The topic of what radio is, and what it will be in the future has popped up a few times in my Twitter feed recently. It seems that there’s mixed views on what that future is. At a recent conference in Asia Commercial Radio Australia CEO Joan Warner told an audience that radio’s future was as hybrid. This echoes many opinion formers such as James Cridland and Adam Bowie. This is a scenario where a radio is still a radio, but can do other things; like connecting to the internet to download shows or connect listeners directly to the studio.
Of course, this is all really exciting. The problem that radio faces is that our eyes are being taken off the ball by cool iPhones and in-car systems that offer streaming music services. This misses the really benefit of radio as a distribution platform. Radio is free to all at point of use, and it doesn’t matter if 10 people, or 10,000 people are listening the costs of distributing that content remains the same. Move the same station online and things get more experience, for the radio stations, for the audience and for the mobile networks who distribute it. Imagine the problems if the internet was all we had? Would you be happy at not being able to listen to radio on the way to work because the kid in the next car is watching cat videos and sucking up all the data? OK, I know that’s not really how it works but data is infinite and to replace radio with mobile internet you need a lot of data, and who pays for that? We do, and that’s a bad place for radio to be.
Whilst the radio set above does do need neat things for HD radio, it also buries AM/FM behind other useful, but competing apps. The face of radio is changing, it’s becoming more visual and more social. The internet lets the audience into the studio and into the archive and that is part of the future
Events like the BBC Radio 1 Big weekend run across radio, TV and the internet with opportunities to watch and engage socially. The fact this doesn’t feel like the radio of the past isn’t important. If that was the case all newsreaders would still dress for dinner. As radio people we push, reflect and change our medium to fit the environment. Radio has always evolved. Content producers have done well to keep with us this change, management and owners less so. The big shift will happen when manufacturers get this too. Recent moves suggest that the first real battleground will be the car.
Last summer I attempted to consolidate some of these thoughts in a conference paper, all being well that will be published later this year but in the meantime here are the slides