Video killed the radio star right? New research from Rajar suggests otherwise.
Despite the explosion in video content that is revolutionising the way we think about and use the internet, audio content online is still flourishing.
According to Rajar’s Midas 4 report online radio listening has now hit 17m and has grown 5% since the last wave in Oct 08. The report goes on to show that 4.2m people claim to listen to podcasts at least once a week and 3.9m are now using on-demand services such as Spotify and Last.fm.
I find it interesting therefore that it is in this context of the success of online delivery that Lord Carter endorsed the DAB format as the future of UK radio in the recent Digital Britain report.
The future growth and development of DAB has often been beset with uncertainty and the commercial radio sector has long argued for a firm digital switchover date to aid its long term planning (as was the case with Digital TV).
Lord Carter’s roadmap to switchover in 2015 (on the condition that DAB has reached 50% take-up) is intended to end this uncertainty and should fire the starting gun for a new wave of innovation and investment in digital radio.
The uncertainty looks set to endure however, with many radio execs and commentators arguing that the switchover date proposed is unrealistic.
Critics argue that there are significant deficiencies in DAB that continue to hinder consumer take-up and therefore the ability to hit switchover in 2015. The poor battery life, absence from cars, reception and even the sound quality of DAB have lead many to call for the preservation of FM as radio’s primary delivery method (see Save FM campaign here), but for me this is to miss the point of the digital debate.
In essence DAB is a broadcast solution to the question of radio’s digital future. The key issue for me is whether this type of solution can deliver the innovation required for radio to continue to compete a media landscape where audience expectations of on-demand listening and schedule personalisation are set to grow. Perhaps it is this debate rather DAB vs. FM that is causing the continued uncertainty in the industry.
For me, the new stats from Rajar only serve to reinforce the feeling that online delivery will be the ultimate winner.
Radio is the home to many well loved and trusted brands which are already successfully building new listening via desktop streaming, podcasts and mobile apps. It is a blending of these formats into a personalised mixture of live listening and individually selected programming that I believe offers the most fertile grounds for experimentation. The successful “radio” brands of the future will perhaps be more a kind of preferred supplier of audio content to their audience. People are currently taking their audio from a variety of sources – a bit of live radio, music via ipod, a comedy podcast here, a radio podcast there etc etc. As listener attention is stretched over many different sources the goal of the radio brand could sensibly be to devise ways to create a one-stop audio shop and therefore maximise audience share in this space.
While an iPhone app is at present little more than a branded link and radio-player I could see these becoming much more interactive “programme builders” for those on the move. Digital radios in the home would link wirelessly to broadband and feature similar touchscreens where branded players would be used to tailor listening. This is not to say linear listening will dead but that the digital radio experience of the future needs to deliver more than simply additional station choice.
Clearly the network infrastructure needed to support this is not yet in place but the Digital Britain report also acknowledges that further investment is still needed to plug the gaps in DABs reach (indeed it is another condition of switchover). I am not an expert on the full capabilities of the DAB format but unless it offers the kind of flexibility outlined above it is perhaps better to direct any new network investment towards the efforts to build a nationwide high-speed broadband network backed up by an open access mobile network.