Monday, 23 August 2010

"Friends... Lend me your Talent"

How exclusive should your talent be?

How would you respond if another station wanted to “borrow” your morning show host to cover for someone for a week, and present an afternoon show on a completly different station?

Well that’s exactly what’s happening with Christian O’ Connell, morning show / breakfast host at Absolute Radio in the UK. According to reports today, he’s booked do a week’s cover of Richard Bacon’s afternoon show on BBC Radio 5Live.

It’s not the first time that Christian has ‘moonlighted’ with the station, as he’s hosted shows like the excellent ‘Fighting Talk’ before, and provided cover for some other 5 Live shows... but perhaps not as high profile as a big daytime shift.

So, is this a good idea... to lend out your key talent to another broadcaster? With a weekly reach of over 6.5 million people, it could be part of a strategy to allow talent to ‘do other projects’ in exchange for the benefit from the exposure that those projects bring. In this case, maybe core listeners to 5 Live will enjoy what they hear, and possibly seek out Christian on a daily basis?

Or is it a slightly dangerous game to play, especially with the BBC, who have a habit of occasionally filtering off commercial radio’s best talent luring them over to the network with promises of bigger audiences and multi-platform exposure etc. They’ve never been particularly gentlemanly when it comes to competition over talent!

I understand the Christian recently re-signed a deal with Absolute to continue with the company for a couple more years, and there’s no suggestion that he’s looking to move elsewhere... but I guess it’s always nice, as a host, to know you have a potential home somewhere else should it all go horribly wrong!

Doing a breakfast show each morning and then a quite intensive afternoon show every day for a week, will be a good stamina test for sure!

I look forward to tuning in to see how it sounds...

Friday, 20 August 2010

Let It All Flow

It has to be said, I’m a bit of a sucker for new gadgets or innovations, especially when they have something to do with music, music production or radio. So I was quite excited to hear about the launch of FlowSongs from the manufacturers PURE, who make lots of lovely radios, including the rather splendid Sensia.

If you haven’t read about it yet, FlowSongs is a new service which you can use to identify tracks playing on any radio station and buy them in high-quality MP3 format directly from any PURE radio with the Flow technology firmware installed.

The neat thing is that FlowSongs works on any digital, FM, or internet radio station you happen to be listening to. If you hear a song you like, just press the ‘FlowSongs’ option on your radio. For me, owning a Sensia, I press the little icon on the touch screen. FlowSongs the identifies the track (using the technology rented from Shazam) and then shows you the artist, and price etc. You can then buy the song if you’ve set up your account and loaded it with some credit.

So it was with some eagerness that I tried the Beta version of the service, which went live in the UK this week.

I was quite sceptical beforehand. Would it actually work and how difficult would it be to set up?

After I’d updated my Sensia with the new firmware, I eagerly tuned in to a station on DAB, and waited for a song and hit the little FlowSongs icon. Sure enough, it whizzed away and within about 10 seconds it told me that the song playing was Synchronicity II by The Police. (It was BBC Radio 2 playing it, for the record).

However, my radio then told me that this track was not available for purchase. OK – as PURE say, not all tracks you hear on the radio you’ll be able to buy. FlowSongs uses 7Digital’s ‘backend’ to sell the songs legally and the catalogue’s pretty good. It even sells Synchronicity II by The Police, so something didn't work perfectly there. But hey - giving them the benefit of the doubt, it's still in Beta I guess!

So I tagged a few more songs on a range of DAB and stations streaming online. And sure enough, the tagging worked every time and when I fancied some Hip-Hop, I was reliably informed that I was now listening to NAS and ‘Made you Look’ on New York’s ‘HOT 97’.

When I tried the ‘purchase’ function it was actually really easy and within seconds whilst listening to Kiss 100, I’d tagged and downloaded ‘Stereo Love’ by Vika Jigulina and Edward Maya, and was playing it directly on my Sensia. The track was also available to download onto my laptop, and pull across to any portable device that I wanted.

So, all in all... so far so good. It seems to work pretty well and for the occasions that I hear a track that I like and don’t know, I can tag it and buy it. Or as the marketing says “Hear It, Buy It, Love It”.

The real question is, will it replace iTunes as my default choice for legally purchasing all my music online? Well... no it won’t.

Despite being a cool bit of technology, it’s still a bit fiddly to work with the Sensia screen. Plus there’s an annual subscription of £2.99 just for privilege of tagging and ID’ing songs (which is to apparently to pay for the Shazam licence). Will I pay that after my 90 day trial period is up? Not sure yet!
Also, I’d prefer to ‘pay per song’ downloaded instead of pre-loading the account with multiples of £10. Likewise, I have to wait for a song to come on the radio in order to tag it and then buy it. I can’t just go to their online store to use my credit up. Finally, as I use an iPhone the integration is seamless, and that’s the one big advantage it has.

Will it encourage me to purchase the odd song spontaneously whist listening to the radio? Probably, yes.

Is it a clever use of radio and IP. Certainly.

Will the whole country be rushing out to get a PURE radio equipped with Flow technology this weekend?

We shall see!

Friday, 13 August 2010

"Can You Kick It?" - Absolute Football

The Premiership football season in the UK starts again this weekend, and there’s something slightly different about it this year. Not only will you be able to hear live commentary of certain matches on BBC 5Live and TalkSport, but there’s a new player on the pitch. Absolute Radio.

Absolute Radio has won the rights to broadcast Barclays Premier League football commentary as part of a three year deal that kicks off this weekend. The station will bring live commentary from 32 exclusive Premiership matches during the 2010/11 season.

So – there are a few things to discuss here...

1 - Does adding football commentary to a music radio station blur to definition of the brand, or add another exciting dynamic to it?
2 - Has the strategy to launch an additional DAB channel, Absolute Radio Extra, to host to the commentary, and the 'split output' been effectively communicated so far?
3 - Will it work, both in terms of audience and revenue?

Let’s deal with the ‘brand’ thing first. Absolute Radio is a music radio station first and foremost. But there are 3 additional factors here. First, it’s a music radio station aimed at men, who traditionally are likely to enjoy football more. Second, it’s a station that has driven the concept of providing ‘entertainment’ in all sorts of forms, particularly in the digital space. And finally, the station has a long connection and heritage with ‘football as entertainment’, with the “Rock n Roll Football” brand being invented by Chris Evans back in the old Virgin Radio days. (The ordering of the 'Saturday afternoon take-away' on air was always a highlight!)

So adding football to the mix on Absolute Radio seems to be a perfectly logical thing to do, and in my view, it falls well within the brand boundaries of the station, and certainly adds a new dynamic to it, and will potentially drive some new listening, as well driving more brand awareness through natural talkability amongst fans.

Regarding the communication strategy... I was slightly confused about how to listen to be honest. I know from listening to the station over the last week, that live commentary is happening on Saturday, but it won’t be on 105.8FM or the national DAB signal I listen to. However, there is the usual Rock ‘n’ Roll football show from 3pm on those channels (Music and goal flashes etc). If I want to hear the live commentary, I need to tune to 1215AM, or listen to Absolute Radio Extra (a new DAB station), from 1:30pm, where I’ll hear commentary of Aston Villa v West Ham, presumably with a 90 minute build up. Then from 5pm, I can hear new signing, Ian Wright’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Football for 90 minutes, which presumably will be similar to 5Live’s ‘606’ show... comment, analysis, phone-calls etc. This, however, will not only be on Absolute Radio Extra, but on 105.8FM and the Absolute radio national DAB channel. Still following?

As one presenter said on air yesterday, "You need a flow chart to follow what’s going on!" I’m not sure if enough has been done to explain this all to listeners, or if it will just naturally fall in to place? I believe that real fans actively ‘seek out’ live commentary, so if a Villa fan tuned in to 105.8FM and couldn’t hear their team’s game, I’m sure they would try and work out where it was. Plus, I’m believe it will be heavily cross promoted at the time. E.g. “For those of you wanting live commentary, re-tune now to our sister station etc...”. After all, it works for BBC 5Live Sports Extra quite well. But even today, I heard some talk up of the commentary, and no mention was made of the fact that I will need to retune waveband or find it on another DAB station etc.

So, finally... will adding football commentary work in terms of audience and revenue

In terms of revenue, having unique content that can drive a decent sponsor is always a great starting point, and the Premier League comes from the top drawer of content (even if they are the 2nd pick of Saturday afternoon matches). So it’s a no brainer for Sky Sports to sponsor the live commentary Rock ‘n’ Roll Football, and all the pre and post match shows as well as having an online presence. (They’re doing the same on TalkSport). This will bring in a healthy amount of revenue to Absolute. The price the station paid for the rights hasn’t been made public as far as I can tell, but presumably the sums add up to make it a worthwhile enterprise, as well as the invisible value it brings to the station. Will their notorious transparency extent to letting us know how much they paid for the rights? ;-)

In terms of audience, we shall see. Commentaries are a funny thing, as they tend to drive loyalists to those teams, but don’t always attract the masses. Splitting the output may well be the wisest thing to do, as there’s now a choice consumers can make. Football... or with music! We shall see this time next year how much of an impact it makes, however I suspect that this is not all about pure ‘generic reach’. It’s about the value of a listener that has a deeper connection with specialist content... and that’s worth a lot more to advertisers.

So – I look forward to hearing the coverage this weekend, as we’ve been promised "an alternative style of football commentary", and the commentator, Jim Proudfoot, is a really excellent communicator on radio. (Believe it or not, he used to read the sports bulletins when I was on the radio about a hundred years ago!!)

Good luck to all the team at Absolute Radio this weekend. Let’s hope they get a home win / score goals with the audience / are top of the ratings table / bag 3 points every week... **insert your own footballing cliché here!**

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

A Passage To India

My whistlestop tour of two of India’s great cities, Delhi and Mumbai is over and I’m happy to report that commercial radio is thriving, and the passion for the medium in the country is undeniable.

I’m working with the ‘TV Today Network’ who are probably most famous in India for their Indian News Channel ‘Aaj Tak’, but the company owns a host of other TV networks, along with a large magazine and publishing empire (including the India Today magazine), as well as a radio business.

The network of 7 existing radio stations across the country are about to be re-launched with a new brand hitting the airwaves over the next few weeks.

Working alongside their RJ’s, producers, imaging staff and music programmers in advance of the launch was a real treat, as the level of creativity and energy that they all possessed was enormous.

One of the key things that came out of all the sessions was the need to “keep things simple”. In an over communicated world, we are bombarded with all sorts of content and messaging than ever before. Just as an example, when I arrived in India, I read in The Times of India that Indians are sent over 100 Million junk SMS’s per day, advertising all sorts of different things! The amount of “stuff” that’s just circulating around is phenomenal, and in a country like India, that’s only ever going to grow.

Therefore, cutting through the clutter is more important than ever, and a radio station that offers ‘simplicity in complex world’ is something that has a chance of finding a space to breathe and grow.

Sure... the new station will play great music, and have great RJ’s... but being concise and clear in all forms of communication is something that I confident will help the station to slowly carve out a niche for itself, and it’s something that we worked hard on during my time with the teams in both Delhi and Mumbai.

It was my first trip to India, and I was enthralled by its media, particularly it’s TV rolling news channels, however it’s a sign of the times that the world is becoming a much smaller place with the same familiar formats being repackaged for a new domestic audience. (I’m sure I wouldn’t complain if I held the rights!)

Radio in India is fresh and exciting... and I can’t wait to go back!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Indian Summer

One of the most interesting things about being a radio consultant is the opportunity to find out about how a particualr country’s radio industry is set up and operates. So, I’m looking forward to getting on a flight to India later today to work with a new client on a network relaunch, and find out a little more about their thriving radio industry.

Some of my colleagues in the world of radio consulting and research have had, and still have great clients out there, so it’s been fun hearing their stories, good and bad, not only about the radio industry but also just going about ‘doing business’ in India. Sure, there’s a little bit more paperwork than normal... but so far so good!

Everything I’ve seen and read makes it out to be the most fascinating of places and, although I’m only spending a week there, I’m going to try and soak up of much of it as I can and also learn as much about the Indian radio industry as possible in a short space of time. If there's one thing for sure, a country of 1.2 Billion people needs lots of radio stations!

I’ll be working in both Delhi and Mumbai, so I get to squeeze in 2 big cities while I’m there. (I’ll try and take a few interesting pictures and update the blog whilst in India, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to top the artistic heights set by another ‘radio traveller’ friend of mine)

One radio-related statistic that I was told which, if correct, I find staggering... is that up to 40% of listening to radio occurs on mobile phones! It’s differences like this that make the role of advising stations in different countries so interesting and challenging.

And I’m very much looking forward to the challenge. And the curry!

>Photo: James Cridland