Wednesday, 31 March 2010

"Classic Tracks and Today's Best Shaving..."

On the plane back from the conference I was speaking at in Lisbon last week, I opened the locally printed version of The Daily Mail (it was the only paper they had and not my regular choice of paper... honest!) and I came across this ad.

Nice to see a bit of marketing for radio station, even if it is pretty basic. These days it’s kinda rare to see any radio station running press ads!!

I actually went online to Central FM and tuned in. (Shame the positioning statement on the website doesn’t match the marketing however...)

I listened for 10 minutes out of interest... and the DJ was doing a promotion for a device that extends the life of your razor blade. Basically, if you use this device, apparently you can get over 100 shaves from just 1 blade. It was nice to see they’d extended the activity online, and had pictures of the DJ’s and a count of how many shaves they’d had from just 1 blade each etc.

But blimey... this link went on forever and ever, and I felt like I was listening to a TV shopping channel. “Undue prominence”? Ofcom would have had a field day if it was in the UK!

From what started out as a bit of interesting promotional content that I was actually genuinely intrigued about, I ended up hating the brand and never wanting to hear about it again, and promising to myself to grow a beard in protest.

Moral of the story... Don’t think you’re doing a favour for your clients by overselling their product or brand. It’s a turn off and actually does more damage than good.

By the way Central FM, there are far better records by The Hoosiers to play than Cops and Robbers! :-)

Monday, 29 March 2010

Absolute Classic Rock - 'The Great British Guarantee'.

UK station 'Absolute Classic Rock' relaunched today with a rather nice music propostition. At the start of every hour, every day, they'll play some great British songs back to back. They call it 'The Great British Guarantee'.

I tuned in today to take a quick listen, and sure enough... at the top of hour I got The Who, Billy Idol, David Bowie and Genesis. Very nice and very British.
It's true that British Classic Rock is a very definitive genre and hangs together well regardless of the era that it's from. You can easily draw a line from The Kinks to Blur, from The Beatles to Oasis and from David Bowie to... well, to everyone!
The interesting question to ask is why this move has taken place? I guess we can assume that analysis of research over recent years has shown that British Classic Rock has proved particularly popular in terms of artists and songs, and also as a 'cultural definer'. There's something about the ongoing 'coolness' of bands like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin that make a station playing old rock records seem relevant in a contemporary radio offering.

I wonder if there's an attempt to differentiate between Absolute Classic Rock and Planet Rock, the other commercial Classic Rock station that's available nationwide on DAB.
As a very crude experiment, I randomly listened to 3 'Top of Hour' songs from Planet Rock last week. I got Nirvana, Kiss and Pearl Jam... all US bands. Coincidence? Luck of the draw? Or do Planet Rock have a more US skew which Absolute are trying to provide an alternative to? Alice Cooper on Breakfast is great... but is just very American!

The listening figures show Planet Rock reach 698,000 listeners every week, whilst Absolute Classic Rock reach 217,000. So there's certainly some room for Absolute to grow in the Classic Rock space.

And perhaps playing more British Classic Rock is the key.

Rock on!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Radiodays Europe - Rewind

The first ever ‘Radiodays Europe’ took place last week in Copenhagen. Designed to fill the gap left by the increasingly redundant NAB Europe, it provided a fresh perspective to many of the issues being discussed right around Europe. The conference was really well attended with more than 400 delegates from over 30 countries.

So what did we all glean from this orgy of European radio chit-chat?

Well, I think it’s fair to say that one of the main themes was addressing how radio evolves in an integrated media world, where there are multiple platforms for content consumption. Radio is at a huge crossroads and this was communicated passionately and eloquently by Tim Davie, Head of BBC Audio and Music, who quite easily dismissed the notion that radio has no option but to seek a digital future. It can’t be the only medium just to bury its head in the sand and pretend FM will do just fine thank you very much.

Many, including myself, agree completely, but there are always a few nay-sayers. When even the Book industry is turning to digital delivery and technologies, it’s time for us all in radio to embrace the digital future.

The debate about which technologies will become dominant is somewhat immaterial, as the most vital thing for radio is quality content... a sentiment echoing throughout the conference. Quality radio needs to be available to our listeners on as many platforms as possible and making it easy for listeners to find and enjoy our content is the next big challenge.

The UK Radio Player, an initiative between BBC and Commercial radio got a good reaction when demonstrated, but talk in the corridors was very much ‘we couldn’t get that kind of collaboration in our country’. Well, guess what? You can! It just takes the each domestic radio industry to try and put aside short term differences and focus on the long term survival of radio, let alone growth. Short termism would be a nail in the coffin of radio.

The topic of visualising radio as well as interacting with audiences via social networks was also discussed in many sessions. There is no doubt that devices in future will all have screens and we need to put something on them, so working on solutions is important. There are already lots of great examples out there of good work in this field. Videoing great bits of audio content and putting them online for a deeper listener experience is NOT bad TV. It’s something completely different, and again, some Luddite radio purists said that they never want to see a camera in radio studio in order to preserve the ‘magic’ of radio. Well, I’m afraid the world has moved on and radio is a bit different these days. “Play Misty For Me” was 1971!!

There was great case studies and stories of radio using social networking to get a richer experience for listeners and to spread the brand and content from it to a wider public. I think a lot of stations will be revisiting their Facebook strategies after hearing some of the presentations last week... and quite right too. It’s a massive tool in the battle for ‘share of ear’.

And finally, let me mention Rachel Mallender and Marc Haberland from BBC Radio 1 and 104.6 RTL Berlin. They both over see their respective breakfast / morning shows and shared the secrets to success in a really entertaining session that I produced and hosted. Everyone was surprised that RTL has up to 16 people working on the morning show! Investing in content in the morning has resulted in a very successful show being on the air for 19 years!

Moyles has done nearly 7... and realistically won’t get to 19 years on Radio 1... but it was great to hear Rachel share her thoughts and talk so passionately about producing the breakfast show which is such a well-oiled machine these days. Hopefully everyone enjoyed the session as much as I did!

So, overall I think it’s fair to say Radiodays Europe was extremely well received. Conferences can sometimes be a bit dull... (well, they can can’t they!) but this was an important gathering at a key time for the radio industry in Europe which actually addressed many of the hot topics. We sometime forget that we have more in common than divides us, and sharing best practise and discussing the issues is one of the best ways to create a bright future for us all.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

BBC 6 Music and Asian Network Face The Chop

The media is changing before our very eyes. Traditional media is drastically re-thinking its business model. New media is being outsmarted by ‘newer media’. Social networking is now a major source of information and entertainment. And radio is striving to stay relevant, connected and mass market.

In the midst of this, the world’s greatest broadcasting corporation, the BBC, has to navigate and chart a course that balances public service, quality programming making and journalism, value for money, political pressure, and viewer and listener benefit.

The BBC’s ‘land grab’ into digital during the last decade was, strategically the right thing to do. Move, and move fast or risk being left behind; the symbol of a bygone era... an ‘IBM’ in a Google world.

So a raft of digital networks, both TV and radio, were created and the investment online was spectacular.

This was at a time when most commercial rivals, in all media, were doing well. And although some voices were raised, the opposition was not too vocal.

Fast forward to 2010, and the world is a very different place. The BBC has grown bigger and bigger, and concurrently, commercial rivals are being challenged like never before, many with declining audiences and declining revenues. The BBC had just got too big in many people’s eyes.

Read their annual report to see the scope of its work (and read the budgets, if you really want to bring a tear to your eye!)

So the announcement yesterday by Director General Mark Thompson of a Strategic Review into BBC services was always going to be met with some sort of reaction. After all, in the UK, we all feel we “own” the BBC and have a close personal relationship to it. It’s ‘our’ BBC. And due to the licence fee UK citizens pay, it’s all funded by us. So everyone has a sense of ownership, more than with, say a brand like ITV, or Sky.

The headlines tended to focus on stuff that’s going to close, which brings me to BBC 6 Music and Asian Network. For those of you unfamiliar with them, they are 2 national UK radio stations available on DAB, Online, Digital TV etc.

A quick look at the numbers for you; BBC 6 Music has a weekly reach of 695,000 and 0.4% market share. In 2009, BBC 6 Music costs £9 Million pounds to operate.

BBC Asian Network has a weekly reach of 360,000 and 0.2% market share. In 2009 BBC Asian Network cost £12.1 Million to operate.

Many in the commercial radio across the world will baulk at these figures. It’s no doubt that these networks aren’t exactly cheap to run! Could or should they perform better given the budgets? Or is that missing the point? Are we so obsessed with numbers and performance we forget that the BBC is meant to be a cultural body, safeguarding and feeding our cultural needs in the UK, whatever they may be.

It’s a nice sentiment, but the BBC doesn’t operate in a complete vacuum and has to function in a market environment, even though it has guaranteed funding.

(By the way, BBC Radio 1 cost £43 Million to operate in 2009, and Radio 2 almost £51 Million! Nice.)

So, why axe BBC 6 Music and Asian Network? It seems the answer is that the BBC feel that much of what 6 Music does could be incorporated by Radio 1 and Radio 2, which I actually believe to be true. It would certainly make those channels even more distinctive, and the crossover with commercial radio even less.

Likewise trying to group all Asians together and provide a UK radio station for them was always going to be a challenge, and the BBC believe that it can serve the Asian community better by more targeted programming through local radio, TV and online, which is probably true. The fact that neither of the stations were performing very well is true, but should not be the main argument for closing them down. They do become more of a target however, due to their low performance and high operating costs.

The BBC can’t be seen to grow to large. And it has. So it’s trying to do something about it. And fair play to them.

The reaction to the proposed closure of BBC 6 Music is unsurprising. The vast majority of its fans will be educated, highly computer literate, socially networked, and independently minded. The ‘Twitterati’ have sprung into action, so a visible and sustained campaign to keep it open will now follow.

I’m less certain how the majority Asian Network listeners will feel as it’s harder to define a ‘tribe’ that isn’t united by music or attitude, but rather defined by which continent their motherland was. However, nobody wants their favourite radio station to close down, so I’m sure the passion is there too.

So, do BBC 6 Music and Asian Network do some great programming? Yes... no doubt. Are the networks too costly to run? You bet. If they close, can some of their output feature on BBC platforms? Probably... yes. Will commercial radio benefit from their closure? Not greatly. Is there an over-reaction to the closure of 2 DAB stations? Undoubtedly – but they are ‘BBC’, so that’s expected!

The strategy review is now out to a 12 week consultation, and it’s the BBC Trust will ultimately decide the fate of these 2 radio services. You can have your say too, and if you feel strongly enough, I’m sure they’d welcome your thoughts. Just click here.

If these stations do close, I’m not overly concerned that the cultural backbone of the UK will wither and die. It won’t. I’m actually more interested in reminding everyone that these stations are staffed by a whole load of talented radio guys and girls that may lose their jobs at the BBC, and even their passion for radio. And that’s one of the sad consequences of all of this.

The media world has never seen a more turbulent time than now.

Good luck Auntie.

Monday, 1 March 2010

3 Things To Remember...

Programme Directors often place signs in the studio to remind their presenters of some of the key style points they need to remember when they open the microphone.

I particularly liked this one taken at Capital recently...

Extra points for guessing which DJ's Facebook page I stole the image from!!