Just kidding! Come on, radio is here to stay. But, podcasts are getting more and more weight in the figures in 2019. From a listener point of view, radio is not dead of course. Let’s talk clearly for a minute. An actual business analysis makes us think that radio is very much alive, that its future is bright and that the credibility of the medium is amazingly strong in comparison with the internet news outlets.
Radio Days Europe has gathered this year in Lausanne the most important actors of the radio industry, alongside a more and more important class of new players: the podcasters whether they belong to media groups or come up with a brand new start-up philosophy, aimed at hacking the old vertical distribution from the mass media operator to the big crowds in their personal cars or listening to radio programmes on a FM/DAB+ receiver.
Monday, Paul Keenan, the CEO of the gigantic radio group Bauer Media UK (Kiss, Magic, Jazz FM, Kerrang!, Absolute…) which reaches 22 million people every day in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, painted a quite positive picture for the future of the medium. So no, radio is not dead. On the contrary, radio is alive and kicking and will reach new targets by reinventing itself with podcasts for instance. Podcasts are just multiplying each day, making our audio medias more important than ever.
One strong opponent to the « linear » commercial-oriented speech of Paul Keenan could be the Swedish radio executive Cilla Benkö, seen and heard on the « Radio Summit » Monday at the main auditorium of the SwissTech convention center of the EPFL campus in the afternoon. Cilla is a major actress of the pubic radio broadcasting sector in Europe through her executive tasks at Sveriges Radio, the Swedish public radio organisation and through her role at the EBU, she also has a vision about her media group that reasserts the power of public radio in her homecountry. Sweden, a place that is very lively for radio and digital offers. Spotify comes from there and music radio brands like NRJ florish.
In many countries, revenues from the radio programmes and products from the private sector improve, in Sweden, audio advertising revenues topped 1 billion swedish Crowns in 2018 for the first time, having gained over the last five years 77 per cent in growth according to figures displayed by Paul Keenan and a lot more european places have actually known the same phenomenon.
Denmark has announced that it was going to limit competition between the private and the public sectors, in fact the danish government recognizes that both sectors have a public duty. That is what the Director General of the Swedish radio thinks too. Here’s a seven minute audio interview with her in English.
On another scale, what is definitely new to the radio world is that the development of the reach of many stations could be really spectacular, as long as both private and public sectors are taking the « podcast frenzy » seriously. Which means managing a strategy that implies both production and distribution of an alternative podcasting offer, native and evergreen preferrably, without the exact same codes of the on-air production style. I met with Carine Fillot who launched her start-up Hack The Radio a few years back. That very skilled former radio producer for Radio France and Lagardère became the one and only independent podcasting platform that curates the shows all around the francophone spectrum (public and private radio outlets as long as indie podcasters), it became Elson.fr. The target is obviously the « radio lovers » but who knows, she might appeal to a brand new population of « podcasts lovers » who did not turned yet to the « old radio companion » as the Americans would love to say. Carine Fillot intervened as a special guest within a conference called « Reinventing Radio in a SMART way ». Here’s what she does with Elson.fr, a sort of « Netflix for podcasts » with a reasonnable pricing policy, a fair one too for the small podcasts producers. Here’s Carine in French, sorry if you can’t google translate that piece.
Carine Fillot from Elson.fr, guest of Dave Watson from the company David (Dave is on the left, Carine second left)
So let’s go back to what we were saying. Is radio still alive or is it dead? Of course, we should no longer talk about radio as a whole. The term « audio » would be more accurate to summarize the immensity of the world of contents coming from the platforms like Spotify or Elson which deliver playlists of podcasts according to your preferences. Elson doing a real good job to personnalize your experience, Spotify being the double entry for the music world and the spoken world. Tamar Charney (fourth person from the left on the photo), managing editor at NPR, in charge of NPR One, the successful app that mingles news, native podcasts and also on-air productions, summarized well what the world of podcasting means to a public radio group like hers: “I don’t know where this is going, it’s a new space. We try and build on what we’re good at, and extend it into this new space.” Knowing that the way we use radio nowadays is less and less linear, attached to a rigid grid, the change is brutal. Many private broadcasters who were very late coming into the game caught up, NRJ multiplying the webradios by style, maximising its figures online, IHeartMedia which delivers on its app many podcasts produced by its brands all over Northern America, BBC releasing its app Sounds, and so on and so forth. Darren Davis, the Managing director of the group IHeartMedia says that « podcasting is front and centre of the audio boom » because half of all Americans listen to podcasts every month now », it fits iHeartMedia’s strategy to be where every Americans are. Same mantra for the Public broadcaster Radio France whose CEO Sibyle Veil sees an opportunity to reach new audiences by placing the brands of the group where the youth is. Here’s her interview in French.
The Frenh public radio group of radio networks is one of the strongest in the world to produce podcasts, it is also willing to develop partnerships with the private sector to finally push forward the DAB+ within France, a technology that belongs to the radio world, which means terrestrial, to reach people like it always did with the FM networks and the long waves but with a whole new quality sound, an enriched set of datas displayed on the receiver’s screen and finally more space to squeeze private, public and independent low-cost community service programmes on one market/town/region. So the radio as we know it is really dead. The old FM transmitter will be disappearing within the next 30 years in the western world to be replaced by a digital offer that will mesh with the podcasting platforms like Elson on different receivers (phone, dashboard…). In that respect, radio will stay one big part of the economic equation of this whole new world of sounds that I’d like to call the « Audio », because the ads will always worth more on a mass medium. Car manufacturers understood it, PSA and Audi that were represented by two project managers for innovation at the Radio Days Europe Tuesday introduced the crowd to the research that leads today the car buyers to go to the best experience on board, listening to « hybrid radio » (FM, DAB+, AM and podcasts), by using their voice to command a channel or a podcast.
By David Glaser
Coming up next, a deep dive into the music and imaging policiers on the BBC on Suississimo and a long story about Maxximum, the RTL Group/EMMIS radio station that changed the whole French radio landscape fron 1989 to 1992.