Why student broadcast is a sound investment

College radio is an established part of American youth culture – but have we missed out again? The image of the typical UK student is different to the States; here we are still trapped in an archaic “Young One’s” view of penniless students, who do little more than whinge.

But marketers are in two minds about students. They see graduates as the future of their companies, but rarely view them as future consumers of their brands. Somehow they think that ignoring a third of the coveted “youth” market makes sense.

However, forward thinking brands such as NatWest, Tango and EMI understand that students are youth opinion formers who spend £5bn annually. However, dedicated advertising across all media still accounts for a few million pounds. This is slowly changing as banks, the music industry and brewers are being joined by telecoms companies and media owners – proof of the importance of the audience and of this channel in being able to reach them.

Students consume mainstream media but also have their own thriving media – press, radio, Websites and even small TV operations. Ten years ago student media was dominated by press, but the shift to broadcast has been huge. As ever, the appeal of radio is its immediacy. Student radio can challenge mainstream radio as it is not restricted by commercial pressures and will take risks. This is demonstrated by the music policy of student stations which break new bands. The Stereophonics, Gomez and Rialto started here and student radio has had world exclusives, from acts such as Freddy Fresh and Fatboy Slim.

Student radio is rapidly becoming the lead medium on campus. A weekly reach of 16 per cent and an estimated termly reach of 56 per cent beats all commercial stations, according to tracking body Continental Research. There are 56 stations in the UK providing a breeding ground for new radio talent – witness the Student Broadcast Network’s Alison Hulme winning this year’s Commercial Radio Companies Association’s Newcomer of the Year Award.

There have been many changes over the past two years, one of which is the ability to offer nationwide shows, such as the national student chart. This gives the music industry an insight into new music trends that was previously impossible to obtain. This sector has also seen increased investment, improved transmission, more training, and more on-campus marketing support for student stations.

Now that there is a centralised way of reaching students, more brands are becoming involved. Increased revenue in student radio will help it to grow and expand opportunities for advertisers. But the future will lie on the Web – 95 per cent of students already use the Internet every month. The question is whether traditional media operations will be able to keep up with students.

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