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Finding the Next Radio Innovations

Where and how do we find the next radio innovations?

As I’ve said many times before, radio is a stable and solid industry, and one of its core reasons for being so popular in the face of so many threats over the decades is down to that fact. Nothing sheds listeners quicker than rapid and constant on-air change, and sometimes that safety blanket causes us to be too slow to move and too inward-looking to really disrupt ourselves.

Podcasters

The week I wrote this, Fast Company released its list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies. Under the media section top 10 are two podcast platforms (Cadence13 and Wondery) — no radio businesses. What are the podcasters doing that gets them the recognition that the radio people should be looking at?

Cadence13 specialises in bringing big names such as Malcolm Gladwell, Kobe Bryant and Gwyneth Paltrow to the medium, while Wondery adds TV-quality production values to podcasting but what is it that makes them seem more innovative than radio businesses? If you’re one of the later, that’s what you need to find out.

Innovation is disruption and no radio market will be shook up more than the UK with the announcement that Global Radio will replace the 40+ local breakfast shows across its Capital, Smooth and Heart networks with just three nationwide programmes broadcast out of London. The local stations have had the option to produce their own drive shows up until now but, under the new move, all drive shows will be uniform across the country, with only news and advertising being different. To put this into perspective, it would be like all SABC radio stations cutting their African language breakfast shows and replaced them with Fresh’s show. You win a little but you stand to lose more.

It’s seen by some as a cost-cutting exercise but investment in radio in the UK has never been higher.

What has Global seen that points the way to a new way of running a radio business and, alternatively, how may these now-defunct smaller stations and providers rise from the ashes and carry on their brands on DAB or other platforms?

Other media

Innovation in radio will also come from other media and, personally, that’s where I look the most. What’s happening in TV, app development, comic-book culture and video games that could help us develop the next iteration of radio content?

I got feedback from a station not too long ago that it didn’t want to gamify its content. In the context of that conversation, it made sense — but, in the broader picture, it doesn’t. All content right now is gamified and the consumers of that content are fine with it. They’re fine with the fact that, if they want more of this content or experience, they will either try earn more or pay for more.

I look at Fortnite — a free game. Free like radio. I can experience it to a level for free but, if I want the full experience, I’ve got to work damn hard or pay for more. Paying for content or trying to earn more isn’t a problem as long as the content is good.

A similar thought exists with Twitch, which is a massive streaming, video-game platform (as an aside, If 10-year-old me had known you would be able to be paid for playing video games, I would have had a very different column). If you can’t get over that people watch other people playing video games, you’ll be blown away to find out that, on Twitch, those people pay others to watch them play video games.

Easy

Whichever numbers you look for on Twitch run in either millions or billions and, even though the average age of a Twitch user, or a Fortnite player, is way below the age of an average radio listener — those people will move over to radio some time and will radio offer them an experience they’ve grown up on?

So, it’s easy, then: if you’re sitting in a radio programming department or creating branded content for radio, be more like Fortnite. And, with an income of US$2m a day, that’s not a bad example to follow.

Paulo Dias