June 2006

Advertisers, demographics and maybe damaging the future.

Advertisers, 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 media".

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 digital.

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 exchange.

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.

The younger demographic.

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 at either.

The older demographic.

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 DAB.

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 facilities.

All demographics.

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 the cake.

What you think? Please E-mail your comments.

Comment index ........ E-Mail us with your comments
Front Page About this site Freelance bulletin
Site audio files Radio Stations Other links Archives Index Comment Pages Your feedback Browsers
players, 38 Creswick Road, Acton, London W3 9HF, UK: