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A radio futurologist writing about what happens when radio and new platforms collide
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It's all in the brand

Posted on Thursday, August 4th, 2011 at 12:23 am. #

UK Radio Player

Another three months have gone by, and another set of radio audience figures have been released. RAJAR reports another new record: more people than ever before (by percentage of the population) are listening to the radio, something that confounds and perplexes technology journalists everywhere.

The real story in these RAJAR figures, however, is a story about the power of the brand. Because, right at the beginning of the survey period for these RAJAR figures, the BBC launched a brand new radio station: BBC Radio 4 Extra.

Out with the old BBC7 – a radio station that was broadcasting crusty old things like Round the Horne, The Navy Lark, and Miss Marple. And, in with the new BBC Radio 4 Extra – which, by the end of its first week had treated us to the thrilling new sounds of Round the Horne, The Navy Lark, and Miss Marple. And Ambridge Extra.

In short, while Radio 4 Extra had a handful of interesting new programmes and a slightly changed schedule, it was, to all intents and purposes, the same as the BBC7 radio station it had replaced. The only thing that had really changed was the name – as the BBC readily admits on its website.

So, what’s in a name?

BBC Radio 4 Extra is now the UK’s most popular digital-only radio network. It boasts 1.6 million listeners – 70% up on BBC7′s figures a year ago, but with an almost identical product. The launch of BBC Radio 4 Extra hasn’t detracted from BBC Radio 4 either: that station has also posted its best-ever audience figures (since Jan 1999).

Absolute Radio has had additional brand extension stations for some time now, including Absolute 80s and Absolute Radio 90s. And they, too, are now posting significant increases. The Absolute Radio Network, sold as one package to advertisers, has achived a nine-year high in total audience figures.

Additional ‘Extra’ stations are a now established way for radio stations to extend their brands and attract more audiences. It’s far easier to communicate the relationship between Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra to a listener than a new brand such as BBC7.

Yet, ‘Extra’ stations can trap the unwary. No longer are we talking about total audiences to a radio station: we need to think about total audiences to a brand. The age of the single radio station is increasingly over; and the age of the radio brand is upon us.

So, it’s impressive that the BBC is researching Radio 4 Extra correctly: because, hidden in the reams of data that a new RAJAR survey always gives you, there’s a new line for “Total BBC Radio 4 (including Radio 4 Extra)”, just as there is an entry for the Absolute Radio Network, and one for BBC Radio 5 Live including 5 Live Sports Extra. The latter, incidentally, is also up.

Local radio is also doing similar, with two West Yorkshire stations (The Pulse and Pulse 2) reporting total brand figures, not to mention Heart, Capital, Real and Smooth combining their individual stations into a larger brand report.

As more broadcasters launch brand extensions, commentators need to focus less on the individual stations within them, and focus more on the power of the brand. Whether it’s Radio 4, Absolute, Pulse, or Capital, the power now is in the brand, not in the individual stations that make them up.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I notice that The Navy Lark is on tomorrow on Radio 4 Extra, and I need to write myself a note so I don’t forget it. (It’s the one where Seaman Taffy gets promoted. You know the one…)


Brian Butterworth
commenting at August 4th, 2011 at 6:53 am

It’s probably worth pointing out that “BBC7″ was an extension of the brand “BBC” and “BBC Radio 7″ that of “BBC Radio” before “BBC Radio 4 Extra” became a brand extension of “BBC Radio 4″…

commenting at August 4th, 2011 at 8:38 am

Its also worth noting that (to my ears at least) there is a *lot* more publicity for BBC Radio 4 Extra now it has been rebranded, including trails for shows only available on said station – such as something or other with Flight Of The Conchords.

Personally, I prefer The Navy Lark.

Brian Butterworth
commenting at August 4th, 2011 at 10:21 am

Also, changing the programming from kids to comedy during the morning radio-listening peak can’t have done anything but help.

J Peter Wilson
commenting at August 5th, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Using your common brand to promote your radio stations is something that today’s two national Christian radio stations have been doing for some time.
In the days after the 1990 Broadcasting Act UCB (United Christian Broadcasters) started to use the audio channels of Sky TV to broadcast. Today, following the passing of the Communications Act 2003, they are able to broadcast three of their four stations on DAB – UCB UK (national DAB), UCB Gospel (regional DAB in England & Wales) and UCB Inspirational (regional DAB in England & Wales)- while UCB Bible is on Sky TV.
Premier Christian Radio has done something similar. It was the first and only Christian station to win an ILR license back in the 1990s. Unlike other ILR stations it was unable to roll-over its MW license by going on local DAB as faith-based stations were banned from doing so until the passing of the 2003 Act. It was then able to go on London DAB and since going on Digital 1 it has launched a new London service called Premier Gospel.
Both stations cross promote their own publications including UCB’s Word For Today and Premier’s Christianity Magazine as well as their own UCB and Premier TV stations.
All of this helps in brand recognition and of course letting both listeners, readers and viewers know that they play music and have talk/discussion programmes that bring Christian world-views to the airwaves. Their overall brand is of course Jesus Christ.

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