Monday 6 July 2009

Video hasn't killed the radio star

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

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.

Wednesday 3 June 2009

YouTube goes XL for TV

In further convergence news, Google this week launched youtubexl in a bid to take the service onto a TV screen near you.

Essentially this is YouTube as we know and love it but with big chunky menu items optimised for TV navigation.  Functionality has also been reduced to the bare minimum to keep things clean and simple.  Social functions such as comments and share seem to be the main casualties here.  While the loss of the comments window is not missed (in fact the ever reliable "sensitve" nature of a lot of these comments has for long time been a problem for YouTube in my view) I hope the share function may be reintroduced in a later version.

While clearly designed as an on-demand TV experience, the platform will also find its way onto games consoles such as XBox and PS3 and it is on the latter devices that there is already a social culture of connecting and sharing experiences.  One of YouTube's great strengths is its "check out this clip" viral nature so it can't help but feel like a missed opportunity to have disabled sharing functionality at this time.

With the shift to the big screen, the door also opens up for different, and dare I say it, perhaps even more traditional forms of spot advertising.  Could this move onto the big screen be the point at which Google are able to better monetise the site?  The details of targeting would certainly need to be ironed out, but the biggest barrier to this goal is likely the one that has always dogged YouTube - premium (or should I say premium rate paying?) advertisers are still reluctant to place their ads next to content of variable and sometimes controversial quality.

Thursday 28 May 2009

Spotify unveil the future of music

Ad supported music streaming service Spotify has been talking about its plans to go mobile for a while now and judging by this clip of the work in progress Android app those plans are coming along very nicely indeed!

The liberation of Spotify from the desktop and onto mobile marks not only a revolution in music consumption but may also gives us a clue as to what the future "networked" home might feel like.

The key challenge facing the music industry is often defined as the battle of paid-for content vs. pirated content but I think what is really going here is a shift away from models of consumer ownership to models of consumer access.  In the old days you had to own a physical copy to be able to play something whenever you wanted.  Its clear from technology such as this it is that ownership - whether physical or digital - is not necessary or even desirable (given the needs to store & manage a library).  Perhaps I'm being a little optimistic here, but prevalence of illegal peer-to-peer networks could be seen as a transitionary phase in the march towards this model of "always on" access.  When you can get what you want whenever you want why go through the bother and risk of accessing these illegal networks?

The music business has long been accused of missing the digital boat when Napster first revolutionised the industry but its support of services such as Spotify and we7 show it is they who are leading the way as to how the digital future may look for the cultural industries.  With Sky rumoured to be soon launching a music streaming service (Sky Songs), its not hard to imagine a scenario whereby all music, TV, film etc is delivered via the internet to a single home receiver that then wirelessly connects to your TVs, hi-fis, computers and mobile devices.  With people like Sky then in control of distribution it would then appear that labels can get back to concentrating on marketing and building artist brands.  With consumers facing unlimited choices, getting them to find your artist will then be the major issue facing labels rather than losing sales to the pirates.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Fans become band producers in new Cold War Kids video

Hot on the heels of Empire of the Sun, Cold War Kids have also created an interactive video to help promote their new single I've Seen Enough.

Rather than adding interactive elements to their standard promo (see Empire of the Sun), the band have instead opted to partner with MTV to create a bespoke widget where fans can remix / re-produce the song by selecting a range of different instruments for the Kids to play.

The band start off with their basic set up of piano, guitar, drums and bass, but the feel of the song is very quickly changed when alternative instruments are introduced (or even band members muted).  I'm a big fan of a fully electro version that can be created by selecting all the "green" instruments.

Playing around with all the different combinations is fun despite some slight buffering delays.  While the widget also includes the expected social sharing features it doesn't look like its possible to save and share your own version (I was quite keen to post my electro version here but had to settle for a static image).  There is a Fans Favourites link which I would expect to include this feature but I couldn't get any joy out of it so maybe its just me!

Either way this is another example of how bands are using interactive technology and trends to give fans more reasons to spend time with, remember and hopefully promote their efforts.  The partnership with MTV should also give them an extra audience boost as no doubt they will also be directing viewers to this feature on their site. 

Monday 11 May 2009

London Evening Standard promises to do better but can they compete with free?

The newly rebranded London Evening Standard is currently embarking on a campaign to help win back readers from the freesheets. Launching with the "Sorry" message last week, the campaign is due to evolve into a series of promises that will see the paper attempt to move away from its image as being negative and complacent.

While the campaign will no doubt get London's media & advertising community talking, it will be interesting to see if this campaign is able to reach out and connect with its broader target audience. The key question is whether the campaign can persuade an ever-increasing number of Londoner's to ditch their free and easy freesheets and fork out 50p for their end of day dose of news and entertainment.

With both the londonpaper and London Lite boasting readerships of around the 1m mark compared to LES's paid-for circ of just 144k the size of the task is clear. In this context, LES's circulation woes can be viewed as structural rather than the result of a poor product. Put another way, the real problem facing LES is whether there is a sustainable market for an evening paid-for newspaper in London at all. Accepting this as the key challenge, is the new campaign likely to be a success?

The key strategic question facing paid-for content providers in a context dominated by free providers is best summarised by Kevin Kelly in his blog
Better than Free. Although this discussion relates specifically to the digital world where copies of all sorts of content are freely available at no cost, the parallels with LES are clear. When the freesheets can credibly claim to be more convenient (Accessibility, Findability, Immediacy) it seems that it is in the areas of Interpretation and possibly Authenticity that LES can best demonstrate it is adding value.

The freesheets are famously light on detailed comment and analysis, so this must be a central pillar for LES. I am not sure the "Sorry / Promise" campaign can be said to deliver against this. Furthermore, judging by todays headline of "City Tycoon: My Secret Lovelife" it appears that is not where editorial policy is heading anyway. If LES is going to attempt to beat the freesheets at their own game then they will surely fail.

Thinking about Authenticity, can LES lay claim to being the title for London and derive value from that? Clearly the rebrand to include the great city's name in the title is a move towards this, but can the same be said of the "Sorry / Promise" campaign? The freesheets vibrant (albeit lightweight) editorial take on city life & celebrity culture feel like a much better representation of London in this day and age and for me only the ES Mag really competes with this.

In a world where convenience is key it feels that both the new campaign and rebrand in general will not do enough to change the reading habits of the majority of London commuters. While I don't doubt there is still a market for a paid-for title I think the reality is that this market is likely to be structurally small and declining and that this campaign will not be able to affect this trend in the long term. Worse still I fear the marketing activities and change in direction will actually be a turn off for the last few remaining loyal LES readers and actually hasten its decline.

Thursday 7 May 2009

Twitter search spam

The growth follwing Twitter's recent PR attention seems to be entering a new phase as some of the web's less salubrious inhabitants are being drawn to the platform. Search results against any of today's top trending topics return a page full of what can only be described as spam tweets. A search against #jonaslive returned the following:

For those without a magnifying glass, Kelly_Johnson is in short keen for us to check out her webcam (I didn't by the way!) and is using multiple tweets featuring all the day's top trending topics in the hope of driving some free traffic.

Does this kind of activity mark the beginning of the end for Trending Topics usefulness or at least its ease of use? Even if Twitter techies can filter out spam like this it seems clear that some consideration for relevance to user is central to search and trending topics future appeal.

Thankfully a recent announcement by Santosh Jayaram (Twitter's new VP of Operations) indicated that such considerations are very much part of their plans. By adding link crawling and reputation ranking to their search results, Twitter hope to enter the "real" search space dominated by Google (see Mashable for details).

With their ever growing audience and the attendant risk of spam detailed above the addition of such functionality will certainly help users make sense of Twitter chatter and cannot come quickly enough in my opinion.

UPDATE: Since writing and posting this Kelly_Johnson has become KellyWilliams (in a bid to avoid being barred?) and now only seems to dominate the #Q&A thread. This would seem to indicate that activity on against #Q&A is much lower than the other top topics.

Thursday 30 April 2009

MTV to reinvent TRL - now with added Twitter

MTV have just announced that they are to attempt to breathe life into the phone-in format (TRL was cancelled late last year) by partnering with Twitter & Facebook in a new show due to air in the summer. Interestingly (perhaps) the show will be presented by our very own Alexa Chung.

By being "Powered by" Twitter / Facebook the scope for the audience to feel like a central part of the show certainly increases. With live performances etc planned there should be plenty to get people tweeting - we know that these social platforms often work best when triggered by a broadcast event (Susan Boyle anyone?).

This approach is not without its problems however. The Telegraph recently had a spot of bother with their hosting of a live Twitter feed on their budget coverage homepage (Guardian coverage here). The feed was eventually taken down but not before some rather choice tweets made it through.

Furthermore, there is some debate about who is using Twitter. A good summary by Nick Burcher shows that is really depends on where you look. Quantcast figures show that younger demos dominate, while Nielsen data suggests the userbase is rather older. Will this mechanic therefore connect with MTVs core audience as well as they hope? Perhaps there is more in the partnership for Twitter & Facebook.

More on this: Media Guardian, TechCrunch