

"Surely some mistake", I thought. "They wouldn't do a foolish thing like that.... would they?"

Then came the confirmation. Radio to the Power of U will allow listeners to choose songs via text, phone, and online across the day.

Nick Davidson, the MD of Xfm was quoted on Media Guardian as saying:

"Our listeners are used to being able to control what they watch or listen to as these days people are inundated with choice. Allowing them to shape their own content seems the next logical step." (Actually if people are being inundated with opportunities to take control, falling into line and allowing them to do the same on Xfm is not actually the next logical step. However, I digress!)

OK. Here's the reason why this is a bad idea for Xfm.

Xfm is all about having a passion for new music. A passion that is emphasised and celebrated by its presenters. The DJ's on Xfm bring new music to life. They live it, breathe it, feel it and share it with their listeners who look to them to a trusted guide through the sea of musical mediocrity.

Cutting out these musical champions is like removing a vital organ from the radio station. Will it still function? Yes - but it will look a lot paler... probably be bed-bound, and need some sort of dialysis for the rest of its natural life.

One of the reasons why BBC Radio 1 does so well, is because it has entertaining presenters who share their passion for music with the listeners. Even Moyles gets excited about certain records at breakfast! The opportunities for exploiting the rich vein of content that sessions, interviews and new music features brings will all be lost across the day at Xfm. Gone. And replaced with what?

A faceless jukebox that I could replicate on my ipod.

Radio at its best is about the relationship that develops between a broadcaster who communicates in a unique way with the listener. Imagine Paul Gambaccini if he played 40 minutes of non stop music every hour... or Bob Harris entering into a 100 Minute Music Marathon! Great music radio stations need great broadcasters. Sure, there's all the specialist shows in the evening and weekends, but that's not where the mass of the audience is available. I know putting your consumers in control is very fashionable at the moment and having sections of your output where this happens is as old as the hills in radio programming. "The Giant Jukebox" anyone? But having it across at least 30 hours of primetime radio every week is frankly a waste of valuable spectrum.

I like Xfm and what it stands for. It shows that some in commercial radio do care about new music (even though it's always struggled to make any significant commercial revenues) and it's been a breeding ground and platform for great talent like Adam and Joe, Shaun Keavney, Justin Lee Collins, Christian O Connell and Ricky Gervais.

Just at a time when the BBC has extended it's lead over commercial radio across the UK, one of the major radio groups announces that it's pulling it's daytime line-up off its network of new music stations, and replacing it with listener requests. Hardly a move that will win back valuable share points from the BBC is it now? Shouldn't commercial radio be investing in content... not removing it from the airwaves? I'm sure that Radio 1 are laughing into the thier licence fee settlement as we speak.

This move is a negative, defensive step and my predication is that it won't have any significant positive impact on the audience. If anything, the loyal Xfm fan who tuned in to hear a knowledgable DJ get excited by music, will re-tune to find a station that has one.

Sorry Xfm. Bad move.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

RAJAR Qtr 1 2007 - The Post Mortem Part 2 - London

The London market is taking on a familiar pattern at the moment with Heart and Magic engaged in a titanic battle for the top commercial station in London.

Both have held their 'Number 1 in London' status and lost it. But who has the upper hand? Well, interestingly if you look at an average of the share figures over the last 2 years dating back to Qtr 1 2005, Magic averages at a 5.7%, while Heart averages at a 6.0%. Magic have only achieved anywhere in the 7's once, while Heart have managed it twice in last 2 years and their impressive 7.1% is the largest share figure generated by either of these 2 broadcasting adversaries. 1-0 to Heart on share.

And what about the reach 'glass ceiling'? Well - Magic have achieved a 1.867 Million record in the same period and Heart have been 'oh so close' to the (dare I say "magic") figure of 2 Million, cume-ing a 1.911 Million back in Qtr 3 2005. So based on share and reach, it's Heart 2 - Magic 0.

Magic may have nudged back in the lead with this book, but to continue torturing the football-ing analogy... this match has a long time left to play and any pundit would predict that Heart will be back on top before too long.

Capital got an important PR and morale booster of regaining the 'Number 1 Commercial Breakfast Show'. However, the share figure dipped to a new low of 4.6%... considerably lower than either Heart or Magic have ever been in the last 2 years. The new Capital format feels to me more like Radio 1 than anything else on the dial currently, and taking them on will prove tricky when Radio 1 is so strong in London at the moment, chalking up a 1.65 Million reach and 6.7% share in the London TSA.

Kiss didn't capitalise on the closeness with Capital in reach from the previous quarter and dipped back to 1.35 Million, but they're trending up.

So, what does it all mean? The latest set of figures continue to show that playing in some part of the 'AC' arena is essential if you're to currently have any traction in the London commercial radio market. A rejuvenated 'Smooth' will take some time to get going, and may eat into the 12 or so AC share points up for grabs in the market... which could open up some room for Capital, if the audience feel they have found the right format.

Final honourable mention goes to Kismat Radio, who have a year on year reach increase of 71%! A GCap takeover is only a matter of time!

RAJAR Qtr 1 2007 - The Post Mortem Part 1

So we've all had time to digest the RAJAR figures then have we?

As with every set of numbers, there's always something that grabs the headlines, and we weren't disappointed this time around. The BBC grabbing a record share of listening against commercial radio has to be seen the main story for Qtr 1 2007.

Moyles breaking through the 7 Million barrier, Radio 2 at 13.25 Million and even the rather niche offerings of 6 Music and 1Xtra scored record reach figures of 477,000 and 465,000 respectively. It's a very healthy picture for the BBC's music networks, and so the theory goes that commercial radio needs a strong BBC to ensure it is constantly injecting new creativity into its output. But it's getting a bit too strong for many groups who are really feeling the squeeze.

The response from Commercial Radio is naturally one of "Don't panic Captain Mannering!"... and you can't really say anything else faced with those numbers, can you? Fru Hazlitt, GCap's new London MD who's never normally understated, said "Yes - we still have some work to do!". Actually, I'm sure, privately, she's saying a lot more than that, but there's at least a public acknowledgement that commercial radio needs to innovate more, particularly in the area of digital and non-linear broadcasting to compete with the BBC more effectively.

There are notable exceptions, and of course there are pockets of excellence in commercial radio in many areas... Classic FM's broad range of output, Virgin's digital advances, Kerrang!'s execution of its format... but until there's some grass roots changes in the style of presentation in many local stations and an investment in talent development, then I fear Fru Hazlitt will be uttering that phrase for some time to come.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

And the winner is...

Quite a bit happened in the UK radio world in April that deserved a mention, but I managed to develop a “backblog”… so, some honourable mentions (in May!) go to the following Sony winners.

Mike Toolan got a Bronze for the Breakfast Show Award. He’s just such a natural broadcaster who I've seen develop since the early 90’s back in the North West. I’m glad his show is sounding so good at the moment.

Great to see Five Live Breakfast picking up the news and Current Affairs Programme Gold. The show finds that consistent balance between hard news and entertaining presentation. It’s the naughty younger brother to The Today Programme and such a refreshing way of presenting current affairs.

Francis Currie picked up the award that probably should have gone to Mark Browning of Heart last year (but Richard Park pipped him to the post), that of Programmer of the Year. Well deserved, and if there’s a text book to write on having a radio brand being consistent, focused yet adaptable then Francis (and Mark) should write it!

Richard Maddock has done a great job at Radio City and I’m glad to see him recognised in the short list for that category too.

I have no idea what the “Hairy Fairy” promotion on Pirate FM was about, but it would get my vote just for the name!! A silver award on its way to Cornwall!

The Station Imaging Award is always a nice award to win, and Planet Rock took the honours… probably for having their tongue firmly in their cheek when they cast a rather clich├ęd, ‘deep rock’ voice to do their idents! Bring back Bill Mitchell…(difficult now he’s dead I appreciate).

And a blog about this years Sony’s is not complete without mention of Mr Evans. Two of the biggies – Entertainment and Music Radio Personality Golds! It’s fascinating to see how his show has completely changed in its appeal, yet Chris has remained… well… Chris. I was pleased to see that he really values these awards now (rather than give them away to a passing cab driver) and he appeared genuinely chuffed.

That’s the end of the virtual backslapping! It’s a great feeling to win Sony Gold and you instantly forget about what a pain in the arse they are to enter! Lose, and of course they “mean nothing”!

Win or lose, the Grosvenor House always seems to have enough alcohol to match your mood.

T'was the night before RAJAR...

So RAJAR is upon us again! It seems just as a station gets used a set of numbers, along comes another set for programmers to memorise and quote ad nauseam!

The number crunching will start in earnest this evening.

A lot of the focus (as always) will be on London. Will Heart hang on to their well-fought commercial lead and increase their 7.1% share?

Will Magic make up lost ground? They’re sitting on a 5.5% currently and a firm number 2!

And Capital has sat on a 4.7% for the last 2 books. Will the major (and numerable!) changes at Leicester Square have had any short-term effect on the numbers?

Watch the reach figures for Kiss v Capital this time too. There are less than 20,000 listeners in it and Kiss could overtake Capital in Total Reach for the first time ever! That would be a big story for the guys at EMAP and a bit of a PR problem for GCap. We’ll see.

BBC Radio 4 will undoubtedly remain as having the largest overall share in the capital and both Radio 1 and Radio 2 will put in strong showings I suspect.

What else can we expect? Well – a good helping of digital stories is now par for the course. The rise of digital services like Planet Rock always makes for good headlines for radio groups trying to divert attention from fragmenting audiences in the heritage brands. Will Planet Rock smash the half million reach this time?

There’s no hiding from the numbers and in a few hours, everyone will have to have either their celebration speeches or “the changes haven’t really taken effect yet” emails ready to go!

We’ll absorb the numbers, pick over the bones, ignore the PR (!) and expose some heroes and villains in the next day or so!

Good luck!!