Radio will have its day again

Radio has been lambasted for failing to keep up with other media, but will soon break through as a truly competitive digital platform, says Erica Taylor

Erica%20TaylorA decision on who will win the licence for the second national digital radio multiplex is due soon and it, along with the availability of radio on mobile, looks set to give the medium critical mass,

Over the past couple of years radio has encountered some bad press, with the medium being accused of failing to truly evolve in an ever-changing media landscape. We have become used to reading about declining listening figures, the strength of the BBC and the death of spot airtime, with growth being further stalled as the influence of the internet grows apace.

And digital, for all its positives, hasn’t really offered anything different to traditional radio other than easier station selection and a dated scrolling text screen. Effectively, people still listen to radio in the same way they always have, the only difference being an increase in choice of format.

Actually, all of this is old news. In fact, radio is at the forefront of new technologies and firmly focusing on the future, positioning itself at the heart of an evolving market – it just doesn’t PR itself very well.

In essence, whether we are talking about DAB, mobile phones or the internet, listeners will continue to use radio for its companionship and entertainment. This will remain true for the foreseeable future. However, the arrival of new platforms and gadgets will continue to increase the number of touchpoints and change the way we interact and engage with our favourite radio brands. Fundamentally, radio will become increasingly pervasive.

As listeners will eventually be able to receive visual and audio content on demand, exchange and swap files with friends and supply user-generated content, the emerging technologies will position radio to run with the rest of the pack over the next couple of years. One of the newest developments today sees the addition of a "visual" component within handheld devices in a bid to promote increased engagement and interactivity. Early prototypes such as the iRiver are already on the market supplying audio content with coloured slideshow imagery. Although the capabilities are still fairly limited, the "glanceability" aspect paves the way for call to action or branded content, providing the technology can support creativity.

One of the most interesting and exciting developments is the ability to download songs directly from your favourite radio station to your chosen device. This area is being pioneered by UBC in partnership with Chrysalis. Their prototype sends songs via the very digital format the station is broadcasting on.

Imagine this. You are listening to Heart and the latest Robbie Williams track comes on. A visual asks if you would like to buy the song. It could be free, paid for by subscription or added to your phone bill. Maybe even advertiser-funded. Either way, you have instant access to the song you have just heard. As the technology is using a digital signal, there is no need to wait for it to download – it’s on your phone already, you just need to choose whether to accept it or not.

Within the year it is perfectly plausible downloading songs will really take off, particularly with the launch of the iPhone and the "Googlephone", via its WiFi/edge technology. The possibilities are endless and such developments create an invaluable path for radio stations to build exclusive one-to-one relationships with listeners, both in terms of additional commerce opportunities and two-way interaction.

Radio already plays a vital role in what a person adds to his/her collection, now a station really has the ability to recommend new content. After all, iTunes and YouTube will always be limited by an individual’s imagination because you have to search for what you want. However, this potentially positions radio to become the first-stop shop for buying music both old and new. A sobering thought for existing music retailers.

This is all extremely positive news for the industry as a whole. However, to keep the momentum moving forward such developments must be embraced and offer sound, commercially viable opportunities. This is an area that has remained relatively uncharted. Should this progress and be channelled effectively, there is huge scope to generate increased revenue, which in turn, can be invested to create improved content, additional high-profile personalities thus leading to renewed optimism.

And so the cycle continues.

Erica Taylor, group buying director, Starcom


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