Advertising Isn’t to Blame for Commercial Radio’s Woes

Radio_mast_3 Fru Hazlitt, the new MD of GCap last week gave a keynote speech at the Media 360 event to assert that bad ads were causing listeners to abandon commercial radio.

whilst Hazlitt stopped short of threatening to pull ‘poor’ ads from schedules, plans were announced to set up a listener poll to rate the quality of ads.

there’s a big assumption here – that bad ads = disgruntled listeners = defection = strong BBC.  and thats a big assumption to make.

whilst it’s true that commercial radio is suffering against a consistently strong BBC, and that the lack of ads on the latter certainly plays a part in it’s success; what this assertion ignores are other potentially strong factors that have combined to produce a strong BBC…

no channel is feeling the effects of a changing media landscape more than radio.  the combination of the i-pod generation carrying their music libraries wherever they go along with the wide and often free access to music offered by the internet has left some stations struggling to maintain their relevance.

it was this aspect that the speech last week ignored.  in a world where music is available on demand, three things become key to a radio station staying relevant

  • unique content (stuff that you can’t listen to or get from elsewhere else eg talk radio)
  • newness (eg tracks or bands you may not have heard before)
  • great packaging (eg respected DJs, innovative formats)

it is across these aspects that the BBC has arguably out-performed commercial radio.  from the strength and breadth of non-music offerings (Five Live being a case in point), to innovative and less-mainstream stations (of which 6 music is arguably the strongest), the BBC is doing more than capitalizing on listeners frustrations with advertising.  commercial radio on the other hand – in the main – continues to peddle mainstream music music without the necessary investment in either innovative formats or value-adding presenters.

there are exceptions, GCap’s Xfm continues to outperform rivals with a combination of credible new music and innovative formats (see X-posure for evidence), recently winning the last FM analogue license in South Wales.  but this week will see GCap ‘overhaul’ the brand, with changes expected in DJ line-up and music formats.  perhaps it will also introduce viewer ad-polling as part of the review.

advertising may be part of commercial radio’s woes, but it’s far from the only one.  and there’s a lot radio station owners could do to help their cause before alienating and then potentially culling their biggest source of income.

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