Guardian Changing Media Conference: Radio in a multiplatform world

Session Chair:

Matt Wells,
media editor, Guardian News and Media

James Cridland, director of digital media, Virgin Radio

Chris Kimber, managing editor, BBC Audio and Music Interactive

Felix Miller, CEO,

Nathalie Schwartz, director of radio, Channel 4

James Cridland rolled out Virgin’s first such as their first in social networking. He said that there was a lot of doom mongering talk about radio, which was causing many in the advertising community to believe that hype. One in five people surfing the internet are also turning into radio. His internal theme is control and conversation. Control to reflect that today’s media consumer is used to controlling their environment in so many ways, whether control as in YouTube, iPod or SkyPlus Box (DVR). Conversation is another goal. Radio is a shared experience. A lot of people feel part of a community as a radio station listener. People say that I am a Guardian reader, a Radio 4 listener or a Heart listener. We need to give people a chance to have a conversation with us and with the brands that advertise on our station, as well as with themselves.

Chris Kimber, not having any advertises to worry about, I will say that radio has huge challenges going forward. We will see declining figures in live, linear listening in the next five years, both in BBC radio and commercial radio. Radio does need to re-invent itself. It needs to be multi-platform. It needs to be visual. People are beginning to expect more than an audio stream. It needs to be on-demand. We launched the audio player five years ago, and we launched podcasting before Virgin did. Radio has to be even more distinctive. That pressure is even greater than in the past. The importance of brands are really key, whether that is a radio station brand or a programme brand. The big challenge for all of us is how to engage the younger demographic.

Teenagers who spend all their time on YouTube and MySpace. Will they ever come back to radio?

Nathalie Schwartz believes that radio has competitive advantages when you get it right, which is why Channel 4 is bidding for a multiplex. User generated content in the terms of the phone in has been on radio for years. The future is digital. DAB radio sets will have a slideshow stream (My two cents: and the audio quality will get even more shit.) People can record streams. (My two cents: Until they are sued by the recording industry.)

Felix Miller, CEO of is a new type of music platform based on sharing. Every user can display what music they are listening to on their own page. These music profiles can be used to create collaborative filtering. You can generate recommendations, and out of these recommendations, you can create ‘radio stations.’ (It’s similar in concept to the Pandora service but instead of an automated system, it’s generated by the usage of listeners.)

MW: Radio used to be the box, but now James and what everyone says, it’s more of a theory.

JC: The music jukebox will succeed, but I don’t listen to a lot of music on Radio 4. Maybe we’ve concentrated on music too much in the past. It used to be 10 great songs in a row. Maybe we should be concentrating on the bits between the songs. Oh, I just realisedd that the last 10 songs in a row was a Virgin Radio strapline.

NS: I suppose if I think what Capital was when it started in teh 1970s, it was innovative. It was all about community and conversation. They were celebrating their anniversary, and they interviewed the founder. They trained the presenters so that they talked with listeners not at them. Today’s definition of community may be an in-depth website with blogging that feeds into the radio. If you have a strong brand and a lot of loyalty and you can create compelling content, then you can succeed.

CK: I think that certainly the BBC and commercial radio that have quite a long way to go. and Pandora’s daily reach way outstrips Virgin Radio websites reach.

JC: Can you compare it to a BBC station?

CK: Oddly, it only has Virgin Radio on the graph. It used to be about schedules, but in the future, you have to think about a programme as an idea.

FM: We have 50m unique visitors to the website.

JC: He quoted some figures that shows that radio listenership is still growing. Don’t be under any illusion that radio is stuffed and we should run to nearest lifeboat. The actual reality is that radio audiences aren’t erroding to a great degree.

CK: I don’t want to get into a stats war. With 15-24 year olds, the trend for the BBC and commercial radio is that the trend is down. If we’re losing young listeners at a young age, at what time do they come back? Or do they just continue with their habits in their teens and 20s.

NS: We will be aimed at extending the diversity of radio. The most worrying statistic is the BBC’s current market share. The BBC has 55% of the radio market share. Channel 4 and its partners must invest in serious programming. Speech, comedy, drama have not been traditionally done on commercial radio. 84% of those listening to speech radio is listening to the BBC. Perhaps reach has grown, but amongst 18-34 listening hours has dropped.

MW: You have a number of ideas on how to do that. You talked about adding pictures.

JC: Adding visuals to radio isn’t about making TV-lite, it’s about making rich radio. Every new platform, whether DAB, Freeview or Sky, we can put information related to music – pictures of bands, information on song.

FM: We should talk about what works. The point about the youngest audience is that they have niched. That is why they go to YouTube and How can I do my own media? Communities increase stickiness and market for audience. There is no reason for teenagers to switch on radio at some specific time of the day to listen to some specific DJ. We need to exploit medium that we have: The Internet. There is a lot we can do there. There is a lot of interactivity. Our audience has changed.

MW: Chris, you’re the doomsayer on the panel. Talk about works.

CK: To say why would a person want to turn a radio on misses what radio is. It is live. It is a communal experience. It’s the bit between the music.

I sort of threw a grenade at the panel. I don’t care about DJs to sift through music for me. Recommendations from my friends are much more important to me. I know their tastes. I’ve got a friend back in the States who has a great taste in music. I love going to his place and just listen to what’s on his playlist. After a couple of responses from the panel, I quickly realised that we don’t really save in the same world.

I think the CEO lives in my world. It’s about niches and exploration, and I don’t hear that when I turn on the radio. I hear programmed playlists and sameness.

Suw said that the panel was obsessing about music. She said that is about much more than music. Through the internet and podcasts, she’s found things like This American Life and the Merlin Mann, three-minute podcasts about productivity. She said that there is an opportunity for nuance.

NS: Podcasting is just radio on demand she said and talked about a trial with WiFi and PlayStation Portable. She also took a swipe at the BBC and said that its programming haven’t really faced a competitive challenge and therefore weren’t remaining vital.

CK: We have 7.5m downloads of our podcasts. (MW: But that is just your radio material?) Yes, we can’t podcast unique material because of regulatory materials.

FM: He fielded a question about whether would add podcasts. They might if there appears a demand for it.

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