demographics and maybe damaging the future.
A bald - and factually accurate note - in GCap Media's latest annual
report this week set us thinking about attitudes in commercial radio
and the potential that the short-term may be leading broadcasters
into damaging themselves in the long term.
G-Cap described itself as "The leading Group for commercially
attractive 15-44 year olds with national commercial radio listening
share of 29.7%", a comment that immediately raises the question
of what about the, presumable "commercially unattractive"
audience up to 15, when habits such as listening may be formed,
and after 44, a group that in the western world is making up an
increasing share of the total population.
The first are in a sense the most important for commercial radio
since if they get - as many are doing - into habits of not listening
to radio, not reading newspapers, and maybe not watching that much
TV, there are some serious problems ahead for "traditional
The latter, as well as becoming a larger proportion of the population,
will also be likely to have an increasing proportion of "discretionary
spending" at their fingertips.
Both therefore should in our view be considered as very important
yet commercial broadcasters, stuck with attracting not just audiences
but adverts to finance their operations, are being corralled by
the advertising tail into risking problems for the whole dog.
That may not be as much of a problem in countries like the UK with
a strong public broadcaster since, if the commercial sector had
a little vision rather than a narrow measuring approach - we once
remember telling a CFO (who had a sense of humour, be it said, and
played jazz quite well) that the clean new ruler on his desk represented
an upgrading of his staff - it did the same job (measuring), was
less trouble and costly to maintain or replace, and had just as
much imagination as many accountants display, it would realise that
a sector that keeps the "commercially "unattractive"
listening strengthens the whole just as clustering shops providing
similar services often expands the business of the whole since people
will go to the area knowing they are likely to be able to assess
options AND get what they want there.
So what is the sensible long-term option for radio, which is still
an unrivalled medium for very economically distributing audio and
nowadays also a degree of other information to a mass audience?
Accept digital, think
The first conclusion we come to is that all
broadcasters have to accept that digital is here to stay,
think digital, and use it to their best long-term benefit.
Following on that it should be clear that this involves thinking
multi-platform since, whether the broadcaster likes it or
not, people will be able to access audio signals - to varying
degrees in various areas - through analogue broadcasts; digital
radio broadcasts both satellite and terrestrial; digital TV
platforms, again both satellite and terrestrial; cable; and
Internet - and do so with a variety of devices including analogue
radio receivers, TV sets, computers and related devices that
can access Internet signals and mobile devices including phones
with built-in MP3 players.
A few years ago some of these options were not available and
even when they were took the form of a single-purpose device
- a phone was a phone not a combined, camera, e-mail, phone,
and digital multi media player that can handle - and store
- digital multi media and easily link to a computer for data
Nobody knows yet which devices will succeed nor indeed where:
Japan and Korea, for example, currently have more advanced
services operating than the US or Europe and where some of
these services have been offered elsewhere as with NTT's DoCoMo
the implementation ahs been much more limited and inferior
to the original service and could find itself overtaken by
newer technology. Thus a broadcaster with any sense has to
think of what devices may offer and position itself to deliver
what people want on any platform rather than getting tied
down to specific current technology.
Some of this will involve delivering an audio signal as currently
done by analogue radio albeit maybe with extras such as traffic
information (technology already widely implemented in various
countries allows stations to break into an automobile radio
analogue signal with this and emergency information), rather
more information with digital, and potentially revenue-generating
services such as the ability for mobile device users to purchase
a song they are listening to at the touch of a button rather
than going through a number of stages.
In addition technological development may yet put much more
control in the hands of the consumer who may want to take
video at time as well a audio - presumably not while driving
however - or pre-programme their preferences as is already
possible with the Internet: On the reverse side the same technology
will enable advertisers to target their adverts much more
but at the same time allow them to choose platforms according
to the purpose of the advert - the reason, for example that
even a fairly technologically limited service such as Craigslist
can take so much advertising away from local newspapers because
it offers a search capability.
For fairly obvious reasons the young,
growing up with the technology, are more likely to use newer
technologies to access audio - a horrible phrase compared
to listen to music, for example, but at the same time probably
accurate since much of the time they are accessing something
rather than paying much attention to it.
They, like their elders, however, will generally go for a
simple means to get to what they want and radio is a very
robust, economic, and simple way to listen to sound and if
they can be enticed to listen and appreciate what they hear
are likely to keep on listening throughout life. In their
case it seems to use that additional facilities - such as
offering digital multi-media and instant storage/purchase
facilities on mobile devices - are likely to keep them rather
than lose them if introduced intelligently and designed to
make use easy.
A note there for organizations such as the recording companies
who, rather than making it easy to pay for a quality product
and marketing their wares accordingly whilst allowing reasonable
leeway for people to record off-air have tended to react with
a negative approach of trying to ban people from doing things
and use the technological advances merely to increase their
short-term take. They have not been particularly successful
The more elderly have in general tended
to stick with things they know but e-mail and sending and
accessing pictures of grandchildren over the Internet is nowadays
not a strange activity for many of the, if not most, and in
the UK they have been a major factor in the growth of terrestrial
They may not demand so many facilities as the young - and
with less perfect eyesight and hearing (although the latter
is probably much better than today's young are likely to have
after years of using earphones) need differently-designed
devices but they will in our view adopt these facilities if
they make sense.
If their eyesight is poor, larger text is a terrific boon
and many designers' ideas anathema - small grey controls on
a black background for a device likely to be used in poor
light is not ideal and we would love to be able to compulsory
set CEO's of design and appliance companies a week of testing
their devices each year with loss of pay according to how
small a percentage they can get to work or mistakes they make
as a means of improving design.
Nevertheless if devices are made friendly for them to use,
we have no doubt they will increase their take up of additional
For all demographics, though, some things
apply in our view. If the programming is easy to access and
considered worthy of the effort of listening, it will gain
an audience but that audience will be a combination of the
general and the fragmented. If the offering is not considered
worth the effort - and too many interruptions from adverts
certainly put a lot of people off and turned them to other
services - or is difficult or expensive to access - for example,
HD radio is too expensive and in too many areas also too limited
in programming and unreliable - then it won't get the audience.
Digital offers existing broadcasters ways of expanding and
developing both. If can offer extra audio channels and additional
facilities that will appeal to smaller groupings and attract
advertisers who want to specifically target them and yet retain
the same general service - still with additional facilities
- for the mass audience.
Whatever the offering however, broadcast will now have many
more competitors for eyes and ears and in our view it will
be very short-sighted to neglect large groups in the population.
Advertising agencies may remain staffed by younger people
who think according to their age group and experiences but
the advertisers ultimately sell to all groups and radio companies
that have the sense to use digital to expand the groups to
which they appeal can potentially increase their share of
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