Monday, 22 December 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone...

So, as we hurtle towards Christmas like the proverbial snowball hitting the annual window of life, it’s time to wish everyone in the ‘business of radio’ across the world a very Merry Christmas / Happy Holidays / Happy New Year (delete as appropriate according to your individual beliefs!)

I mention ‘the world’, as I thought I’d have a little look at how many countries / territories this blog was read in during 2008. Thanks to the lovely people at Google Analytics, I can tell you that during the last 12 months, you... yes you, were part of a global family that extended to 76 countries no less! I’m sure we’d all wish Season’s Greetings to the good people of far-flung places such as Peru, China, Japan, Kenya, New Zealand and one which I’m most excited about... and the only one on my list that featured on outgoing President Bush’s famous ‘Axis of Evil’...come on down all you readers in... Iran!

I could be wrong, but I swear I saw a heavily disguised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sitting second row from the back at my session at NAB in London this year. He’s a big advocate of tight rotations on Hot AC formats you know...

It still amuses me that the things I write on my laptop in my kitchen, in a hotel room, at an airport lounge, waiting for my kids swimming lesson to finish etc..., can be (and seemingly are) read in a huge number of countries right across the planet.

The world of online has changed the world of radio forever. In 2009 we’ll see a further blurring of the lines between the traditional definition of “radio” and the new era of online content generation, some of it having a ‘radio style’ origin. Some territories are slightly ahead of the curve on this. Others are at a different point in the evolutionary process, but no one can deny the evidence. (Well perhaps some could!!)

Darwin himself, I’m sure, would be proud that even within a medium designed to ‘inform, educate and entertain’, there exists a form of ‘Radio Darwinism’ both in terms of content and technology. AM... to FM... to DAB / Digital / or Satellite... to Wi-Fi and streamed radio, the process evolves. And within the creative side, good ideas survive and adapt to their surroundings, while poor concepts and weak design is gradually eradicated by a process of natural selection.

I look forward to sharing new thoughts and ideas with you in 2009 that will hopefully keep us all active members of the worldwide radio gene pool.

To my merry band of wonderful clients (you know who you are!), I’ve enjoyed every minute of working alongside you and your fantastic teams in 2008. We’ve done some really good stuff together and also had some fun in the process. Here’s to a very successful 2009 to you all.

So, as the aroma of Mulled Wine drifts from the kitchen, and the fairy lights on the ‘Goodman Family Christmas Tree’ silently twinkle away, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas... wherever you are.

And to ensure you’re absolutely in Christmas mood...

Friday, 12 December 2008

Capital FM's "Jingle Bell Ball"

Christmas time is busy enough for most radio stations without the added excitement of putting together a big, multi-act concert for listeners. But this week, that’s exactly what Capital FM in London did, as they staged the ‘Jingle Bell Ball’.

The line-up was pretty good with the likes of Rihanna, Pussycat Dolls, Sugababes, Anastasia, James Blunt, James Morrison... the list goes on. And the venue... well, you can’t really get a better venue in London than The O2.

But what do big shows like this do for a radio station? Are they worth the effort? Are they worth the cost? And what’s the strategy behind them?

Many of you will remember (or have heard of) the legendary “Party in the Park” that Capital staged every summer for many years in London’s Hyde Park. A day-long event, right in the centre of London’s biggest outdoor space with multiple artists, all performing a few songs each in front of around 100,000 people. The point of it was 2 fold; first - to act as a massive marketing event for the radio station... and second, to drive audience and TSL via on air ticket giveaways.

Party in the Park as an event came to a end in the early 2000’s, as the UK was swamped with both one-day and weekend festivals. The typical commercial radio listener was being tempted by more and more live music events and perhaps the cosy and safe environment of a once unique type of multi-artist event started to look a little pedestrian, particularly as the music cycle started to swing away from ‘mainstream hits’. The “2000’s” was when normal people started going to Glastonbury... not just crusty environmentalists drinking cider from a bucket whilst keeping hold of a dog on a string.

However, with a flash and a bang (and a few whooshes), it seems we’ve returned to the good ole days, with the Jingle Bell Ball repeating the classic formula. Will it work the second time round? We shall see. But a few things we do know.

Go Large
Capital devoted a massive amount of airtime in promoting the event. During the last few weeks to the run-up, every top of hour, every piece of production and pretty much every time you turned on, you heard about it. Even the most casual P2 listener will have picked up on the fact something exciting was going on!

Line-up is Everything
Deals were done, arms were twisted, favours were called in and every record label was cajoled to provide their best act for the show because, line-up is everything. If you don’t get the line-up right and it looks and sounds a bit ‘half-baked’, then the event will never catch the imagination of the public. I think Capital did a great job on the line-up. A good mix of genres and styles... both US and UK (and let’s not forget Danish!!) and enough ‘big names’ to warrant the level of hype.

The On Air Experience
Ensuring the listener at home is not forgotten in all the excitement is pretty important. Yes, it’s a live stage show, but you can create great radio shows out of these things if you try. The build up show with Greg Burns and Margherita Taylor was just brilliant, and extremely well produced. As a listener, I felt right at the centre of the action. Actually the build up show was a lot better than the show that followed. I expected the ‘whole thing’ to be live on air, with DJ’s breaking away from the main stage at suitable moments or at turn-around times for guest interviews, but instead we got the edited highlights and ‘recorded earlier’ moments. It wasn’t bad... it’s just that when I tuned in at 7pm, I wanted to hear the big stage opening, instead of 3 in a row of London’s Most Wanted songs! But all in all, the on air experience of the event was a good one.

Spin Off Content
This is where the Capital team really delivered something special on this occasion. Take a look at the website and all the different bit of ‘spin off’ content there is for you to view and listen to. Video is as important as audio and although it isn’t cheap to hire the production facilities, it’s worthwhile when you look at some of the quality output. From photos galleries, to listener pictures; podcasts to merchandise for sale; blogs to forums... the line extension from the initial product (a stage show) is tremendous and a good demonstration of what you can do when you plan to extend your primary proposition and maximise the potential of the event.

So... was it all worth it? Well, there’s no doubt that Capital put on a great show and should be congratulated for that. It has attempted to signal a new found confidence in the once mighty station and certainly shows that Global Radio are prepared to invest heavily in the Capital brand to get it back on track. How long that investment can continue in the current trading climate is another question. And how deep are the investors pockets?

Meanwhile, don’t be surprised if we see a return to some of the other things that made Capital famous in the 80’s and 90’s. We’ve already got the US voiceover back. So the ‘Birthday Game’ anyone? Or what about a big multi-artist event in the middle of summer... in a park... a kind of party in a park if you like... Now there’s an idea.