Ginger sets pace in Net radio race

Ginger says radio through the Net will take off and has launched contract broadcasting service G One to ensure it will be a key player.

While Ginger Media Group boss Chris Evans considers selling off the business to Scottish Media Group, other Ginger executives are trying to create a new medium.

They believe that within ten years thousands of radio stations will be broadcast through the Internet, on shortwave and through satellite TV. An advantage is this new breed of radio station will not have to apply for licences, as they can rent frequencies from a company which already holds one.

Ginger wants to be a major force in this development and has created G One, a joint venture with radio production company Unique. G One will offer “contract broadcasting” so that brand owners can launch radio stations to promote their products (MW December 16).

Last week, G One announced that Levi’s would be its first customer. G One, in partnership with Virgin Radio – also owned by Ginger – is producing a four-hour Friday night dance music radio show for Levi’s, called Global Sound Kitchen. The show gives Levi’s a media platform which will eventually develop into a full-blown, 24-hour-a-day radio station. G One hopes other brands will follow.

BP Amoco has already sponsored a one-off show through G One and the radio company’s managing director Clare Marshall says she is negotiating two other proposals from global brand owners.

Virgin Radio acting sales director Lee Roberts, who is heading the Global Sound Kitchen venture, says: “We are keen to expand outside the conventional radio model, which is all about licences.

“We think the future is getting content out without licences through the Net – which will become a rival to broadcasting – and we can now buy spare capacity where there is oversupply on shortwave and satellite.”

G One buys space on shortwave radio from Merlin Communications, and satellite TV capacity through Astra.

Merlin transmits the BBC World Service around the globe, holding the radio licence on behalf of the BBC. The BBC World Service does not use all its frequencies so they are hired out under the licence which Merlin owns. No licence is needed by the subcontractors, which include Voice of America and Radio Portugal. G One has become Merlin’s preferred UK supplier.

As the UK’s biggest radio companies begin to take the Net seriously – ploughing multimillion- pound investments into new Net divisions – advertisers are waking up to radio as an Internet medium.

G One’s proposition goes one step further and offers radio as a vehicle for media ownership, with instant global reach.

Levi’s branding on Global Sound Kitchen’s Website is minimal, which the company sees as important for maintaining credibility among young listeners, who shun the over-commercialisation of what is supposed to be “underground” music.

Global Sound Kitchen’s Website bills itself as: “A non-commercial station. We are supported by Levi’s but have no advertisers. This means we can broadcast long clean sets, which are free from commercial breaks and interruptions.”

Instead listeners hear the line “we are supported by Levi’s” once or twice an hour.

The radio show portrays one of the world’s largest clothing companies as having “cutting edge” brand values. It is meant to sound like a “pirate” radio station, and listeners are encouraged to ask their local radio stations to rebroadcast the show.

But Roberts says: “The last thing we want is EMAP’s Kiss or Chrysalis’ Galaxy rebroadcasting it. We want it to be associated with uncorporate, cutting-edge music.”

Levi’s is taking its radio commitment to heart and has established a radio station in Bosnia, this time broadcasting on FM in Sarajevo, as part of a United Nations drive to rebuild the cultural life of the war-torn land. It has also just signed a contract for G One to produce Global Sound Kitchen for another year and is interested in a three-year deal, according to G Ones’ Marshall.

Marshall has “no idea” how many listeners Global Sound Kitchen has, partly because she believes most people tune in through shortwave radio rather than the Net, for which there are no statistics.

The Net, digital radio and digital TV – and soon mobile phones connecting to the Net – are providing radio with more routes to market and more radio stations.

The industry has to create brands with staying power and translate existing local or national brands onto new formats, which, in the case of the Net, offers them a global audience.

Roberts says: “In ten years, there will be thousands of radio stations on the Net. We think 200 will be listened to by 85 per cent of the population and those 200 will be owned by six or seven companies and we are keen to be among them. The issue is about having strong brands to compete.”

Ginger Media Group has been broadcasting Virgin Radio on Astra since 1993 and through its Website since 1996. It has 750,000 listeners on the Net, 48 per cent of whom are in the US, according to Roberts.

Through G One, Ginger is creating a radio distribution service, but how quickly advertisers follow Levi’s example – a brand already associated with music – remains to be seen.

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