Wednesday, 22 December 2010

"So this is Christmas..." 2010

It’s snowing outside my office window in the beautiful English countryside, so it must be time to write another ‘end of year posting’ as we come to the end of another exciting year in radio.

2010 has been a challenging year for many radio stations and many radio industries across the world. The difficult economic circumstances have meant a tough advertising market to operate in for the commercial stations, and many public service organisations having to make large cost-savings, which often affect programming departments and the ‘end product’ for listeners.

However, against that backdrop we see a sector that is as popular as ever with consumers. Taking the UK, the latest RAJAR (audience measurement) figures show almost 91% of the UK population tune in to radio every week, with digital radio listening hours up 23% year on year, and DAB ownership is up 10% year on year to 18.3 million adults.

And if we look at radio services delivered by the internet in the UK, we can see that 2.2 million Smartphone owners have downloaded a radio app with 16.3 million listeners claiming to have ever listened to radio via the internet.

Non-linear services are becoming increasingly important with a real growth in “radio that waits till it’s wanted”. 8.1 million adults in the UK have downloaded a podcast, and 44% of users say they listen to them at least once a week, showing how advances in technology is helping to maintain the relevance of radio and audio entertainment in a ever-changing mediascape.

The argument about the importance of radio having a multi-platform future with a strong digital broadcast backbone is, I believe, academically won. The challenge for 2011 is winning the ‘hearts and minds’ battle and the PR war that is currently being fought. Obviously, different countries are at different stages of digital adoption and it will be interesting to see how they develop over the next 12 months, but the signs are encouraging with announcements like the launch of DAB+ services in Germany in 2011.

Why does this matter for programme makers and radio creatives?

Well, for several reasons. Ensuring radio continues to be relevant for consumers is important for the healthy future of the radio industry in every country. Developments in technology mean more stations, more formats and more creative possibilities. That’s a good thing is you have great ideas and want to find a home for them. I look at the success of Absolute 80s in the UK in 2010, that has grown from ‘nothing’ to over half a million listeners across the UK on DAB in a very short space of time. That’s a niche format that has found a tribe of happy fans of 80s music on digital radio. (And it’s now joined by its siblings Absolute 90s and Absolute 00s too)

The other development that has started to take shape in 2010 in the UK is Radioplayer. It’s a simple, consistent way for users to access UK radio stations of all shapes and sizes and grow online listening as a result. It’s a partnership between the BBC and many of the big commercial radio groups and is a great example of where collaboration between public and private sectors in radio provides benefit to the industry overall. I look forward to seeing it really take off in 2011.

So, like it or not, we can’t get away from the fact that technology now shapes our industry more than ever before, but embracing this change rather than denying it has got to be the only way forward.

The good thing that hasn’t changed though is... ideas. We’re still an industry that revolves around great ideas. Great ideas for shows, great ideas for promotions, great ideas for outside broadcasts, and great ideas for music features... and the need for those great ideas is never greater.

So, let 2011 be a year we all work on generating even more great ideas for our radio stations!

Finally, in an Oscars style thanksgiving, let me thank all the clients I’ve worked with in 2010. I’ve boarded over 120 planes in the last 12 months (!) and flown all over the world to work with some great people who all love radio as much as I do, and it’s been a real pleasure to work with you all. And to those of you I’ve yet to work with... 2011 might just be the year!

So, as the snow gets thicker and I throw another log on the fire, and I hear the carols drifting from the windows of the snowy village pub... let me say Happy Christmas and Seasons Greetings to everyone... and here’s to a great 2011.

See you next year!