It’s getting very difficult to say what radio actually is. Even here in South Africa, where broadband is expensive and people have less access to technology, the multiplatform nature of radio is increasingly evident. More youngsters are listening on their cellphones. More people are getting their favourite stations over the internet. More stations are embracing new formats and technologies, like Kagiso Media’s ja.fm, an internet radio station that only plays Afrikaans music.
All over the world, radio is still “a speaker in a box”, as British radio futurologist James Cridland has put it, but it is also streamed, podcast, transmitted via satellite or to cellphones, programmed by the listener. Technical innovations are driving change in radio, making interaction with the audience instantaneous and constant, and putting on the pressure to deliver quality content and creative ads. These trends present a number of challenges for the producers of radio and their ad sales teams.
The Media asked some international experts to identify trends emerging in radio overseas and shed some light on how programming and advertising will change.
Mark Gillman is a name that’s familiar to many South Africans. The former 5FM jock and SABC presenter is now a radio consultant based in the United Kingdom (UK). He founded and now runs TMGS Creative, a company that, he says, sells broadcast services, imaging and production and creates bespoke programming for brands.
Gillman insists that it is an exciting time for radio. “Radio has always been at the forefront of new development. It is the medium that can change far quicker than anything else.” In the UK, what’s most apparent is that radio has “embraced new media, rather than try to compete with it,” he says. “Those behind it have realised the usefulness of new media to showcase their medium. It is used as a tool to build audience; how new media can give radio pictures and how new programming concepts can be developed using mobile and the internet.”
TMGS Creative has brought a new concept to South Africa, Broadcast My Life, which illustrates this. Gillman explains. “Broadcast My Life transposes new media on to radio by allowing BlackBerry users direct interaction with radio via BBM.” While the programme was running, BlackBerry users were able to BBM The Grant and Anele Show on 5FM and the station would then upload their content on to the website, or broadcast it on air. Season three of Broadcast My Life is soon to air.
Cridland agrees that in the UK “where less than two thirds of all radio listening happens on an AM or FM radio”, there is a recognition that the future of radio is multiplatform. It is also much easier to create. No longer will the technology of radio look like airliner instrument panels.
“We can now report on anything from anywhere and edit together full programmes using nothing more than a mobile phone,” he says.
In the UK, Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) commands over 20% of listeners. DAB is technology that allows radio stations to broadcast on a digital spectrum. One of its advantages is its visual element: users can see a list of all available stations on their receiver, or get now-playing information about the song or presenter they’re listening to. Digital has also changed the BBC. Cridland worked on the broadcaster’s iPlayer, an app that lets users download the last seven days’ worth of content from all BBC stations.
According to Cathy O’Connor, CEO of Australia’s DMG Radio, Australian radio has also gone digital, though the penetration at 10% of the market is rather less than in the UK. In Australia, there are 54 digital-only stations in the country’s five capital cities. They also have ‘pop-up stations’ that broadcast on a temporary, ad hoc basis – like Elf Radio, which only broadcasts at Christmas time. O’Connor was speaking at RadioWorks in Johannesburg in August. She told delegates: “There’s no analogue switch-off, plus there’s 50 million radio sets (in a population of 23 million), so you have to be realistic about penetration.” But she was in no doubt that digital is the future of radio in Australia – and in South Africa.
However, digital technologies can seem threatening. The internet has presented competition to radio for ad spend, in markets where ad spend is already down post-recession. Curated music content and personalised, on-demand services like Pandora and Spotify provide what radio cannot: music entirely tailored to the listener’s taste. These apps have access to vast banks of music, can suggest tracks based on listener preferences and present them with an informative, user-friendly interface. Pandora is already targeting the drive time market in America, where manufacturers like Kia and Toyota are installing new cars with listening devices. In a country where about 50% of radio listeners consume radio in their cars, this is a massive potential threat to advertising sales.
But there’s no cause for alarm, say the experts. Radio is consumed entirely differently to Spotify. Cridland says that on-demand music isn’t really radio: nothing can take the place of feeling that you’re part of a community of listeners. If you need evidence of this, the majority of BBC iPlayer users are downloading live radio – not music shows. “Where stations focus on talent and shared experience, they will always win out,” says Cridland.
More devices mean more choice, not fewer listeners. With DAB, for instance, listeners have trebled the number of stations they tune in to. More interactivity means better audience tracking, so adverts can be better targeted at specific markets. It means more time spent listening because people are more invested in the content. As Gillman says: “The more shops on the street, the more people shop! These services (like Pandora) are great, but they are niche. They don’t provide an all-round entertainment/infotainment service. They do allow the audience personal input and grow the demand for music. No reason why radio shouldn’t do the same. Moreover, radio has people, live people, speaking to us. We all like to listen to other human beings. It’s instinctive, we crave it!”
If radio wants to attract ads, it needs to convince agencies and clients that it works. Says Cridland: “Radio advertising is not as easy to see working as an internet advert. The radio industry needs to be clear about the way radio works and help advertisers see what a great advertising medium it is.“ A service like RadioGAUGE is a great way of doing this, Cridland says. RadioGAUGE is a free tool that lets advertisers know their campaigns are working. It measures advertising awareness, brand perception and ad creativity.
Claire Wright, of Britain’s Radio Advertising Bureau, who also spoke at RadioWorks, said, “Since the launch of RadioGAUGE (in 2006), there’s been a £128-million advantage for those who are RadioGAUGE clients over those who are not.” Agencies don’t emphasise radio, so the RAB is focusing on the creative side of the industry, as “creative development is the way forward”.
Someone who would emphatically agree is Tony Hertz, a creative radio specialist. Hertz runs Hertz Radio, a full-service production company, and has travelled the world and won numerous awards as a coach and consultant on creative radio. He was in South Africa last year for RadioWorks 2011.
For marketers, he says, there really are no limits to what you can do on radio. But the trend in creativity seems to be “looking back”, Hertz laments. When asked what the state of creativity is in international radio, he says, “In every seminar, workshop or presentation I’ve done for the last 10 years – including RadioWorks 2011 – I’ve referred to what I call ‘The Audio Comfort Zone’. This is the safe place where normally adventurous creatives go when they get a radio brief. (They) seem content to continue doing what they already know how to do!
“I have nothing against ironic stories, telephone calls, or radio versions of TV spot soundtracks,” says Hertz. “They can be highly effective: it makes complete communication sense to transfer advertising from TV to radio. But why are there so few commercials that use the immense visual and emotional possibilities that radio has to offer?”
Hertz suspects it’s the awards culture of advertising: “…The seductive message to creatives from juries seems to be if you want to win a big radio gong, do something as close as possible to what’s already won… I believe passionately that the radio and advertising industries need to invest in training young creatives how to push the boundaries. If this happens, some of the young creatives will eventually become influential members of juries. I hope I’ll still be around for it.”
Top consultant Phil Dowse agrees there’s much that needs to be done in terms of creativity. Dowse is an international radio specialist who knows how to propel stations to the top of their market. He has consulted in South Africa, and in many other countries too. “These days, programmers, broadcasters and DJs have to think outside the box to cut through the avalanche of radio noise trying to capture the audience’s attention and increase ratings and revenue.” He says the new goal is integration, of sales and programming, widening inventory with branded content and the like. He adds: “Social is the new marketing! I call it the 25th hour of the day to programme. Most stations I work with try and dominate something, Facebook or Twitter – whatever works in the market.”
And how do South African radio stations compare to their counterparts overseas? Very well, it seems. Cridland mantains: “The big SA stations sound as good as the big UK stations – but with one difference: SA radio looks at other stations across the world to make their own stations better. It is very confident but, unlike the UK, eager to learn more. This is a wonderful, refreshing change.”
This story was first published in the October 2012 issue of The Media magazine.