Monday, 2 July 2007

The Future of Radio...revealed!

So what is the 'Future of Radio' then?

That was the question posed to a panel of the finest minds at the cutting edge of broadcasting last week, as part of a Radio Academy sponsored session at the music industry conference 'London Calling'.

After persuading the technical guy that "Yes - it is pretty important that we have the sound working" (!) Chris Kimber, who is Managing Editor of BBC Audio and Music Interactive gave an excellent demonstration of what the BBC is currently very good. Namely, producing content that may start in the radio sphere... but morphs seamlessly onto other platforms.

Radio One's 'One Big Weekend', Glastonbury coverage and 6Music sessions were all paraded in front of a salivating audience who started to realise what their licence fee got spent on!

Chris believed that the future of radio would involve producing content that sat on lots of platforms and virtual places, like MySpace and Facebook... and that creating more engaging content with visuals was an integral part of how radio needed to progress.

James Cridland, the Director of Digital at Virgin Radio and soon to be the BBC's Head of Future Media and Technology, Audio and Music, tended to agree. He eloquently delivered a record 46 slides in 7 minutes explaining that the visual element of radio needed to develop further and that 'glanceability' to a screen whether online, on a mobile device, or a fixed point radio was essential to the future of the medium. Just displaying the frequency is no longer an option. Consumers want, expect and can deal with more visual content. James also delivered a passionate defence of FM radio, rubbishing suggestions by some sections of commercial radio that there should be an analogue switch off by 2015. FM works well and consumers still like it. Commercial radio are trying to tip the scales in their favour and using it as a ploy to gain the upper hand in the ratings battle. And he's got a point...!

Finally, the soothing tones of Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora took to the podium to tell us that online bespoke music services were the future. Well he would say that wouldn't he! He shared some great stats about the growth of Pandora and how he really viewed it as a 'music discovery' service, which helped disenfranchised music lovers in their late 20's and 30's still discover new bands and purchase products. He saw the movement of these services into the mobile environment as offering the consumer more choice, but did realise the distinction between a content rich, information led, 'DJ' radio station... and a wall to wall music offering. Yet it's all radio really. Well... just about!

I've listened more and more to Pandora recently and creating about a dozen custom stations (with my Marvin Gaye / Bananarama hybrid being a particular favourite!) and to me it is radio, but radio that is driven by your mood. If you want no interruptions, but a few musical surprises along the way, give it a go. It's like Magic without the DJ's... or ads... or repetition... or news... or weather... or Michael Bolton. Actually, it's nothing like Magic. Scrub that!

So what can we glean from staring into our crystal ball then? I believe traditional radio, web, TV and mobile will all converge (as they currently are) at a greater rate. The consumer will dictate what technologies they want and the responsibility of programmers worldwide will be keep pace with the technology and create cross platform content that works in these different arenas. A 2 tiered system will be created based on the level of content. Those who opt out of the content game will have a harder job to compete, but can do so providing they have a USP top their product (e.g. / Pandora).

One final thing. If you can start a company that can do 'conference sound' that...

a) works
b) is audible to humans... and
c) doesn't feel like you're trying to conquer the north face of K2 by asking someone to connect it up

...then you'll probably be able to retire to a large island in the Caribbean by this time next year, as the demand for your services should be enormous! Good luck with it.

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