THE MEDIA YEARBOOK: International radio futurologist James Cridland gives his view on where radio is going in the next 12 months.
It almost seems ludicrous that radio is still so popular. Nine out of 10 of us listen to radio every single week, whether in South Africa, the United Kingdom or North America. It’s still far more popular than anything the internet has to offer. Indeed, in Africa apparently more people own a radio than a mattress.
Radio is set to change, but it probably won’t be that much.
Our radio sets are in the more intimate areas of our homes: our bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms. We change them far less than our television sets, because they’re unseen by visitors. They’re not status symbols, they work well and most people are quite satisfied with the choice available on their FM dial.
Our radio listening is driven by habit. We class ourselves by the radio station we listen to and we rarely switch stations. The overwhelming majority of bedside radio sets will never change stations. So, when our beloved presenters change, we typically grin and bear it, and get to know the new voice. With radio being such an ingrained part of our lives, change will always be slow.
But change is coming.
Radio is appearing on more devices and more platforms. CliffCentral and Ballz Radio are two obvious examples in South Africa of how radio’s distribution is slowly changing. Primedia Broadcasting’s ‘Oscar Extra’, set up to be an extra radio station delivered online and via apps during the Oscar Pistorius murder trial, shows how broadcasters can take advantage of new platforms. Podcasting gets radio-like audio into the ears of many. Radio’s availability via platforms such as DStv gets radio back into the living room – especially during the day.
In some markets, like the UK, listening via FM now accounts for less than 66% of all radio listening. The start of Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) in South Africa, coupled with cheaper smartphones and more affordable data rates, will all disrupt radio. But these are also opportunities for broadcasters to grasp.
The car has been radio’s stronghold for some time now. Over 50% of radio listening in the US and Australia happens in the car. Yet manufacturers are investing millions of dollars in the ‘connected car’, and Apple and Google aren’t far behind. According to recent Nielsen research in the US, 36% of drivers now listen to streamed music services when they’re in the car. When you have available almost any track ever made at the touch of a button, why listen to someone else’s choice on the radio?
It turns out that, while services like Pandora and iTunes Radio show a clear appetite for personalised music services, radio continues to be successful. Personalised music is all very well but as one radio owner in the US recently said, you turn to it when you want to be shut off from the world and back to radio when you want to reconnect.
Personalisation, too, is happening in different ways online. Listen to UK station Absolute Radio’s online stream, and you’ll be given personalised radio advertising based on your Facebook profile. Ads for men’s razors only get played to men; ads for cat food target cat owners; nappy manufacturers just reach parents with young children.
NPR One – a new app from the US public radio company –personalises news radio by allowing listeners to skip stories that don’t interest them. Omny, an app in Australia, mixes radio output with your own music collection.
On DAB, Australian rock station Triple M has kept more people with its brand by launching Triple M Classic Rock. Similar brand extensions are happening in the UK, too, and in the US with their additional HD radio stations. New stations offer additional choice, yet don’t lose audiences to the master brand.
Through all this, radio’s strengths continue to serve it well. The human connection and the shared experience that the medium provides are unlike anything else and because radio has been such an ingrained part of our lives, it’s unlikely to disappear quickly.
The bright broadcasters will make the most of new technology, but they won’t forget that human beings make radio the success it is. Radio’s future isn’t served by
automating great non-stop sweeps of music. Instead, by focusing on creating content that connects with people, tells stories and engages the listener, radio still offers something that no other media can offer.
Radio’s future will undoubtedly be different. It will be more personalised, and it will be on more devices. It might be harder to find in your car, as other services wish to muscle into radio’s traditional stronghold.
Radio will change. But probably not as fast as anyone imagines.
This post was first published in 2015 The Media Yearbook. A digital version of the full magazine can be downloaded here.
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