Friday, 22 February 2008

Prize Pig

Giving away hot tickets for a big event continues to be an audience winner. Giving away hot tickets for a big event in another country is even better! So, well done to all the guys at client station Radio Expres in Slovakia for pulling off a great bit of radio this week.

Radio Expres is a national, commercial Hot AC station based in Bratislava and is by far the number 1 station in the country, with a 26% share! As you’d expect, they don’t do things by half… and so with The Brit Awards coming they decided not only to send a couple of the DJ’s over to cover the Brits live, backstage at Earls Court, but to do hot ticket giveaway for a couple of their listeners. And I’d like to share the mechanic with you…

The station announced that listeners had the chance to win two VIP tickets for Brits, but the listeners had to offer the station something in exchange. On the first day, the station was flooded with offers for the tickets in exchange for a whole range of things including a plastic surgery operation... a cart full of wood (!)... and even a couples wedding rings!!

The person who was initially chosen, offered to have the Radio Expres logo tattooed on his arm! So he won the tickets – but here’s the twist.... he had to “come good” with his promise of the tattoo within 24 hours or he’d loose the tickets! As it happens, he bottled it, lost the tickets and game started again. So the next morning amongst all the strange and random offers that came in, someone offered... wait for it... two big roasted pigs (!!) and the morning guys (Dodo and Noro) decided that it was a great offer! So this guy got the tickets upon (presumably upon presentation of the pigs!)

The mechanic really gets going at this point though. Every morning, a listener came on the morning show and offered the current holder of the tickets something in exchange for them. It was up to the holder (in this case, the pig dude) to decide if he wanted to keep the tickets or exchange them for whatever was being offered to him to keep.

For the next 7 days, 'Mr Pig Roast' was offered everything from weekend trips & holidays, male and female servants, and Audio A8, some sperm (nice!!!), a cemetery plot... absolutely everything you can imagine! On the final day, the station arranged for one listener to come to the studio with 1,000,000 Slovak Crowns (well, 999,999 as "...only a fool would offer 1,000,000" so he said!) stuffed into a leather bag! Would Mr Pig Roast swap the tickets for a stash of cash??

Cue a great 'tension moment' that works so well on radio. You can watch action unfold on the video below.

No Deal!!! Mr Pig Roast sooo wanted to go to the Brits... and on Wednesday night this week, he and his partner had a great time watching the show live at Earls Court in London and then partying at the big backstage orgy that always follows! Plus of course the station had their guys there to broadcast all the highlights right from the centre of the action.

It’s a really good example of how to reflect and get involved in a big music event (like the Brits) on your station, and then create a fun, entertaining and talkable contest, getting the audience involved with some naturally entertaining moments.

More roasted pig anyone??

Monday, 18 February 2008

"A great philosopher once wrote..."

OK – ‘Soapbox’ time.

I never make a real point of reading the ‘Radio Review’ columns that most broadsheet papers in the UK run… but I occasionally stumble across one (mainly due to carelessness) when trying to find, in the listings, the broadcast time that a great documentary is on BBC Four! (Honest!)

So yesterday, when I accidentally cast my eyes across Paul Donovan’s column in The Sunday Times, I thought I’d give it a go. After all it had been a tumultuous week in UK radio, with GCap’s DAB announcement still sending ripples of excitement through the broadsheets. So I imagined the Sunday Times radio commentator would be begging the editor for more space than his usual 600 word allowance to wax lyrical about DAB / Jazz music on radio / classic rock / listener choice…. you name it!!

Sure enough, the first 3 lines alluded to the planned closure of Planet Rock and The Jazz and the tweaking of the Classic FM schedule… but then the esteemed Paul Donovan seemed somewhat determined to crowbar in a story he had planned to write anyway about BBC Radio 1 and Judge Jules, and got to it with the awkwardness of a 1st Year GCSE English student.

Not only did he fail to give any musings on the demise of 2 stations enjoyed by almost a million listeners between them, but he then forced on the readers what I can only describe as a pompous, haughty, lecturing, ostentatious, vindictive and out of touch ‘personal viewpoint’.

You really need to read it to believe it, but the thrust of it was that BBC Radio 1’s Judge Jules made an off the cuff remark buried deep within ones of his links that went…

“The last time I heard that, I was chewing my face off in a field in the early Nineties.”

This remark led to our great radio reviewer using his column to launch into a massive ‘anti-ecstasy’ rant quoting all sorts of statistics and basically suggesting that Jules was a drug-fuelled fiend and practically gives away Ecstasy tablets on his show! (OK – He doesn’t suggest that at all, but I think you can tell he’s not a fan of Jules!)

I think what annoyed me most, was the phrase…

“He should know better”

I mean… come on. Please. I wanted to read a review about radio or some sort of comment on the state of the industry this week, not get ‘Victorian Dad’ lecturing me that taking drugs is bad. And as if to illustrate the point further, he suggests that one of the reasons that Jules should know better is… wait for it… that he’s related to the celebrity chef Rick Stein. Oh dear… oh dear!
I thought the Sunday Times was better than this.

Of course, Paul Donovan contacted Radio 1 to ‘grass Jules up’ for being a despicable peddler of filth. (I suspect that no-one else was too bothered about this remark and I can’t see the Duty Log running out of space at that time). Being the BBC, they naturally said that the comment was “inappropriate.” I’m sure the Radio 1 Press Office were stifling their laughter during the phone call!

Our anachronistic columnist was seemingly delighted at this supposed ‘telling off’ and ended his piece with the classic lines…
“Quite right too. Next time, he should get the chop”

It sounded more like The Daily Mail with every word. I think that perhaps the author also has an issue with the licence fee being used for Radio 1 to play dance music.

“What the station needs to do now is consider the acceptability of its 12-hour dance-music marathon, which runs from 7pm on Friday to 7am on Saturday. It offers “piping-hot tunes”, “hot mixes” and “remixes”, the sort of hypnotic music that people listen to when they go clubbing.”

Bizarre. Perhaps dance music doesn’t live up to his Reithein interpretation of “Entertainment”.
I’m a pretty mild-mannered radio consultant and not really prone to outbursts of this nature (most of the time!) but this kind of disconnected attitude means that when people under 65 do actually read Paul Donovan’s column, they’ll be put off for life.
There’s a documentary on BBC Radio 4 tomorrow where Gyles Brandreth celebrates the 100th Birthday of the character ‘Billy Bunter’. Much more up your street I think Mr. Donovan! Look forward to not reading the review next week.

Monday, 11 February 2008

"It's Like Rain... on your Wedding Day"

Can this gift I received on the 9th May 2005 now be filed under 'ironic?'

Nice little plaque though, don't you think?!

The Big DAB Gamble!

This morning’s announcement by Fru Hazlitt, (CEO of GCap Media) that “DAB is not viable”, is quite a momentous moment. Far be it from me to dramatise further an already dramatic announcement, but this is huge.

You’ve probably read all the facts elsewhere, but to put this all in context, here are some of the headlines from GCap’s statement this morning:

- Closure of national DAB stations Planet Rock and The Jazz
- Sell all the Xfm stations outside London or hand the licences back
- Sell off stake in Digital One Multiplex
- Abandon Capital’s ‘2 ads in a row’ policy
- Call for the switch off of AM

This ‘defence plan’ as it has been called, is really a last throw of the dice for GCap (even if it’s Fru’s first throw at this particular table). Global are hovering ‘vulture-like’ and we’ll see what the next few weeks bring. But back to the DAB issue. The UK’s largest commercial player has come out and basically said, “We think DAB is rubbish and we’re bailing out while we can”. Is this right, or are they just responding to a difficult economic climate, cutting costs, and dealing with a legacy of investment and belief in DAB which bordered on religious fervour, from Ralph et al.

This kind of puts commercial radio in an awkward spot as they’re now very divided with Bauer seemingly doing well with The Hits, Smash Hits, Heat Radio, and Q Radio and ready to launch ‘Closer’ as a radio brand. (No coincidence the timing of the press release to herald the announcement of Ric Blaxill joining Bauer’s national digital brands! He actually joined a while ago but this bit of pro-DAB PR says to the world… “We’re still investing in DAB and doing fine thank you very much”!!) And Channel 4 constantly have to put out statements saying how committed they are to the 2nd national multiplex.

So let’s try and make sense of this all. I believe Fru’s thinking was that the best way for GCap to survive as a company was to do something dramatic. The City loves bold initiatives. You take a gamble and hope that the city / investors back you. The ‘red or black’ scenario is a common one and GCap has gone for a defensive option of cutting where it can save most… DAB. The net spend in 2007/07 was £8 Million. This, combined with the other measures announced will hopefully placate the city and investors enough to not be tempted by an improved offer from Global in the next few weeks. I thought the comment from Charles Allen on the Times Online was a good one: “You can’t shrink your way to growth”. We shall see.

The sad thing about all this is that all the papers tomorrow will write “DAB in Crisis / The End of Digital Radio / Digital Killed The Radio Star” etc. There’s no doubt that the economics of it are challenging, particularly at the moment, however there is still a belief from many within commercial radio (not to mention the BBC!) who fervently believe in it. So GCap backing out of DAB should be seen more in the context of a company trying to survive this year “It’s about the here and now” – (Fru Hazlitt), rather than sounding the death knell for a technology that is already in around a quarter of homes in the UK.

Let’s spare a thought for the people at GCap. It can’t be a great place to be today. Planet Rock and The Jazz are both really good radio stations staffed by people who want to make great radio day in day out. And the Xfm sell off will no doubt affect a large swathe of employees. Plus, I wouldn’t place much money on the newly re-launched ‘Gold’ surviving. It’s on AM and DAB… both platforms are on today’s blacklist. They’ll be a lot of good people going home tonight with rather glum faces.

Two final thoughts on what probably should have been about 5 postings! (Sorry!!)

Capital is ditching its ‘only 2 ads in a row’ policy. Last year that policy cost the company almost £6 Million. About bloody time!! It was never the ‘silver bullet’ it was trumpeted to be at the time and was a great demonstration on how to loose £6 Million a year with no tangible benefit.

And ‘Jerry’s Final Thought’ today… What a damning indictment of the post merger GCap / ‘Bernard’ era today’s announcement is. Talk about a public slap in the face. Actually - it’s more like a public flogging! (Except the perpetrators are exiting stage left with rather large cheques in their back pockets and no whip marks visible!)

This will go down as one of commercial radio’s biggest U-turns ever… and the history of this company is almost comedic if the real twists and turns were laid out for all to see. Let’s pause… take breathe… and wait for the next roll of the dice as we remember the words of American playwright Wilson Mizner…

"Gambling… The sure way of getting nothing from something!"

Monday, 4 February 2008

"What's the Story, Morning Glory?" / "Spinning Around" - RAJAR Qtr 4, 2007

So what did the RAJAR fairies deliver for Qtr 4 2007 then? What was the big talking point this quarter? And how was it spun?

Well, it’s difficult to get away from the continued dominance of BBC Radio against commercial radio (perceived and real!). Chris Moyles record 7.31 Million listeners is an excellent result… no doubt about it, and he’s within shouting distance of Terry Wogan on Radio 2 with just 420,000 listeners in it. If, as I predict he will, overtake Wogan, then we can expect the Radio 1 PR machine to go into overdrive!!

It was interesting to see how commercial radio was fighting back against the might of the BBC in terms of PR. (As we know, sometimes the figures are irrelevant, merely what do stations want readers to believe!) In particular, the point that Johnny Vaughan on Capital and Jamie & Harriet on Heart both beat Moyles in London.

I won’t bore you with the figures (this time around!) but even when you fiddle around with the different times the shows are on, there is certainly a preference for commercial services at breakfast verses Radio 1.

Mark Browning, PD of Heart 106.2 was quoted on Media Guardian saying:

"The London market tells us that if commercial radio was freed up from the regulatory burden it is constrained by so it could share best practice across the UK then the real winner would be the listener. Where listeners have a strong commercial radio proposition, and a strong BBC, as they do in London they are choosing commercial radio. We need Ofcom to let us give listeners more choice and better commercial radio."

This is not an accidental ‘off the cuff’ remark by the very eloquent Mr. Browning! It seems that at any opportunity commercial radio is going to lobby Ofcom for a more liberal approach to what it can and can’t do, with the endgame surely being a networked ‘Jamie and Harriet’ and ‘Johnny and Denise’. The theory being that only networked big name talent will be able to compete with Radio 1 in local markets. It’s an interesting thought and one I will expand upon in a future posting.

Meanwhile, there were the usual ups and downs for most stations / groups and naturally they tried to make the best of what they had in their press releases. There’s an interesting article in today’s Guardian where journalist Paul Smith discusses the tactics used by stations to put a positive shine on their figures. I’m surprised that he feels so surprised himself! (I suspect he's not that suprised actually!). Of course stations try to make things sound good!! Far be it from me to suggest that journalists (even in The Guardian) sometimes try to make a story sound more sensational than it actually is!! It’s a good piece nonetheless, and shows that PR is still such an important weapon in the battle for listeners and the figures will keep spinning!