Friday, 23 November 2007

“Regrets… I’ve had a few” or “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”

The final whistle has been blown, and time has been called on Ralph Bernard’s run as “Head Coach” (or CEO, as I’m sure he’s more frequently called) of the UK’s largest radio group GCap Media. It appears however, from early reports, that no Croatians whatsoever were involved in this exit.

So, looking back on his career – which is obligatory in these circumstances – what will we remember?

There’s no doubt that building up GWR to a company worth £262 Million pounds was a truly fantastic achievement. GWR really pioneered the principle of a ‘network’ of stations. They purchased mainly smaller market, sometimes underperforming stations, and applied an almost franchise-like approach to the re-branding and re-formatting of them.

Local control was limited, and replaced by a top down approach to doing things. (One employee once commented to me that working for GWR was a little like being a member of the Communist Party!) Centralized playlists, syndicated programming and generic production were perhaps a glimpse into the future?

However, it was the merger of GWR and Capital that was a defining moment in UK commercial radio, and Ralph was very much in the driving seat. Was consolidation necessary? For commercial radio to create some scale and be more competitive both with the BBC and other content providers… then yes, it was.

Was the merger a success? Well, it depends on how you measure success!!

The City always looks at shareholder value, profits and future growth. It does seem a little disappointing that at the time of the merger Capital was valued at £264 Million and GWR at £262 Million. The current Market Cap of the merged companies that formed GCap Media is £229 Million, less than half the value of the separate entities pre-merger. And as I write, the share price is at an all time low.

OK – media valuations have changed and there has been a downturn in the advertising economy in the last 2½ years, but still…

Culturally, the merger was difficult. (I was there at the time and trust me... it was difficult!). GWR and Capital had very different ways of doing things both in terms of management and programming, and bringing these two monolithic cultures together was always going to be a bit of a minefield. Ralph said to The Guardian in July 2006… "We unquestionably misjudged the culture difference between the organisations”

There were accusations of a ‘putsch’ as the number of senior roles in the newly merged company seemed to all go to former GWR executives.

However, over time the dust inevitably settled and although always a favourite for media commentators to ‘have a go at’, GCap Media remains intact… for the time being! But who will be handed the unenviable role of steering the company through the choppy waters ahead? The smart money is on Fru Hazlitt, the feisty former CEO of Virgin Radio who now occupies the role of boss of GCap’s London portfolio.

So farewell then Ralph. It’s been emotional. Please select your swan song…

Monday, 19 November 2007

"Age Ain't Nothing But a Number..."

It was my birthday at the weekend, and it was a significant one. No, not the Big 40… and I wasn’t 21 again either, although I’d quite like that. No, it was significant in distinctive radio programming way, as I officially moved into a new demo!

“Hello Nik… let me welcome you to 35-44’s! Take a look around… you’ll be here for quite a while" ... the voice inside my head said, as I woke up on Sunday morning.

But hang on. I don’t feel any different. I don’t have the urge to rush out and buy Celine Dion’s Greatest Hits or start smoking a pipe… or buy a Volvo. I’m just the same as I was last week!

Radio has for many years grouped its audience via age demos. And for a long time, this was a pretty decent way of segmenting and targeting appropriate demographics. It was done primarily so advertisers could understand radio’s audience easily. 15-24 year olds are unlikely to need a mortgage product or ‘Stannah Stairlift’, whilst traditionally 35-44 year olds weren’t falling over themselves to get a copy of “Ministry of Sound; The Definitive Annual”.

But the world has changed. There’s an expression in the marketing world about the phenomenon of marketing to younger and younger kids, as they develop tastes and preferences increasingly quickly. It’s called “Growing Older Younger”. I think the reverse is also true. Keeping in the spirit of the phrase, I’m going to call it “Growing Younger Older”.

Sure, I have kids, a mortgage, a lawnmower, and occasionally watch something on BBC Four… but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to listen to the Mark Ronson album, or I think The Hoosiers aren’t brilliant (coz they are!).

Technology has allowed a whole generation of older people to feel connected and remain ‘young at heart’ or to have ‘grown younger older’. BBC Radio 2 was one of the first stations in the UK to really understand that you could be say, 50, and enjoy both Frank Sinatra and Coldplay… and want to hear them in the same radio show!

So where does it leave radio programmers in being able to understand our audiences. We’ll for starters, we shouldn’t abandon the good old fashioned demos just yet. It’s fair to say that there’s still a lot in common for many 25-34 year olds. However, their age is not the one thing we should focus on.

Programmers need to take a more lifestyle approach to analysis of their audience. What is the lifestyle of your main demo? What kind of people are they? What unifies them? Once you get over the ‘tyranny of the age demo’ you find it’s far easier to star segmenting your audience and deciding on what content you need to deliver for these people.

And the one thing that makes the biggest difference to your audience?


But more about programming for adults with kids another day I think. Anyhow… gotta rush. The garden centre is closing in 30 mins!!

Friday, 9 November 2007

The Auto Stream

Circulating amongst the delegates at NAB Europe was Clive Dickens from Absolute Radio. As well as running a successful consultancy, his company owns 2 radio stations in Oxford... one being the new JACK FM, of which much has already been said and written. We started to discuss the one thing that had really stood out for me about JACK FM Oxford... and surprisingly it wasn't something that I'd heard on air.

When you visit (but not until you've finished reading this if you'd be so kind...) a pretty standard radio station homepage pops up... but then within about 2 seconds, something rather exciting happens. The live stream launches... automatically...!! I remember when I first came across this I thought... "That's a bit different". And the more I thought about it.... the more it made sense. Bloody good sense.

Every time I see research on the reasons why people go to a radio stations website... usually top of the list is the reason "I want to listen live / stream the radio station". The numbers vary from 50% anywhere up to 80%! So why not make it easy for them? Save people the hassle! What's the worst that could happen? They actually get to sample the station and stay listening to it for a while? That's kinda the idea with radio isn't it?!

There are some radio stations where it is painfully difficult to launch the live stream, and on a number of occasions I've just given up after form-filling for an eternity. Life's far too short to keep giving out my 'Mother's Maiden Name' and remember what kind of connection I've got. What is a 'T1' when it's at home anyway? There's a short pre-roll ad of about 8 seconds when the JACK stream 'auto-launches', but nothing too much to put me off.... and bang... I'm straight into music. ("Simple Minds - All The Things She Said" as it happens on this occasion!)

At NAB, Clive Dickens explained to me actually how difficult it has been to technically make this 'auto-stream' happen. I may have appeared to glaze over somewhat at that point, but got the gist of it! But I think it's worth the agro he and his team went through. It will fascinating to see if JACK in the UK has pioneered something that will catch on progressively over the next 12 months globally, or if others won't want to follow suit, fearing an audience backlash.

"Dear Sir... I visited your website, and was horrified that you played music to me... without asking my permission! How very dare you! What are you? Some kind of radio station?" etc etc...

Have a think about how much you could increase TSL to your station just by adopting this idea. Worth a second thought isn't it...

Thursday, 8 November 2007

"Barcelona... And shake the foundations from the skies"

And as another conference fades away into the distance, what did we all glean from our time at NAB Europe in Barcelona? (Apart from the fact that the Arts Hotel is a jolly nice place to stay!)

There is no question that listening via digital, the convergence of online and radio, and the fact that radio is now a multi-platform, multi channel medium, dominated the topics in the conference sessions and discussions outside them too.

There was a whole extra day devoted to podcasting, and sessions about the topic in the main schedule of events... and the issue of 'time shift listening' and 'radio on demand' is something I'll return to time and time again over the next 12 months, I'm certain.

Ensuring radio stations are still create engaging and stimulating content was never far from the lips of the programming fraternity, however for the first time I've begun to notice a real sense of fragmentation in radio world.

The Futurists: These are the people who believe that for radio to survive, it needs to fully embrace the opportunities that the digital future has to offer. Radio on demand, multi channel offerings on multiple platforms, placing content where the listeners are... not expecting them to always come to you etc etc... The tone was set by Natalie Schwartz from Channel 4 Radio in her opening remarks to conference and there is little question that Channel 4 and it's services will be pushing this as much as they can once fully launched. These futurists tend to be from countries with large populations and mature radio markets.

The 'Non-Content' Collective: It was great to see someone from Pandora (Paul Brown, their 'International' MD) at the NAB Conference. I like Pandora. I think it's a very clever service and I use it at least once a week. But is it 'radio' in the classic sense of the word? Likewise there were other 'music only' streaming services represented and they, like Pandora have found a particular place in the radio world that is separate and distinct to what we know as conventional radio... but obviously very closely related. Again, in a multi-channel environment where decent on-air talent is at a premium, we can expect more and more of these kind of services to flourish. I feel a separate blog about Pandora coming soon!

The Luddites: I was surprised at how many 'old school-ers' there were around. I had several conversations with people who didn't quite grasp the impact that digital technology and the Internet will have on the traditional radio business. I'm frightened for them to be honest with you! I know different countries and different markets are at different stages in the development of radio... but pretty soon, geographical boundaries won't mean anything to a whole generation of people growing up with a sense that the world is on their doorstep, and they can access any media they want, at any time.

Larry Rosin from Edison Media Research spoke eloquently on the topic of The Infinite Dial. It's "radio's take" on that great book by Chris Anderson called 'The Long Tail', which is getting more relevant to radio day by day. Larry 'et al', are firmly in the "...let's march forward boldly into this brave new world..." camp. I confess that I will be marching with them.

Do nothing, and the danger is that your radio business will be left behind forever.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

"Barcelona - such a beautiful horizon..."

The 'good', 'bad' and sometimes 'downright ugly' of the radio world are packing their bags (no liquids more than 100ml remember!) and heading for the bright lights and tapas scented aroma of Barcelona for the annual NAB Europe Radio Conference.

It's a time where deals are done in huddled corners, new friends are made, and some old colleagues are avoided!

This conference promises to be an interesting one for several reasons. There's a good selection of sessions... something for everyone I feel, and if you're going to NAB I would be failing in my duty not to urge to to pop your head into the "Does radio have a 10% plus media share in your country?" session at 12pm on Monday! I, joined by a worldly wise panel, will set out my view of the barriers to growth in radio, what emerging markets need to do, and what the future is for developed markets in terms of growth. My crystal ball is well and truly polished!

For the first time at NAB there is a podcasting seminar on the Sunday... which indicates the growing importance of non-liner broadcasts to the radio world.

And another first... The European Radio Awards! I think this is a great idea, to try and pull a Europe wide contest together, and host a bit of a bash at the same time. Being a judge for the first year, I can say the quality of the award entries was really high with some great bits of radio being submitted. I fear I may be called upon to hand out an award. Let's hope it's early on during the evening before the plentiful and flowing supply of Rioja has kicked in...

And once the proceedings are over for another year, and we're all homeward bound with a stuffed straw donkey, china plate with a picture of a bullfight on it, and a jingle demo CD in Polish all stashed safely in our bags... I will bring you the lowdown from the NAB Conference 2007, and what we've learned this year.

Viva Espagne!

Thursday, 1 November 2007

RAJAR Qtr 3 2007

Now that the dust has settled on another set of listening figures in the UK, and the metaphorical handbags are returned to the closets, who were the winners and losers and what have we learnt this time around.

Well, the big bun fight was (as predicted) over the Breakfast Show figures in London. Who really is number one?

Capital are bullishly claiming that Johnny Vaughan is clearly number one, as his show has more listeners during the entire duration of the show. This is true... and from 6:30am till 10am there are 1.024 Million listeners.

"Stop cracking it up right there..." cries a rather bemused Dr Fox, Foxy, Neil Fox.... you know the guy. Magic's argument is that their show runs from 5:30am till 9am, and while both shows are on at the same time, 6am - 9am... Magic beats Capital. For the record, the figures are...

Magic - 885,000
Capital - 880,000
Heart - 810,000

So, who's right. Well, I feel that common sense should take over at this stage. You have to measure like for like, between 6 and 9am. Otherwise, Capital or any other station indeed, could run their breakfast show from 5am till 10:30am, and bingo... the reach of the show has increased again!

Frankly, it's all a bit of a storm in a tea cup, as the lead is so minimal versus the accuracy of the ratings data, that it could be reversed with the stroke of a pen next time round.

However, Magic are proud to claim number one commercial reach position and number one breakfast show, whilst Capital are keen to gain the PR advantage that having the number 1 morning show brings you, especially when your share figure has come off the pace of the top two.

It just shows you how fierce this battle is, and I have no doubt that the handbags will make another appearance in 3 months time!

And now... news in brief!

Well done to Choice FM who now have 611,000 listeners a week. They're really delivering a focused urban product which knows it's target audience so well.

Nice try to Xfm whose 'no DJ's in the day' thing (Called Xu... or something suitably cool) has contributed to a slump from 2% to 1.2% share. Oops! Never did like the idea!!

Moyles and Wogan are down a bit... but I don't see either of them being unduly worried!

The Hits continues to be a great success story for EMAP with 1.49Million listeners. It shows you what having a focused product on the right platforms can do! Well done guys!

With digital listening accounting for 15% of listening time in the UK, the future is firmly in the digital arena... a point I'll expand on during my session at this years NAB in Barcelona next week.