Monday, 4 April 2011

Radioplayer: The Verdict So Far...

UK Radio in one place? "So what?" you may say...

The UK’s new Radioplayer launched last week with a good deal of media attention, and an instant user base of anywhere up to 4 Million in the first week.

Why is it an important development? Well, for a number of reasons;

The UK has a lot of untapped potential with online listening, which currently stands at 3.1% of the total share of digital listening, and 8.8% reach. It could be a lot more, and certainly needs to play its part in increasing the overall share of digital listening in the UK.

One of the barriers to developing more online listening has been the difficulty of getting consumers to listen when (or if) they finally arrive at your stations website, and then allowing listeners to then move around from station to station. Frankly, to the average consumer who is used to just pushing a button to change a digital TV channel or a preset on a car radio, it was fairly difficult.

Consumers like consistency wherever possible, and up to now, there’s been frankly nothing consistent about the online listening experience. So anything that makes this easier has to be seen as a step in the right direction.

Consumers also like simplicity. And having played with Radioplayer for a few days now, it’s pretty simple to use. Search for a station, click on it and you’re listening to it. Search for another station, click on it, and there you are again. The search function is at an early stage, and it will no doubt be developed further, but it’s not a bad start to be honest.

I like the ability to search across live, and on-demand content... and if all partner stations are making their on-demand content searchable, then this will make it a very powerful tool for people to find great radio that they perhaps didn’t know existed. I’ve already come across some nice on-demand content by accident, just by playing with the search function. This will no doubt increase the total TSL to radio, both live and on-demand, over time. The search isn’t perfect yet, but I’m sure it will develop over time. I wonder if the secrets of the algorithm will be revealed... and will be there be a new SEO consultant role... “How to get your station on the 1st page of Radioplayer search results”!!

The presets function is a really nice touch with ‘iPhone style’ movement of the presets, and although it took me a minute or 2 to actually work out how to add a station. I didn’t quite grasp you have to click on the ‘to my stations’ button after you hover over ‘add’, as I was furiously clicking the ‘+’ to no avail!. It took me no time at all to fill up my 15 presets. OK – I’m quite a heavy consumer as you’d expect!

As I own a few different laptops / desktops, it’s a little frustrating I can’t ‘port’ my presets from one device to another and had to go about recreating them all again on 3 computers. Admittedly, I may use a few more devices than the average consumer, but ‘Radioplayer Tech People’ – (I hope you're taking notes!)... you should take a look at how you could do that without having to create a registration function, which would obviously take away from the pure simplicity of it all.

It’s nice to see how different broadcasters are using the ‘space’ below the player part for their own ends. All have a slightly different approach, but 'tips of the hat' go to GMG for having some nice sponsor links and an easy to navigate splash box, the BBC for allowing me to dig deeper in to the BBC’s content with ‘More Episodes’, and a smart move by Absolute for allowing me to select any station within their portfolio without seemingly having to ‘switch’ station via the Radioplayer dashboard. Therefore I can just have one Absolute Radio preset, and navigate to say ‘Absolute 80s’ with veritable ease.

The potential of the broadcaster ‘space’ below the dashboard is something quite exciting, and I’m certain we’ll see some neat innovation in the months ahead.

There are a few minor bugs which I guess will be sorted out soon... for example in Chrome, when I go to a BBC station, the window resizes itself slightly too small so scroll bars appear, and I have to manually resize it to make it look lovely again... but hey... that’s not the end of the world is it, and easily fixed I’m sure.

On launch day and over the weekend, I was watching the #radioplayer Twitter feed, and there was lots of positive comments and quite a few negative ones too, which you’d expect.

One of the reoccurring negative ones was from a body of (probably quite geeky) people who were suitably underwhelmed by it all, claiming it was nothing new, and bemoaning its simplicity. I think they’re missing the point. It’s meant to be simple. Listening to the radio online shouldn’t be complicated, so let’s not put in a load of fancy features unnecessarily. Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it. I applaud the development team led by the newly Christened “Radio Ninja”, Mike Hill, for not getting carried away.

The beauty of something lies in its simplicity... and simplicity is pretty hard to do well!

And to those critics who argue that you can already do what Radioplayer does already with a load of other radio aggregator websites - sure you can, but they’re not the default player for the majority of the UK’s radio stations, not controlled by the broadcasters who are creating the content (therefore not particularly interested in enhancing the listener experience with visuals or click-throughs), and having tried a fair few of them in my time, they’re not particularly easy to use either. Plus they don’t allow a listener an easy way to tap into the rich vein of non-linear content that is available via ‘listen again’.

The UK radio industry has taken a grown up step by getting the BBC and Commercial Radio to collaborate on this project. Without the BBC, Radioplayer would have still been good, but far less potent. Commercial radio has more to gain from being on the same online listening technology as the BBC, and this is a smart move by the BBC's audio supremo, Tim Davie, showing that they're not on some philsophically driven mission to crush all competition from the commercial sector. A BBC working with, and helping a commercial sector to flourish thus providing strong competition, is a healthy, modern BBC... and this will certainly not go unnoticed in corridors of Westminster.

Getting the public and private sectors to work together for the greater good of the industry, setting aside any sort of entrenched rivalries, is a moment to savour, and one that other countries can hopefully draw inspiration from.

If you want to see the radio sector continue to thrive in the future in your marketplace, innovations like Radioplayer are essential, and Public / Private partnerships are crucial.

So... UK Radio in one place = Good Work!

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