Convergence is the new buzzword in the media. Sharlene Sharim finds out what this means for the radio industry. Video didn’t kill the radio star…and neither have mobile phones, internet, social media or other digital platforms.
In fact, it’s done the opposite, says Terry Volkwyn, CEO of Primedia Broadcasting. “Technological change and convergence has been a huge complement and probably one of the best things that have happened to radio,” she says.
Local broadcasters have much to learn and even more to be excited about in future, judging by global trends.
“The biggest challenge in radio in the UK has come from disruption as a result of technology,” says Clive Dickens, chief operating officer at London-based Absolute Radio. The UK is one of the most digitised countries in the world, with near complete digital television, near complete digital broadband and some 78% ownership of smartphones.
“But the good news is, with all this digital disruption, we still have a significant amount of people who are using radio every single day.” Dickens says 91% of the UK population claim to listen to at least 50 minutes of radio, and this statistic is at an all-time high.
Tim Davie, head of audio and music at the BBC UK, says one of the reasons why radio in the UK has held up better than anyone thought possible is because people trust radio more than any other medium. “Radio builds the strongest relationship of any media, because it is built over time.”
Dickens believes it is because they’ve been open about using new digital technologies. Both the BBC and Absolute Radio have used various platforms to complement their offering and, in so doing, enhanced their listeners’ radio experience.
Radio 4 and the British Museum, for example, launched a series called the History of the World in 100 Objects. The series was made up of a 100 15-minute programmes, all narrated by the director of the British Museum in London. And while you could just listen to the show, Davie says you could also go online at any point and the site would allow you to look around the objects, explore them and even record your thoughts. The podcasts are also available for download. The online element is meant to enhance the radio experience.
Dickens says Absolute Radio’s decision to distribute its content to consumers on whatever platform is economically viable. So, you can listen to it online, on your mobile (by downloading an app), etc.
The station has developed other apps, one of which is Absolute Radio’s branded alarm clock, which wakes you up to the radio station. “People have always woken up to radio stations, they’ve had alarm clock radios and the alarm clock would turn the radio on. People were also charging their phones next to their bed. A lot of us will grab our phone in the morning to check our messages or update our Facebook status while we are still in the bed. Therefore, there was a huge opportunity to create an alarm clock app which was fun and engaging.”
So, by downloading this on their cellphones, consumers will be woken up by Absolute Radio every day.
“The breakfast show now can choose the alarm clock sounds that tens of thousands of people wake up to in the morning.” They frequently ask celebrities to record something exclusive for the alarm clock. “Often it’s something quite rude, that we’d never broadcast.” And they’ve also asked listeners to send in the sounds they want the alarm clock to make. “If you put your Absolute Radio alarm clock on its random setting, you have no idea what’s going to wake you up in the morning,” Dickens says.
On the local front, Nick Grubb, Kagiso Media chief operating officer (COO), and Ryan Till, Primedia Broadcasting COO, agree that social media is the biggest trend. Till says: “Most radio brands are still working on how they can best respond. Some are including their brands in social networks, and running promotions. Some are creating their own communities.”
Grubb points out that the days when you chat with radio stations via postcards and telephone are gone. “Social media across the world has brought people closer, and offers a lot of different ways of interaction.”
Grubb says they see convergence broadly. “It gives us the opportunity to meet audiences in a variety of ways – by offering platforms that do more than carrying one-way messages, they offer an excellent basis for conversation.”
In Jacaranda 94.2’s case, Grubb says, this involves primarily the internet and events. The response has been phenomenal, especially with events, he says. “There is a high propensity for people who are loyal listeners to want to go ‘beyond on-air’ and beyond the brand name to experience Jacaranda 94.2 in ‘the real world’,” he says.
There is a remarkable responsiveness to specific content online, he says. “Our Good Morning Angels initiative, for example, has inspired extensive monetary donation to change the lives of ‘real’ people with ‘real’ issues for the better.”
But Grubb emphasises that although websites, social media and events are reaching more people than ever before, these media are merely modes of transport. “Content remains the primary driver.”
Till says Primedia also has multiple channels to and from their listeners. “It’s no longer just about the traditional broadcast approach of radio – the relationship is now built on two-way communication facilitated by SMS, online, mobile phones, events, ground patrol vehicles, loyalty clubs, social networks, podcasts, vodcasts and more.”
He says audiences are responding on technology platforms without radio being there. “Of course, we can get into these spaces and work a mix of traditional and non-traditional media that create enormous spark and response.”
But it’s early days yet, and Primedia’s stations are experimenting with the mixes of traditional and non-traditional channels. Its AirBand promotion is one such example. Listeners sent in videos of themselves miming the actions of musicians/singers playing their favourite song, and stand a chance to win R80 000. “We’re using radio, good old-fashioned wannabe rock star mentality, and easily available technology to make celebrity status of airbands in the city. It’s never been easier to impress a breakfast show presenter with a great video of yourself, or capture a world-changing news event on camera using your mobile phone. The radio relationship has just become even more fun,” Till says.
Algoa FM’s digital media strategist, Jason Perry, explains: “The future holds anything and everything we want it to hold. The beauty of new media and the digital realm is that we are only limited by our imagination – and budget.”
Davie says it won’t be long before technology in South Africa becomes more affordable.
And when Radio 3 was getting bored of their regular experts and wanted to introduce new voices to the listeners, Davie says they partnered with The Guardian and launched the search for new intellectuals who were good enough to talk on radio about what they do.
So, while video didn’t kill the radio star, they may well be going to go into business together to improve what they have to offer. n
This story was first published in The Media magazine.