LONDON — Over the past decade, radio broadcasting has felt the pressure to adapt in line with changing consumer behavior and the broadening of content services now available. As the popularity of podcasts in particular continue to soar, what does this mean for the health of radio?
Jack Wetherill, Principal Analyst at Futuresource Consulting, posed the topic to British radio industry panelists last week at Audio Collaborative 2020.
Joining him for the discussion was Steve Raizes, Senior Vice President at ViacomCBS Podcasts; Ian O’Neill, Head of Radio and Head of Broadcasting Resilience at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS); Chris Burns, Head of Audio & Digital at BBC England; and Travis Baxter, Content & External Affairs Director at Bauer Media.
Travis Baxter explained that “during COVID-19, markets across Europe and the UK experienced a flourish in audience growth across radio, including the consumption of linear radio on IP devices. While COVID-19 still poses both opportunity and threat, it has enabled us to benefit from a fantastic reset for the sector. It has enabled us to reinstate its purpose from a branding perspective to get honest, accurate information – to gain a sensible and considered view of the world.”
“What COVID-19 has reminded us of is that despite being a global pandemic, it has been felt in a really local way, with different experiences depending on where you’re from,” expressed Chris Burns. “In terms of local radio, there’s been a real focus on telling the story locally – of building trusted views and becoming a virtual notice board for bringing audiences and communities closer together.”
Chris Burns continued, “responding immediately to any changes happening with local lockdowns has been essential.” As a result, Chris stated that audience interaction to all of their stations has gone up by a third during COVID, as people required those immediate updates, companionship and above all, the human element that local radio offers.
Ian O’Neill added that radio is certainly a vibrant and essential media. “When people really do need information that’s relevant to their lives and wellbeing, they turn to radio as one of the highest trusted sources.”
Are we Experiencing a Demise in Radio?
Steve Raizes comments that radio is certainly not dead yet, even outside of the UK. “Radio has an incredibly strong space historically in the US. The localisation and immediacy of radio is so powerful. During the election in particular, radio has enabled us to get a ‘real time’ understanding for what is going on, being able to connect with others and form a community.”
To reinstate the fact that radio still captures a large audience, Ian O’Neill commented that “88% of adults still listen to radio at least once a week in the UK. Younger people are less engaged than they used to be due to the choice out there now, including the surge in gaming popularity, so it’s about radio being able to adapt itself and find new audiences to bring people back to radio – to curate even more content and music.”
Is Scheduled Radio a Victim of Podcasting?
Steve Raizes stated that in the U.S., “currently 44% of all audio is radio, while 6% is podcasts – so we’re still far off, but I do truly believe that ‘audio is ultimately audio’.” He comments that we should be focusing on trying to grow the medium as a whole and part of this strategy is to reach as many people as we can. The more we can collectively grow, the better audio will be.
Steve added that ‘for one particular podcast received 200,000 downloads per month. When we extended this content to radio, we experienced 2.2 million in one month. That’s because while the two formats do attract different audiences, these audiences still have similar tastes – with a love for stories and connections.
Travis adds that there is certainly a synergistic nature between the two. While radio offers ‘bite-sized’ pieces of content in a linear format, it’s absolutely the same idea with podcasts – just packaged or made available on its own. “Podcasting is an expansion of radio; sharing new ideas between the two formats will increase editorial freedom.”
What Will the Next Five Years Look Like?
The radio panel as a whole agreed that while radio will remain a strong and vibrant source, the synergy with podcasting will continue to grow. There is a strong desire to bring the localization and live element together between podcasting and radio, to create a richer product overall.
— editing by the Weekly Tech Roundup European News Desk in Kaiserslautern, Germany.