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A radio futurologist writing about what happens when radio and new platforms collide
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The new Sky+HD Guide – what it means for radio

Posted on Friday, April 3rd, 2009 at 3:15 pm. #

Sky+HD EPG 7 - closeup

According to RAJAR, 3.2% of all UK radio listening is done through the television, a figure which confounds and amuses many of my friends overseas. It’s an important figure – over one and a half times as much as listening to live radio over the internet – reflecting that radio on TV platforms is useful for more than simply trial. There’s no doubting that this is an important platform for any radio broadcaster.

So, when Sky, the satellite TV provider, changes their EPG (their electronic programme guide), it was worth a look to see what’s different; and to ponder on the effects on radio listening.

A look at the new Guide

Sky+HD EPG 1 - main entry screen
Press the ‘TV Guide’ button on your remote, and you’ll end up here. The highlight is on the ‘Middle Menu’ (“All channels” in this case). Scrolling left and right goes through all of the old TV genres you’ll remember from the old guide. Except there’s no radio. Radio is no longer lumped in with TV. Instead, you’ll note an icon of a speaker in the ‘Top Menu’. To get there, you need to press ‘backup’, or ‘up’. (‘Up’ no longer, in this case, shows you the radio station part of the EPG). You then need to scroll across to the speaker. This process is quite difficult, and quite clunky.

Sky+HD EPG 2 - Radio front
The ‘radio’ section of the EPG looks different to the TV section: in two columns, the default view now shows you 12 different radio stations. I think that means Heart and Galaxy have now made it to the front page. Note that the ‘Middle Menu’ simply says “All” in this case: it’s clear that this new EPG could enable genres for radio.

Sky+HD EPG 3 - highlight station
Scroll over a radio station, and its description now appears at the top of the screen. This behaviour means that your station brand name is even more important – nothing explains what ‘Absolute’ is until you scroll over it. There’s much more space for information here (both in station name and description); this has previously been limited by screen real-estate, though backwards compatibility means this is unlikely to change.

Sky+HD EPG 4 - Listening
Here’s the surprise: pressing “SELECT” to listen simply switches the audio to that radio station (cutting off the top-right ‘mini-tv’ in the process). It doesn’t take you to the familiar dark blue screen. Above, I’m listening to Caroline. There is no schedule information displayed whatsoever. There is, however, a record button.

Sky+HD EPG 7 - recording radio
Highlight a radio station, then press “Record” and you’re taken to this page – a manual record page. This simply surfaces existing functionality in the SkyGuide, but sadly doesn’t show any schedule information, and nor is the channel even pre-filled. This is a poor user experience.

Sky+HD EPG 5 - Listening 2
The familiar blue screen does still appear when listening to radio – providing you don’t follow the instructions. You can either get to it by simply typing a channel number (0101 for BBC Radio 1) while watching another channel, or – entirely undocumented – by navigating to the station you want in the SkyGuide, pressing SELECT to start listening, then pressing SELECT again. This gives schedule information for the current programme, and says (confusingly) “Further schedule information not available”. This, where the ‘next’ information should go, was supressed in the last Sky Guide software, and there was simply a little space – odd why it’s not like that this time. (As a point of interest, all radio stations supply a fourteen-day schedule to Sky, just the same as TV does).

Sky+HD EPG 6 - Watching
For comparison, the search/scan banner within TV now shows “Now, Next, Later”.

Some handy tips
The quickest route to the radio EPG is to press “Services” then “6″.
The quickest route to Radio 1 is by simply typing “0101″.

Comparing Freeview, Sky and Virgin Media, it’s clear that the radio experience on Sky is both the most varied (with over 100 channels) and the least feature-rich. Freeview and Virgin offer a full EPG with complete programme information; both also offer on-screen information related to the service, often synchronised to the audio.

The new SkyGuide would appear to remove functionality from the novice, rather than add it. Radio is now totally divorced from the television guide, making it harder to discover by accident. I found it difficult to get to the ‘Radio’ menu in the first place. Users don’t now get a clearly visible description of each station without selecting each one in the Guide, and it is harder to see current programme information, with the demise of the ‘big blue screen’.

The Sky HD boxes are interesting – with ethernet connections sprouting out of the back, you could see some very interesting things happening from Sky. Particularly, Sky could be the place for interactive radio, using RadioDNS functionality to link satellite broadcasts to IP resources – personalised tagging or visual services, for example. Currently, however, it seems that radio has regressed, rather than progressed, on the platform.

These are my own personal views, as ever.


Adam Bowie
commenting at April 3rd, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Fascinating, but a bit sad really. As I understood it, the problem previously was related to older Sky Digital boxes that had run out of memory for EPG data given the vast number of channels and 7 days data for each channel. Radio was given the thin end of the wedge.

Sky HD boxes obviously have much more memory and different software can be rolled out for them (although I believe some of this HD functionality will filter through to non-HD Sky boxes at a later date). So it’s a shame that functionality could not have been added rather than removed.

Making it easier to record programmes is perhaps the only modest gain.

commenting at April 3rd, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Yes, it’s such a shame that TiVo had a fantastic recording system with full radio schedules and series links/passes, wishlists so you could record your favourite artists or composers etc.. from Sky about 10 years ago.

It will be about 20 more years before Sky+ catches up :(

Terry Purvis
commenting at April 6th, 2009 at 9:10 am

According to the Podcasting and Radio Listening Via The Internet Survey – June 2008 from RAJAR

“14.5 million people (up from 12m in Survey 1) have claimed to listen to radio via the Internet, including 10.9 million listening live (up from 9m) and 9.3 million who have used Listen Again services (up from 7.6m).”

That is in sharp contrast to figures you have quoted from RAJAR about radio listening in the UK via the Internet – although as they (the lower figures) fit into the agenda of the UK radio industry it is the one you see used all the time.

Adam Bowie
commenting at April 6th, 2009 at 10:16 am

Terry – you’re comparing reach figures with listening share. And the figures come from two separate surveys.

The 3.2% share of all listening figure James is quoting refers to the cumulative amount of time spent listening via digital television – data that is sourced from Q4 2008 RAJAR.

The same survey also shows that 2.0% of listening is via the internet (11.4% is via DAB).

These are weekly numbers, and as such, aren’t comparable with the Podcasting and Radio Listening via the Internet Surveys. Indeed, there’s a more recent survey that you might want to look at showing the reach number has grown to 16.1m from 14.5m.

But this is ever listen and not weekly listening. So it includes lots of people who only occassionally listen via the internet.

Note that these surveys have very different methodologies from each other – the full RAJAR data release is based on something like 30,000+ diaries, while the internet/podcasting survey was based on 1,142 people filling in a self-completion questionnaire.

Both are valid samples, but not directly comparable statistically. In any case, they’re measuring different things.

I don’t think the UK radio industry (of which I’m a member) has quite the “agenda” that you think it has. Commercial radio groups wouldn’t be upgrading their websites and launching applications for things like the iPhone if that were the case. And the BBC wouldn’t be ever improving it’s iPlayer and streaming technology if it was all a conspiracy to get everyone to listen via DAB or analogue.

Terry Purvis
commenting at April 6th, 2009 at 11:40 am

I’m not sure I clearly follow you there Adam, as the survey clearly states “Weekly listening via the internet”

In fact, under the Report section it says:

“Over a quarter (28.9%) of the UK’s adult population (those aged 15 or over) have listened to radio via the Internet. That equates to 14.5 million people.
Two thirds of these, or 18.8% of the adult population, listen at least once a week, with 5% listening via the Internet every day or most days – that’s 2.5 million people.”

I didn’t say there is a “conspiracy”, only an agenda. Not the same thing at all.

Adam Bowie
commenting at April 6th, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Not all that 28.9% (from the earlier report – as I say, the more recent report has higher figures), listen every week.

If you look at the table underneath (Page 5), you’ll see that it includes listening once a month, and less often.

As you say, the report calculates listening every day or most days as being 2.5m people. In fact, that’s not a long way away from what the main RAJAR says listen on a weekly basis. Lots of people listen, but they listen for shorter periods of time compared with analogue methods.

What it boils down to is lots of people listening for relatively short periods of time via the internet.

Again – remember that these reports and the main RAJAR survey are carried out using very different methodologies. The Internet/Podcast surveys in particular are carried out amongst people who “respondents who had claimed to listen to the radio via the Internet and / or download Podcasts.”

Ignore my comments about conspiracies. But I don’t think there’s an agenda either. If listeners prefer listening via the internet than other digital forms, then that’s what radio services will offer. Unfortunately bandwidth precludes mass-scale listening. Nonetheless, for at-work listening, listen again, wifi radios and so on, internet listening will grow.

Indeed it’s quite clear that internet radio listening is growing every quarter. But so are other forms of digital listening.

James Cridland
commenting at April 6th, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Adam’s doing a much better job of the argument than I can.

But I’d just mention the obvious: money comes into commercial radio companies from time spent listening (“total hours”). The amount of actual people listening is fairly immaterial; the money comes from how long, in total, people listen. If your total hours are too low, you don’t even make the ad schedule.

commenting at April 9th, 2009 at 4:06 pm

I wonder if the relegation of radio in the new sky guide, as opposed to the more feature rich options in freeview is in part to do with how the 2 platforms see themselves. Sky is a subscriber service, they want people to buy boxes, to pay for services which they would say is primarily visual. Freeview is backed the BBC and they want feature rich services to act as a driver to make people switch before they have to (and to have something to stop them moaning when they do) I’ve never seen any advertising from Sky that says “buy sky and listen to the radio”… whereas I have for Freeview. I won’t enter into the debate on numbers as Adam has a far better grasp of the numbers than I do but yes, it would be great to Sky+ and series link radio. (PS My HD box hasn’t upgraded itself yet so I can play)

commenting at April 16th, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Is this new guide being spread accross the whole sky range for example sky plus and just a normal sky?

commenting at April 17th, 2009 at 1:52 pm

does any one know how to reset these boxes? As i have no signal and the old way does not work anymore.

Goodbye Sky - blog - James Cridland
commenting at June 10th, 2009 at 7:30 pm

[...] Sky+ came next – it remains the best TV recorder I’ve seen, even with its new complicated EPG system. [...]

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