Radio needs action on accountability rules

Last week’s report in Marketing Week on the efforts of the BBC to take the Top of the Pops brand to Europe is ironic on several counts.

First, the real story is not the sale of CDs in Germany, featuring Boyzone and Vanilla. The real story is what appears to be happening here in the UK, where the BBC is expected to co-ordinate the activities of Top of the Pops on BBC1, the Radio One Roadshow, plus the Top of the Pops magazine.

In the UK, we face the prospect of a strong brand, created with public funds, competing with commercial operators through a powerful mix of commercial and public service media activities. All of these activities are owned by a very large public sector corporation whose share of voice includes a 40 per cent television viewing share, 50 per cent share of listening through five national radio networks, and a rapidly proliferating portfolio of non-terrestrial television, press and multimedia ventures and products.

However, accountability for all of this continues to be based on the out-of-date view that the BBC is a public service broadcaster. Did The Clothes Show magazine ever turn a profit in all of its years of publication? None of us will ever know because it wasn’t ever declared. All of us working for listed companies have to stand up in front of shareholders at least every six months, in public.

Meanwhile, the Monopolies & Mergers Commission has told the radio industry that it should be considered separate from other display advertising markets. How can it be? The Government has proved to be interested in the radio industry and aware of what makes it special. This is good news be-cause media regulation is really important.

The Broadcasting Act of 1990 was a catalyst for a number of positive developments in radio. In many respects it laid the foundations for the industry’s success, because it created a platform for some great new stations and a new breed of radio company.

Commercial radio has worked hard since 1990 to build the profile, professionalism and choice on offer to the modern radio listener. As a result, commercial radio’s share of all listening has increased to 64 per cent. This group of people (the “commercial radio generation”), arguably the industry’s strongest asset, has been garnered over a few years of furious activity.

Radio’s unique approach, with the Commercial Radio Companies Association (CRCA) mustering near universal industry support and the Radio Advertising Bureau supporting the customer, continues to give the sector focus to deliver real results.

The demands from the money-rich, time-poor consumer, advertisers which demand better value for money and the development of new technology means that the media continues to change very quickly. Media regulation needs to keep pace to be fair.

A Green Paper on broadcasting is expected later this year which may lead to broadcast legislation. To assist the discussion further, the CRCA has commissioned an independent report on radio regulation in the future.

The Government has a lot to do, but the medium could really benefit from some close attention.

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