Indian Radio Awards

This is the Indian Radio Awards 2007. The energy and enthusiasm for radio here is quite incredible, as is the speed of growth. 300 new stations on-air in two years. There’s energetic people and a big commitment to branding. It’s just very strange hearing the man from the BBC saying how great it is to win an award for a hits radio station. Wierd. That’s where our license fee goes – into creating chart hit radio stations in India. The empire is alive and well? (NB. I’m aware, before my BBC colleagues, current and future, comment, that any investment in India is under the auspices of BBC worldwide/world service and therefore completely unconnected with the domestic licence fee. That would be the domestic licence fee that built the BBC brand into a worldwide force). But still fun to be an atmosphere that’s so very excited about radio.

“8 Second Talk Break” – great!

Mark Ramsey wrote an entry this week about a purported e-mail from a group programmer to stations asking them to stick to 8 second talk breaks. I was enormously pleased to read about that, but not necessarily because the radio industry is heading towards 8 second talk breaks.

What gave me encouragement is that this particular programmer has realised that he has a problem, and is now programming his radio station not against the other guys on the FM dial, but in the real media world that listeners inhabit. It’s not about beating the other radio stations – the real battle is about preserving radio as a viable media choice against things like iPod, Last.FM and more… and also beating the other radio stations.

Of course consolidation means that one company tends to own more of the other stations on the FM dial, and I do wonder if that encourages complacency. In buying up “the enemy” I sense that some people are brushing off their hands and feeling like they’re achieving their career goals. The sender of our “8 second talk break” e-mail has at least worked out that the old enemy is gone, but replaced by a new set of battles.

I think programming people fall into one of three categories:

  • Thoroughly Unreconstructed – play 15 songs an hour, stick a station ID between each one, talk breaks up to the ad breaks, have a funny breakfast show and a younger evening show. If your station’s ratings are going down, you’re obviously not following this formula closely enough. Grudging acceptance of e-mail, SMS and websites.
  • In Denial – they know they can’t keep making radio like this, but they just can’t kick the habit. Actually, that’s not quite fair. In many cases they have to be outstandingly courageous to take on shareholders who’s expectation of risk/return in the radio industry is now way way out of whack from reality.
  • Risking It – furtively sneaking resource away into cleverer ideas, and implictly supporting new initiatives, but always with the risk that they will get belted by the next management level up if the ratings go down and some resource was diverted away into “future stuff”.

The majority seem to be in denial (those who are thoroughly unreconstructed usually live largely undisturbed on non-metro stations), and those who are risking it don’t make it public.

So is the future of radio the 8 second talk break? It might be.

The point is that what the “8 second talk break” describes is thinking about a listener experience that’s more like having an MP3 player, but with some tangible benefits for the end-user; bursts of useful information (like an Audio RSS feed?), and some serendipity of the music choice. It’s not competing to grab listeners from another station, but to win over someone who might just be tipped back from pressing play on their iPod/iTunes.

I also feel quite strongly that for every low-cost product radio produces, we must protect a premium and a uniqueness in the market by showing that we’re the people who really understand talent; that’s talented producers who make incredible imaging that makes your spine tingle, and talented presenters who can tweak and play with your emotions.

It would be good if this e-mail could embolden a few more of the In Denials and Furtive Risk Takers to come forward and really make change happen, and have the courage to deal with the critism that might generate. Switch to 8 second talk breaks or employ a million pound talent; either might be valid, but at least do something to start evolving radio.


The Perils of Recycling Radio Promotions

This week’s short-n-sweet post.

I was listening to a station this week (on my WiFi radio) that was a running a very unique cash-prize promotion that relied on some custom-made audio. I recognised the promotion name from my travels, and did a quick Google to find out which other radio station had also run it. Then I popped off to and went back through that station’s archived webpages until I got to the page they put on at the end of the promotion with all the answers.

Now I just need to be “caller nine”……

dab digital radio radio

Google Audio Ads

Google are marching on with moving the Ad Words model into the radio business, and have signed up 675 Clear Channel stations to carry the service.

Some people (myself included) have spoken often about how technology willl enable the disintermediation of radio, and how we need to work out what makes radio unique and start playing to those strengths.

Google Audio Ads has the capability do to the radio industry what LCC (Low Cost Carriers) did for the airline industry. By allowing advertisers to entirely self-provision the airtime, and giving them more or less identical tools that we give our own sales teams, it forces our sales teams to work out what value they bring over and above straight planning and order processing.

I’m fascinated by the thought Google have put into creative commissioning. They’ve built an airtime purchasing tool, sure, but that’s just number crunching. The creative marketplace is what really completes the picture. In fact, if I was a creative writer in a radio station, I’d be signing up for Google Audio Ad Creative Marketplace today.

Here’s why I’m positive about Google Audio Ads:

  • It shows that creativity (which adds genuine value) is still valuable even when technology is disrupting the market.
  • The Creative Marketplace is a massive opportunity to improve the quality of radio advertising by widening the pool of creative resources, and rewarding creativity.
  • It could improve the cost base for radio companies by removing an entire layer of order processors who add no creativity to the business. That means more money for creating content, and less money on back-office systems.
  • It allows a whole new group of businesses to become radio advertisers. This is offering a “long-tail” like solution for small, probably web-enabled, businesses to use radio.
  • Googles own promotional video acknowledges the ubiquity of radio, and that it is complementary to radio listening. There can’t be a greater accolade?

I’m looking forward to seeing Google Audio Ads progress, hopefully get involved somehow, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing which major media-buying agency starts using it first.

update: James is also commenting on Google Audio Ads