Radio gets back to the future

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BBC Radio is finally joining the move to be digital first. If, like me, you have Sky TV you’ll have seen the trails for a few years now pushing the fact the channels make some of their programmes available online first.  Audiences like control and this seems to be a good way to give it to them. Netflix lets audiences blitz their way through entire series of shows in one go, whilst broadcasters have traditionally made listeners and viewers wait a week for the next episode to roll around


The BBC’s Head of Speech Radio Multiplatform Andrew Caspari, writes about the rationale in his BBC Blog:

From now you can go online and hear a selection of our programmes before they have been on the radio. This means more listeners will be able to get the programmes they want as soon as they are aware of them and listen wherever and whenever they want irrespective of the radio schedule.

The BBC has long realised that investing in programmes that listeners can miss is not the way forward, especially when those listeners are paying a licence fee. The iPlayer and iPlayer app have made radio portable and totally on-demand, letting listeners catch-up wherever they are. This next step means listeners can move forward in time on selected shows. Online First is about putting listeners in charge and recognising that listeners might want to listen to that next episode now, or listen to a whole series in one go. For example, the daily WW1 drama ‘Home Front’ will make an entire week’s worth of programmes available on Monday morning from next week. So, a listener can break their link with the schedule and listen to 5 programmes in one sitting.

The way we listen to the radio is changing. Listeners are listening online and radio must compete for ears with on-demand audio like podcasts and this seems to be a reflection of this. Shows will roll out across speech formats on Radio 4, 5Live, 6Music and Radio 2 (full list).  In 2014 Ofcom reported that 5.9% of digital radio listening was online or via an app. I can only see this as growing and the lessons learnt from the past suggest that broadcasters need to be ready with content when the listeners get there. Producers can’t sit still these days, they need to put content in front of listeners in the format they want and in timeframe that works for them. This means getting it online fast and leaving it there for as long as you can. Obviously, the BBC has a job to do working with rights holders but this will take time. It will be interesting to see how this goes.