Tuesday, 29 January 2008

A Converging World

In another indication that the traditional linear media world is trying to keep up with pace of change, BBC Three, the BBC’s youth entertainment TV station, announced a new raft of programme and policy changes last week.

Alongside new programmes, (some of which sound pretty good actually – but we’ll wait to see them first!), according to the press release, BBC Three is set to become the first non-news BBC channel to transform from a linear service to a fully joined-up, multi-platform venture – a space in which all forms of content can live seamlessly across TV and online. Sounds good.

Programmes will be simulcast across television and the web. They’ll be a commitment to placing innovative, interactive ideas at the heart of key programmes with high production values placed on online content. User-generated content will be integrated into the heart of the peak-time schedule too. Quite a nice idea is that viewers will be able to upload clips of themselves introducing their favourite BBC Three programmes. I like that.

BBC Three controller Danny Cohen believes that this will allow the audience to have a sense of ownership over BBC Three through unique cross-platform presentation techniques. Danny says: "The thinking behind this re-brand of the channel is that we have, in effect, created a BBC Three world in which our content can move seamlessly between TV, online and mobile. We have a fantastic line-up of programmes and we are going to make them available wherever young people want them."

What can radio learn from this? Well, as is well documented, the relationship between the traditional content generators and ‘the audience’ has changed irrevocably due to the availability of the means of production. Therefore rather than fight it, embrace it! Radio stations, particularly those aimed at the younger markets, should ensure that content can work on lots of platforms and has extensions in those areas. Is the morning show filming all the best interviews and sticking them on YouTube? Do memorable moments or catchphrases from the show become available as downloads or ringtones? Do listeners feel they have an open door to provide you with content? Of course the balance needs to be right and I'd be hesitant to just hand over the airwaves to listeners completely, but there needs to be an aknowledgement that the world of radio is changing too.

In a converging media world, “radio” is even more about creating great, multi-platform content. Let’s not get hung up on the old world view of what a radio programme was or should be. Let’s embrace the technology as much as we can and see where it takes us.

Worst Positioning Statement in UK Radio...

With the Oscars ceremony just around the corner (possibly!) and Hollywood in full flight with the ‘awards season’ it seems fitting to present an award myself… the "Worst Positioning Statement in UK Radio" award.

And the winner is… (drum roll sfx)… new community station Preston FM! And what is the brilliant and inspiring positioning statement that they’ve come up with?
“Preston FM – Stay Pressed On”.

I’m sorry guys… but come on!!! ‘Stay Pressed On’? For crying out loud!!

Not only is it a bad pun… (Preston / Pressed On), it doesn’t really work either. I’ve never been in a meeting at any radio station where we’ve said… “yeah… we’ve got to keep our listeners pressed on a bit more”. Tuned In… turned on… all of the clich├ęs have been done, but ‘pressed on’? It sounds like some sort of strapline for a feminine hygiene product!!

As an open appeal to, what are I’m sure the very nice people behind the community radio station Preston FM... please reconsider. Please! I’ll quite happily give you 5 suitably generic positioning statements for your community station… but don’t go to air with that one!

(OK – I think I’ve made my point)

Your award is in the post.

Friday, 18 January 2008

RadioCentre Training Days

One of the recent developments that has been really good for the UK commercial radio industry has been the creation of an umbrella trade body called ‘RadioCentre’. RadioCentre formed in July 2006 from the merger of the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) and the Commercial Radio Companies Association (CRCA). Its members consist of the overwhelming majority of UK Commercial Radio stations who also fund the organisation.

RadioCentre do a whole host of things for commercial radio, one of which is provide training for presenters and programmers alike. For many years, people working in commercial radio really only got training just “doing the job”, but there’s now, fortunately, an understanding that if we want a healthy and vibrant industry, we need to ensure we’re sharing as much knowledge as possible and developing our presenters and programmers.

I’ve been asked by the excellent guys at ‘United Radio’ (who provide some of the training days) to host a couple of sessions as part of RadioCentre’s 2008 training programme.

If you’re interested, here are the details:

Advanced Presenter Coaching – 25th February 2008 (London)
This is a one-day seminar aimed at Programme Controllers / Programme Directors, Producers, and any one who is directly involved in coaching on-air talent. Investing time in developing talent is one of the most important areas within programming, but is often overlooked. How do you get the best out of your presenters? How do you manage big egos as well as focusing on developing promising new talent? What are the most effective ways of providing feedback to your presenters? This seminar covers specific tips and techniques for coaching presenters and provides programmers with a useful and practical advice that will help them develop their talent.

How to be a better presenter… - 20th March 2008 (Bristol)
This is a one-day seminar aimed at presenters broadcasting in small to medium size markets, on all dayparts. In a crowded radio market, how do you make your shows stand out from the rest? When you have fewer resources than the big guys, what are some of the ideas you can use to make your show sound bigger and better. This practical seminar covers specific tips, tricks and techniques for making listeners listen longer - and keeping coming back for more.

Each seminar costs £110 (...a bloody bargin if you ask me!!) and if you’d like to attend, you should email the lovely Lucy Forster at RadioCentre (lucy@radiocentre.org). In the great tradition of things like this… book early as places are limited!!

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

"Float...Float... Float On"

In a crowded radio market, it’s often new and different angles on classic ideas that grab the audience’s attention. What are the things that would make you say “Wow – that’s a fun idea”… or “That’s different”. Ultimately, what makes people notice something in a sea of available content?

Virgin Radio in the UK have just delivered one of those moments for me. I’m sure we all appreciate the classic idea of getting an artist to perform an ‘up close and personal’ gig to a select number of prize-winners. It’s tried and tested. How can you make it different? Well… varying the venue is the easiest way. Bring the artist to a listener’s house, take them to a local pub, go busking with them on the Subway. There are lots of variations.

The one which caught my eye this week was getting the great singer / songwriter Newton Faulkner to perform “Unplugged and Airborne”. Take the artist, some lucky winners, a DJ and a film crew up in a hot air balloon… and fly it over the Swiss Alps. “

“Wow – that’s fun idea!”

Its things like this that get radio stations noticed, talked about and add to the brand image. Think about what twist on a classic idea you could run on your station and have the confidence to make it happen. I’d love to hear of other great examples like this.

Well done Virgin Radio. A nice bit of attention grabbing radio. The session isn’t bad either! Take a look for yourself...

'Unplugged and Airborne' by Newton Faulkner

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Star Signing

Hardly a week goes past at the moment without something exciting happening at London's Capital 95.8... and this week is no exception.

"Come on down... Denise Van Outen", new co-host with Johnny Vaughan. Either a shrewd move to re-create some of the on air chemistry that existed on Channel 4's "The Big Breakfast"... or a signing that will only have an impact on the budget and not the audience?

Cast your mind back to 1997. The Spice Girls were in the charts and on tour (1st time around), Bill Clinton was President of the USA, Tony Blair had just been elected as Prime Minister, and we all thought that Hanson were the next big thing in music. Mmm Bop indeed!

Well that was the time that Johnny and Denise were on The Big Breakfast together. Seems like a while ago now! Many people just won't have seen the show with them on it, and if you were 25 in 1997, you'll be around 35 now... and possibly more into the dulcet tones of Jamie and Harriet on Heart or even Foxy on Magic. (Wogan only really kicks in when you're over 40!)

Having said that, Denise is having a bit of revival at present. She performed well as a judge on the BBC TV's 'Any Dream Will Do' show, and she's a down to earth, homegrown, cheeky Essex girl made good. If anyone can be 'the strong female' up against Johnny, it was either going to be Liza Tarbuck or Denise Van Outen.

What this signing shows is that 'star power' is alive and well. Radio stations are still prepared to get out their cheque book and hand over the cash in exchange for the media equity a star can bring to the show. (My guess is that Denise would be on a 2 year deal starting at at least £750,000 for year 1)

When looking for a new breakfast show, stations often ask should they go for an established star or develop their own? Well, if you can afford it, and the right star is available that matches your brand perfectly... go for it. Stars bring a lot of heritage (good and bad), instant familiarity and certainly drive listener trial.

Capital may just have played a trump card in the London Breakfast Show war. And for those of who can't wait for for the magic...

Friday, 4 January 2008

New Year Checklist

Happy New Year! Have you managed to break any of your New Year’s resolutions yet? Well to take your mind of having to drink less and exercise more, I’ve drawn up ‘The Programmers New Year Checklist – Top 10’. Here are some practical tips to help you with the things that are often the most basic, but often the most over-looked items in music radio. New Year is a great time to make sure your ‘programming’ house is in order and refresh that list you’ve been meaning to get round to all year!

1. Music Categories
Unless you’re totally disciplined with the size of your music categories, over time there occurs some natural growth within the categories or “category creep” as I call it. This is especially true with ‘recurrents’ where there’s a tendency to take something that’s been a great testing song, and stick it into recurrents, without removing something else in turn. Before you know it, the recurrent category has grown by 50% and the turnaround of these big, ‘bread and butter’ songs has slowed right down. Carry out a mini audit on all of your categories. Are they still the desired size to maximise your rotations? Make sure that category creep hasn’t got the better of you.

2. Clock Refresh
New Year is a great time to refresh all of your clocks. If you have a good clock structure in place, the temptation is to leave it be. That’s not bad practise, but it’s always nice to refresh the order of things. For example, if you run ‘flip clocks’ and the 7am sequence is starts with a Classic, then a Recurrent, then an A list record… and 8am sequence goes Recurrent, Classic, A List – swap things around so that you break the pattern of predictability. It’s amazing how fresh you can make things sound just by changing the order of your flip clocks around. Does every 20 minute sweep really represent the sound of your station? Now’s a great time to check!

3. Production Audit
Production can get quite stale over time. It’s a little bit like wallpaper. You don’t really notice it because you see it every day, but under closer inspection, you may see it’s a bit worn out and needs replacing! I recently listened again to a station that I had worked at over 5 years ago. They’re still running the same sweepers that I’d put on the air way back then… and it’s 2008 now! It’s an extreme example, but it shows it can happen. What are the cuts that have served you well, but probably need to be rested now? How can you refresh the sound, but stay true to your key messages and positioning? Spend some time with your production and listen again to every cut, and make some bold decisions.

4. Aircheck Schedule

One of the most effective ways of improving you product is to spend time with your presenters in one-to-one aircheck sessions. Programme Directors are of course very busy people (!) and one of the casualties is often ‘meetings with presenters’ and airchecks. I’ve seen PD’s strike out a whole week of sessions from their diaries and not give it a second thought. Make 2008 the year you devote to your talent. They are the single biggest category investment your station makes, and leaving ratings success down to between 5 and 10 people who don’t have regular feedback is a gamble I wouldn’t be prepared to take. Put together a realistic Aircheck Schedule allowing more time for morning shows and key daytime presenters, and try and stick to it!

5. On-Air Activity Calendar
The arrival of 2008 is a great time to look ahead throughout the year and start to put together an on-air activity calendar. It’s a really useful tool for programmers and will guide you through the year ensuring there’s always something on the table for listeners. Not only can you plot all your station led activity and major promotions on it, but you can plot all sorts of things that might appeal to your listeners and have an on air angle to it. Madonna’s birthday… do a Madonna day; the release of the new Harry Potter film… stage a “Harry Potter-thon” event at a local multiplex. Use it as an excuse to stay connected and topical as well as control over your content.

6. Station Cross Promotional Schedule
Morning Shows always get good cross promotional airtime with some stations running promos every hour across the day. But how often do the other great shows in your schedule get some well needed cross promotion? Use the New Year as an opportunity to develop a Station Cross Promotional Schedule where you start to plot in some airtime to promote other shows. For example, in January you may decide to run a burst of 4 weeks promoting Drivetime, while in February, that great Late Show that you know your core audience would love if they just got to sample it, might really benefit from a run of cross promos and live reads. You can’t always promote everything all the time… but you can put a great plan together to make sure you’re recycling listeners back into the station.

7. Online Integration
Take a look at your station’s website today. How much does it reflect what you’re doing on air? Are there “morning show extras”… the bits behind the scenes or the bits you couldn’t broadcast”! Are your DJ’s blogging? Is there a great photo gallery your loyal fans can visit to see all the good guests that have stopped by? And can visitors to the site find out how to ‘listen live’ really easily? Make sure that 2008 is a great year for your online offering and that you approach this year understanding the importance of converging technologies.

8. News
I once met a Programme Director who said “The news guys can do what they want with their 3 minutes at the top of each hour!” Wrong. Journalists, with the best will in the world, can sometimes allow a little bit of ‘news drift’, where the style and content can steadily move away from what you decided in that ‘news strategy’ meeting 6 months ago. Spend a day this month auditing the news output and ensure your news is in sync with the rest of your programming and the news team understand what you need them to do and how important their role is in 2008.

9. Target
Use the New Year as an opportunity to gather your programming team together and remind them of the focus of the station. (It’s actually something worth doing several times a year). Ensuring everyone understands exactly who you’re talking to, what kind of things they’re in to and the lives they lead will really help your on air team to focus on your audience.

10. Sponsorships & Promotions
Schedule a meeting as soon as you can outside your normal ‘promotions’ meeting to talk about your expectations and ambitions for your on-air sponsorships & promotions in 2008. Was the prize level last year a little on the low side? Did you carry some promotions with no brand-fit whatsoever? And did the sales guys agree to a really long tag line without getting programming approval first? New Year is a great moment to wipe the slate clean and lay out your vision for how S&P will integrate into the product in 2008. Getting Sponsorship and Promotions right is a crucial part of any radio station. Start the year off on the right foot!

Actually any of this ‘Top 10 Checklist’ is applicable at any time of the year, but the New Year is a great moment to stop, re-set and move the bar a little higher in 2008. Have a great year!

This article was written for the latest edition of the Blue Revolution ‘e-Zine’. You can subscribe to it at www.bluerevolution.com