In a recent media interview on the state of the radio industry, Bob Pittman, chairman and CEO of Clear Channel, one of the largest radio groups in the world with a stable of in excess of 1 200 stations said, “The radio industry has never been bigger or better. With the TV business turning into delayed viewing and cord cutting and binge viewing, radio is the last mass-reach, real-time medium. We’ve never been more important to the consumer or the advertiser.”
Whilst this holds true for the radio industry in the USA, it is also applicable to the South African and African marketplace.
Radio is a great communications medium and still enjoys the broadest reach of any media category in South Africa. The diversity of stations, formats, voices and offerings ensures that most of the public’s needs are catered for. It also fulfils a vital need for information and entertainment, with relatively low costs of distribution, and low costs of consumption for the listener. As a communication medium, radio has very few barriers to access. On the African continent, the fact that radio cuts across boundaries of illiteracy strengthens the importance of the medium to the consumer and the advertiser.
While I have on many occasions made the argument that the South African radio industry is over-regulated and that Icasa should review the allocation of the FM Frequency spectrum, I have to give credit where it is due and applaud Icasa for bringing three new commercial stations to air in the last 16 months. I still believe that the market is over-regulated and that increased competition in key markets would result in better programming options and more choice for listeners. It would also create more advertising opportunities for the marketing and advertising industries and hopefully bring new advertisers to the medium.
There have been few innovations in the technology of delivering radio (the ‘transport’ mechanism) over the past few years. There is some noise being made about various forms of digital audio broadcasting, but I don’t think that these technologies have any substantial degree of viability in South Africa in the short-term. The biggest drawback is that implementation of digital broadcasting technology will require an investment in new radio sets by the listener and substantial set-up costs for broadcasters.
It will take quite a lot of time (and investment) for the tipping point to be reached in other markets befor the technology becomes viable for this marketplace. One will need to do some very careful calculations and cost-benefit analysis to determine the viability of these digital options before diving head first into an investment into this technology.
The advent of new technology and the advent of interactive social media has had a huge impact on the way stations see their audiences. No longer are stations aiming to draw mere listeners, they are trying to create ‘fans’. This implies a far more intimate relationship with the listeners, where the objective for the station is to engage with the individual. Essentially the ideal for the station is where the fans identify closely with the brand on a ‘my brand’ basis. The example here is that the listener doesn’t merely list to ABC FM, the listener has the feeling that ‘ABC FM is my station’.
Stations aiming to achieve this level of intimacy and commitment are engaging with their fans on social platforms (particularly Facebook and Twitter) thus extending the context of the station brand in the fan’s life.
The innovative use of multi-channel promotion and engagement is most certainly an important trend in radio and one that needs to be emulated as there have been interesting research projects that indicate the ‘stickiness’ of radio and the strength of radio as the core of multi-channel promotions and engagements.
Recent research conducted by Commercial Radio Australia found that when people hear a radio ad with a digital call to action, they are six times more likely to visit the brand’s website than those who don’t. The Commercial Radio Australia radio advertising campaign has a powerful tagline that speaks to the basis of the ‘fan’ relationship with the station. The tagline, ‘When you advertise on radio – they hear it from a friend’ is a great positioning station of the trust and intimacy that radio is aiming to achieve.
The radio industry has always been exciting and like any industry, radio faces its challenges, but if there’s one thing that Radio has demonstrated over the years, it that it is a resilient and flexible medium.
Radio doesn’t adapt to change, it drives it.
IMAGE: Clear Channel