Monday, 7 July 2008

Radio Festival - Glasgow 2008 - The Verdict!

So, as the whiff of ‘vats’ of mass-produced Haggis subsides, and the unmistakable hangover that cheap Scotch gives you is a now all but a distant memory, we can collectively stand back and admire the event that was ‘The Radio Festival – Glasgow 2008’.

For our international readers, although the word ‘festival’ implies images of tents, mud, pyramid stages, fire-eaters, strange pagan rituals etc… I can assure you that if you substitute the word ‘festival’ for the word ‘conference’, you’ll get more of a sense of the occasion!

Some of the more interesting stuff that occurred included the findings from the Digital Radio Working Group, much of which had been publicised in advance, but nonetheless made for quite an interesting listen. You can read the whole report for yourself here, but some of the most salient bits included the recommendation for a full migration to digital radio in the UK. When? Well – that’s the $64,000 question they dodge by saying… ‘When the market is ready’, but at latest by 2020!

With 7 Millions sets in the UK, DAB is doing quite well. But we seem to be in a bit of a no-mans land currently. We’re too far away from the tipping point to set a date for full migration, and far too far down the road to say ‘Let’s ditch DAB and go with something else’. Certainly, a lot of clever minds are on this one and it was nice to see them demonstrate that they’re thinking about it. Getting it right is the most vital thing the UK radio industry has probably ever faced.

A debate about ‘rights’ and the current agreements in place regarding PRS-MCPS and PPL, although sounding fairly dull, was actually pretty interesting. Although the guys from the collection societies stated that they “weren’t coming to get us”… I think they are! With declining physical sales and the number of illegal downloads outnumbering legal ones by a factor of 10 to 1, the record companies and artists are going to squeeze as much as they can out of anyone who uses their content, and radio is no exception. I did feel like pointing out that there are territories like the UAE, (where I work in the Dubai market), where there are no copyright agreements in place and big media organisations are paying absolutely nothing to artists for using their copyrighted material to make large profits. Meanwhile in the UK, PRS are chasing the owners of sandwich shops making sure they’ve got a licence! Perhaps they should try and recoup some money from these territories? Back at home, the ‘promotional value’ that radio offers is still a good argument, particularly in light of some interesting research that shows radio is still the most significant factor for people in discovering new music. Expect fireworks on this topic soon!

The session on the future of music radio seemed to conclude that the answer was…. speech! Well… actually it was the importance of personalities and DJ’s within the music radio setting to be honest with you. And new music, of course. People reassuringly still use the radio to hear new music. But it was nice to see some recognition of the role of the DJ as personality or ‘trusted guide’. Otherwise, we’ll all become jukeboxes with different bit of production, which anyone can replicate these days.

Other sessions worthy of a mention include the ‘Showbiz news’ session, where some argued that we’re all obsessed with the cult of celebrity and it has no place on the radio. Well at least on Radio Scotland! Rod McKenzie from BBC Radio 1 was eloquent and considered in his view on this topic and others, which is probably why overall, BBC Radio 1 News is in such a good state. He wrote some interesting thoughts about this session on his Editors Blog.

And Matthew Bannister reminded us why he rose to the dizzy heights of Director of BBC Radio and went on to become Chief Executive of BBC Production and the Corporation's first Board-level Director of Marketing and Communication. This is because he’s bloody good at getting a point across, and his view that ‘compliance is stifling creativity’ was made with both wit and gravitas. He touched on something that everyone in a creative role should remember. Don’t ‘not do’ something because you might get in trouble, or too many rules may prevent you. "Fortes fortuna adiuvat” (I knew that Latin GCSE would come in handy one day!)

Finally, a couple of less so positive points; If you’re going to have a debate about ‘localness in radio’, please get people who actually understand something about local radio on the panel! The GMG debate that kicked the festival off was really quite terrible in the choice of speakers and in the arguments that were presented. And without sounding unkind, the Community Radio sector, valid as it is, seemed to be an unnecessary distraction in the programme of sessions. I suggest that there should be a separate day for community radio, as sitting though a detailed analysis of why ‘Celtic Music Radio’ is such a success in certain parts of Glasgow, made me want to stab myself repeatedly with my cheap, disposable, ‘delegate bag’ pen.

All in all though, a worthy trip north of the border and The Radio Festival continues to be a good forum for debate of some of the key issues that face UK radio currently.

Right – I’ve had enough of rainy Britain. I’m off to Dubai to form a royalties collection agency…

1 comment:

Javed Sattar said...

Hi Nick,
as much as i respect your views on radio, and whatever your knowledge of Community Radio i would like to point out that maybe 'Celtic Music Radio wasn't a great example in this short space of time.
CR is here, its made possible by lots of volunteers, not everyone listens to everything but a lot of people do engage with and listen to their community radio station. this sectors is poorly funded, its also a sector where new talent will emerge from. you are right about one thing, get local people. we all are local people with possibly a community radio station on our door step, get involved and give your skills to those who may need it.
njoy sunny Dubai.