James Cridland, the BBC's new Head of Future Media and Technology, Audio and Music, points out that Strategy Analytics' analyst forum at IBC
, "Broadcast Under Threat" (complimentary registration...) should be titled "Television Under Threat", implying presumably that Radio is "broadcast" and has already been "under threat" for many years, and in fact has successfully evolved to meet that threat. You can read James' blog here
. To be fair, he's also questioning why such events always concentrate on television and video, apparently ignoring the fact radio is in many ways ahead of the pack in adapting to the digital world.
From a personal point of view, I have been a regular user of the BBC's podcasting service for a couple of years, transferring the shows to my MP3 player. I can't say if it's actually increased my overall listening to radio, but subjectively it has certainly improved my ability to hear what I want to hear rather than whatever the BBC happens to be broadcasting at any given time. I only wish the BBC had moved its podcasts from trial to a full-blown service - the selection of programmes is still very limited.
As a side issue, there has to be some concern that the BBC is unable to move quickly enough in new media now that the new BBC Trust management set-up is in place. Or perhaps it's the thorny issue of copyright that's the hold-up. One of the best BBC podcasts, The Now Show
, is currently unavailable "as some aspects of our new podcasting service are still being negotiated". When it was available, The Now Show was a good demonstration of the copyright challenges faced by downloaded radio - every programme included one or two "blank spaces" (filled by amusing presenter asides) where the broadcaster did not have the rights to make the original broadcast material available for download. It was usually, and inevitably, a music track that was the culprit.
Apart from podcasts, which are a more recent innovation, radio streaming has been expanding for many years. The limitation for most users is that online radio typically requires access to a PC, but this has not stopped online streaming becoming an important platform. Again on a personal level, this has become an invaluable service when I'm travelling overseas, as an alternative to whatever local TV or radio is available, and I know this applies to many other "air warriors".
Radio has always been seen as the poor relation to TV and video, even though, as James points out, it is still massively popular. In spite of its audience reach, however, radio is not underpinned by the same service provider/user relationship that characterises the pay TV industry, which has driven so much innovation in television. Indeed, "pay radio" has never caught on in Europe, in spite of several attempts, although it has started to become an important factor in the US (see Sirius
Back in the analogue era, I lost count of the number of times people complained that there was no simple way to record radio programmes onto tape cassette (like a radio VCR). It's not as though the technologies were not there - the addition of a basic timer to most home hi-fi systems would have allowed this, but manufacturers felt there was no need, and the radio industry didn't seem to want to encourage it. The significance of the online platform to the radio industry has to be not only in wider programme distribution and availability, but also in a more effective and timely response to listeners' expectations. In this case, radio will surely continue to flourish.