Radio is eating itself, and we are all to blame

To Paris, to (among other things) talk at Le Radio, the French radio conference. I was part of the panel talking about internet radio - which quickly ended up being about ‘internet radios’, since in attendance was Pem from Frontier Silicon, promoting their wifi radio module, Ian from Reciva promoting his company’s new combined wifi/FM/DAB module, and Heiko Meertz, the General Manager of Terratec, who’s talk irritated me rather.

First, Heiko’s talk was entirely full of why internet radio is good and therefore why DAB was crap. Then, he demolished his own argument by saying how expensive streaming on the internet was (using vastly over-inflated figures which, from memory, said that broadcasting on the web cost 20p per listener per hour which is only true if you’re rubbish at doing bandwidth deals). Then, he brought up a slide saying that internet radio was ‘competing with DAB, DRM, and T-DMB’. It’s not.

The radio industry doesn’t need a platform war: much less a war which is based on apparent weapons of mass distraction like this.

The plain facts are that listeners are platform promiscuous: they hop from platform to platform during the course of a day or week. And, further, they don’t care what platform they listen to. The RAJAR figures I quoted recently point to this: my current employer’s research points to this - indeed, it seems the only people who -do- care is the radio industry itself, ever arguing amongst themselves that DAB takeup is too slow (true), or DRM won’t sound as good as DAB (true), or that AAC on DAB consumes bandwidth more efficiently than old MP2 (true), or that AM sounds rubbish (true, but listeners to AM services tolerate it), or other mindless comparisons between lots of things that the consumer - our customers - don’t care about one jot.

From my chats with French operators, this ‘industry v normal people’ thread gets stronger. In France, radio listening isn’t measured by ‘how many people listen to a radio station’, it’s apparently measured by ‘how many people listen to a radio station on a radio’. The usage is the same whether you listen on the internet, satellite, or anywhere else: but according to the French radio reseach, if you drop onto the internet and listen to the same presenters and the same ads, you no longer count as a listener and somehow magically don’t exist. This is clearly stupidity incarnate: as the “rise of ‘other’” continues, the research must grow to encompass it. But, the reasons for it are clear: the large companies in French radio are those aiming at 45+, who listen less to internet radio and more to analogue. Why should Europe 1 “lose share”, and SkyRock “gain share”, if you include new platforms in your ratings? There’s clearly a benefit if France’s mostly older national stations succeed in keeping the status-quo in research; indeed, I think the market leader in France (from what I can tell) is the oldies-format Radio Nostalgie. (I don’t know the national French radio marketplace very well yet. I’ve a book to tell me all this, worth €72 no less, so I’ll read this later.)

And the French government isn’t helping. If you’re a local radio station, you can broadcast on CanalSat, the French satellite tv company: but you are not legally entitled to sell ads on CanalSat, since it gives you national coverage, but you only have a licence to sell ads on a local level. Apply to run a national satellite TV station, though, and you can run national ads - so why the difference in legislation? Ah, wait a sec, it’s another stitchup, isn’t it - why should the national companies let the locals into their marketplace?

It’s clear that the radio industry is eating itself apart. Whether it’s the internet vs DAB manufactured rubbish of Terratec; or the big boys vs little boys of the French market; the HD Radio vs Satellite Radio debate in the US; or even the manufactured DRM vs DAB that I notice with dismay that The Guardian is still peddling today; we are eating ourselves from the inside.

Just like the current Fox News vs CNN vs MSNBC negative ad campaigns in the United States, or the Tony Bliar/evil eyes/Labour isn’t working negative political campaigns in the UK, the only thing the consumer is going to get out of all this stuff is ‘there’s no TV news that’s any good’, ‘I won’t bother voting because all politicians lie’, and ‘radio is in a really bad way and I won’t bother listening’.

Given the plethora of new choices to go to other than radio, this is precisely the wrong message to be communicating.