NAB Show highlights a trend away from studio complexes
I recently went to the NAB Show in Las Vegas - the first time I’d been there for three years or so. I used to stay at The Riviera, a gloriously run down hotel and casino, which had two good things - first, it was a short walk away from the Convention Center, and therefore relatively easy to get to; second, it had an almost acceptable British pub in it, which was a nice home from home. Oh, and it was very cheap.
The Riviera was knocked down a few years ago, though. In its place this year was a lot of building work: the Convention Center is expanding, and where there was once a crappy hotel with awful wifi, there will soon be The West Halls, a place to fill with more exhibitors.
So this time, I discovered a new hotel - the LINQ, which is a monorail stop away from the convention centre. It doesn’t have the opulent fanciness of the Wynn, but it also doesn’t have the prices to match. The best bit of the LINQ is a European-style street off the strip, with a number of decent eating places down it. Spend a little time here, and you can nearly forget about the horrific nonsense of the rest of Las Vegas.
I spent much time in the audio part of the NAB Show, and noticed a small change: equipment manufacturers are making more stuff for home studios, rather than massive downtown studio facilities. Some manufacturers, at least, are recognising that work is changing for those that make great audio. We don’t need gorgeous studios in expensive locations, now that we have high-speed internet.
As one example: Rhod Sharpe, a radio presenter for BBC Radio 5 Live, has presented the same overnight show for the last twenty-five years - much of it from an eighteenth-century house in the US state of Massachusetts. He requires a microphone, a few monitors, a data link, and not much else.
There are more stories of radio stations being happier to leave the studio behind. Filippo Solibello, a broadcaster for Italian broadcaster RAI, sees a studio as a confining place: he much prefers to take his show on the road. He appears to need a microphone, a laptop, and a wifi connection.
Indeed, there are many stations - some on internet only, some on FM or DAB - which exist without having a broadcast centre at all: each show coming from the presenter’s home.
Radio’s unique selling point is a human connection and a shared experience: something that Spotify cannot possibly hope to do. Increasingly, that human connection and shared experience isn’t served by having presenters locked in a brightly-lit studio, wittering on about Kim Kardashian or interviewing movie stars. Better, perhaps, to get out and do stuff - whether live or nearly live - across your broadcast area.
If equipment manufacturers are beginning to notice the trend to home studios, perhaps that’s an opportunity for all of us to rethink how we make radio to keep it relevant for the future.
I take a listen to one
In a submission to government, Commercial Radio Australia, the Australian equivalent of the UK’s Radiocentre, asks for, among other things, a legal requirement that people shoyld remove links to live radio streams, and podcasts, if the content owners ask.
The reason given is that other places might link to live streams or to podcasts, and therefore people won’t visit radio station websites any more, and therefore radio companies will lose out on the revenue from ad banners on those websites.
First: there’s no need to get government involved. If you don’t want others linking to your live stream, you can protect it: just ask Netflix, Spotify or even Apple’s Beats 1. If you don’t want others linking to your podcasts, just remove the RSS feed and nobody will be able to link to your podcasts any more. Technology to protect streams and files has been available for at least twenty years.
Second: for an ad-funded platform, it’s absolutely the wrong strategy to limit your potential audience. Your main goal should be to get more listeners to your ad-funded content.
Third: podcasting, in particular, works by a podcaster publishing an RSS feed. This feed is published deliberately to help other websites and apps to find individual episodes — without formal permission being given. The whole point, and success, of podcasting is that it’s open. To bring legal protection against people linking to your podcast is dangerous for the entire medium.
And fourth: “permission from the content owners” is an interesting one. The content owners of much of radio’s output are the record companies, not the radio stations. The record companies are in perpetual fights with broadcast radio, and will be delighted to learn that you’ve handed them a way to switch off your internet streams.
The press release seems a scattergun list of issues — everything from better ad measurement, asking for less regulation, asking for more regulation, and asking for money. But the legal requirements about links to streams and especially to podcasts are dangerously misguided; and display a fundamental misunderstanding of how the medium works.
Just count yourself lucky you’re not in Australia.
Watch the video in full at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qENEQ1qClUw
I'd think they should, in any radio company...Music by Ignite Jingles. Clips from an ATT video from the 1960s.
Television, as we know, is changing rapidly - significantly more so than radio. Viewers to live TV are declining, as audiences get more used to on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu, Stan, or iPlayer. So, TV platforms are trying new things.
At the beginning of this year, the TV system that I subscribe to - a little Australian set-top-box called Fetch TV - added a new channel. It’s a true-crime channel called Oxygen, run by NBC Universal, and it’s on channel 101.
Oxygen is an interesting model - because it isn’t actually a television channel at all.
Sure, it looks like a television channel. It appears in the EPG alongside all the other television channels, and it has a broadcast schedule, too, 24-hours a day. If I flick through the channels in an evening, I’ll flick past Oxygen just like every other channel. You can watch it just like any other channel - you can watch a show, then the show finishes, then something else will start.
In fact, Oxygen is just a collection of on-demand TV shows. On the TV Guide, it exists as a virtual channel - the EPG slot there to promote the shows available on-demand. When you channel-surf into Oxygen, it isn’t giving you a live TV channel at all - in fact, the show conveniently starts at the beginning. It’s an on-demand service - not a live TV channel. Programming has been chosen based on how well it’ll perform as an on-demand product.
What could radio learn from this?
Imagine - you tune into the radio, and the first thing you hear is your favourite song. Followed by, yes, the live presenters (at least, recorded live five minutes ago). A radio station that gives you the travel at 8.20am and only at 8.20am, because that’s the time you’re just getting ready to drive into work. A radio station that has everything that makes great radio - presenters talking about the football last night, the ride into town today; but a radio station that has nothing that makes for bad radio - no poorly-targeted advertising, no overplaying of my favourite songs.
If we were to think of great music radio as a jigsaw, made from short pieces of on-demand audio content, rather than a live unalterable stream - what would that mean?
That “jigsaw” could be assembled just for me, on my mobile phone. And for you, on yours. And a version of that jigsaw also assembled for those listening on FM - with less of the personalisation, but otherwise should sound virtually identical.
Is the future for radio something which is devised as a collection of on-demand audio, assembled for each listener… and where the FM transmitter is just another listener?
Does radio need a bit of Oxygen?
Last year, Chris Evans was the presenter of the most listened-to breakfast show in Europe - The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2.
The BBC earns most of its money from a television licence fee, currently US$195 or so, which households in the UK have to pay if they have a television. This licence fee (and the sale of programmes to other broadcasters) pays for the whole thing - so there are no commercials or sponsor credits on BBC Radio 2: it’s entirely commercial free, and perhaps that’s why 14.6m people tune in every week.
Of course, that’s not entirely true. The BBC does a very good job of promoting its own services. Were they to spend money on similar advertising elsewhere, that would be a very high bill indeed. So there is plenty of promotion of new BBC television shows, and plenty of breathless interviews with big BBC stars who often have something to plug. But that’s fine, and that’s not really “commercial messaging”.
Chris Evans left the BBC at the end of last year; and has just started presenting The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Virgin Radio, arguably one of the smallest national radio stations in the country, with 414,000 listeners.
Virgin Radio (a trademark of Virgin, yes, but owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in the UK) is a commercial radio station: but the Chris Evans breakfast show is entirely commercial free. There’s not a single commercial in the entire three and a half hours.
Of course, that’s not entirely true, either. He’s sponsored by Sky, one of the UK’s largest TV broadcasters. There are occasional sponsor credits, but if the first show is anything to go by, there’ll be plenty of promotion of new Sky television shows, and plenty of breathless interviews with big Sky stars who often have something to plug. But there won’t be a single 30-second ad for washing powder, sausages, double-glazing, or anything else - “not for the first hundred years,” said Chris - presumably exaggerating slightly - in his first show.
It’s a canny move. If the only thing holding his previous audience back was the prospect of radio commercials, Virgin Radio have removed that objection. And why not.
In truth, the loss of commercial inventory from the breakfast show won’t damage the station much: it stands to considerably gain from the marketing and halo effect that its new big star will have.
When radio’s online competition has a much lighter ad-load, or no ads at all, it’s a clever move to work to rethink commercial radio’s revenue model. Good on Virgin Radio for giving that a go.
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