• BBC wrestle to hold onto a dwindling market

    BBC News has just revealed early plans by the corporation to produce a clip-on device that will turn portable media players into digital radio’s; probably similar to the iPod FM remote launched a while ago.

    The blurb in the article claims that it would be an attempt to make radio relevant to the upcoming generation, whom are so far mp3-orientated. Of course when they’re honest about it this is undeniably a move of self-interest.

    The BBC has been the at the fore of DAB in the UK so far although the venture hasn’t proven itself to be as popular as they might have hoped; the high cost of a DAB radio player when compared to a traditional one is part of the issue, the rise in new media which is damaging TV as much as anything else is also important.

    The move has to be questioned though. Technology pricing will eventually fall to a reasonable level and at that point the BBC will be faced with the single reality that people aren’t listening because they have a better aural offer elsewhere. There’s no point in giving people the opportunity to listen to digital radio on their iPod if there’s nothing worth hearing on it by comparison.
    Radio needs to make a change and digital radio is as good a chance as any to do this; but it’s not through creating niche channels that play minority music, however, it’s by finding something unique that can’t be bought on iTunes or downloaded in a podcast.

    The pop-radio format is in serious need of an overhaul. In the 1990’s various radio stations would boast about their songs/hour ratio, the amount of songs they play without interruption and so on but when a listener can hear countless songs without presenters, ad’s or news breaks and be guarenteed to actually like each song played there’s no contest.

    At this point radio needs to move away from its chart-orientation and find something new; if people like a song enough they already have it on their iPods and don’t need to hear it every 10 minutes on the radio.

    One format that will survive the explosion in portable music players is new music programming; offering listeners a chance to hear something they’ve never come across before is far better than offering them something they already have on mp3. Plenty of podcasts work on similar formats but a well-tuned presenter could cut the fat away, give bands a chance to be heard on a massive stage and even make it possible for them to get picked up.

    Another format is, of course, the talk based radio show. Having a real and interesting discussion is not something that is easily emulated, and it is extremely difficult for new media to keep up at the same standard as the seasoned pro’s. That’s not to say that good news podcasts and so on don’t exist but it is a fact that live radio now can be far more current than a day old podcast you dowloaded this morning. Add in a quality presenter with quality guests and topics and there’s no comparison at all.

    Comedy radio is something that the BBC has moved into with the onset of DAB and again it’s something that isn’t as easy to put on your iPod or as likely for people to have there either.

    In recent years the emergance of personality-radio has been the key to success, in a way radio is returning to its DJ-orientated routes. Many people listen to a presenter because they trust their judgement and (going back to an earlier point) are happy to allow said presenter to supply them with original music. Other people listen to a presenter because of the unique spin the add to the format, their sense of humour or ability to create an interesting programme outside of the music.

    Features and unique selling points are also becoming increasingly important. Breakfast shows like Ian Dempsey (Today FM) are using USP’s like Gift Grub to attract audiences and each player on the morning market has its own alternative. Strawberry Alarmclock (FM104) has Matt Molloy and The Morning Crew (98FM) has the Toll Trolls.
    In all radio companies like the BBC should focus more on creating worthwhile programming than simply trying to figure out new ways of delivering the old stuff to an un-interested audience. As it stands there are plenty of mp3 players available with radio built-in, and as mentioned even iPod’s have the ability with the right accessory.

    Radio should also look into engaging the new media better; the likes of the BBC and RTÉ cannot really be faulted for their involvement in podcasting however they have yet to make original programming based on their radio shows; the lack of extended interviews, additional features and content etc. are all missed opportunities. If you get someone to download a really original podcast-only show, they might just give the traditional radio version a try too.