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A radio futurologist writing about what happens when radio and new platforms collide
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With 'Newsgate', the Australian ABC shows us the way again

Posted on Saturday, July 16th, 2011 at 12:12 pm. #

The Telegraph Newspaper Company Limited

One of the benefits of new platforms is that we can launch new radio stations instantly. They appear automatically to radio listeners on the same DAB multiplex, and can be easily linked online. They’re simple to promote, and add real listener choice. If you own your own multiplex, they’re also virtually free in terms of transmission costs.

You can’t have missed the coverage over the past few weeks about the News of the World phone hacking. This coverage would undoubtedly benefit from a little more depth: details about the Murdoch empire, detail and biographical information about the people involved, and full, uninterrupted coverage of the relevant Commons Select Committees and Parliament discussions.

Once more, Australia are showing us the way with a brand new, temporary ‘pop-up’ radio station, ABC UK Newsgate. With archive material from the ABC, as well as live coverage, it’s an ideal additional choice for Australian taxpayers who fund the ABC, and a great way to promote the benefits of digital radio, on whatever platform.

Even though the story is taking place on our patch, our own broadcasters – the BBC or commercial radio – have, once more, failed to grasp the benefits of temporary radio stations and the cross-promotional opportunities these represent.

The government wishes to ensure promotion of digital radio; broadcasters are keen to avoid the costs of multiple transmissions; we have a 50%-listening target to reach by end 2013 which many broadcasters are keen to hit; listeners are clearly keen for more detail; yet, once more, we’ve dropped the ball.

On digital radio, Australia is covering a UK news story in more depth than we are in the UK. Should we merely be embarrassed, or be ashamed?

(The press release follows)

ABC RADIO LAUNCHES ‘ABC UK NEWSGATE’
Saturday 16 July 2011

ABC Radio will launch a special digital radio station to coincide with the appearance of current and former News Limited executives before the UK Parliamentary committee investigating phone hacking.

The station, ABC UK Newsgate, will broadcast from 8pm Tuesday 19 July (EST). It will feature archival material including two features on the Murdoch’s from ABC Radio’s flagship current affairs program Background Briefing: Why is James so Angry? (2010) and Who Owns the News? (2009), along with a People In Power feature from 1966 featuring Rupert Murdoch when he bought News of the World.

The station will broadcast the appearance of Rupert and James Murdoch, and Rebekah Brooks live from 11.30pm until the conclusion of their testimony from the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the UK Parliament, followed by analysis from the BBC and ABC.

ABC UK Newsgate will broadcast on digital radio in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth from 8pm Tuesday 19 July (EST). ABC NewsRadio will also broadcast their appearance nationally from 11.30pm (EST).

4 comments

Steve Bowbrick
commenting at July 16th, 2011 at 2:05 pm

OK. I’ve been thinking about this I didn’t really get it to begin with. Why create a special news ghetto for a story that’s already been shown to be of minority interest? Why not cleverly fit it into existing outlets where you can explain it to the wider audience? And why do this for one big story?

But now I get it, I think. In the UK, it would have to be an industry-wide effort (a la Radioplayer). The BBC couldn’t do it on its own for about nine different reasons (Trust, competition law, spectrum scarcity, crowding out, industry opposition etc.) and the commercial sector couldn’t afford to, even where the imagination exists.

So the radio news providers and/or the big radio companies would have to get together on an agreed platform (probably online. Surely there’s no spare national DAB capacity?). And that would be fun because it would have to include Sky!

So, the industry could build a sort of Disasters Emergency Committee-style rapid response platform to provide pop-up coverage for big stories and promote digital radio as responsive, inventive and integrated. That might work.

James Cridland
commenting at July 16th, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Steve – in terms of national DAB capacity, “BBC Radio 4 LW” steals bitrate from other services at times during the day; so it’s clear that the BBC could launch additional services (even if, on DAB, it would be unavailable during YiP and the Daily Service).

In terms of “why can’t the BBC do it”…
1. Competition law is irrelevant here, and with anything the BBC public service does
2. Spectrum scarcity is also irrelevant (given the above issue); but you’re right that you could also do this online. Or, of course, you could do this on Radio 4 Extra.
3. Crowding out – there’s only one commercial radio station which might be affected by this, and that’s LBC News 1152. Bluntly, they’re not the same thing anyway: the ABC service is mostly documentaries from the archive, with some simulcast live coverage.
4. See #3.

Only the Trust stands in its way; yet, in short, this no different to Gulf FM, or BBC Radio 5 Live News Plus – the original DAB ‘extra’ service for 5 Live. Of course, had the BBC Trust existed back then, neither of these services could have launched.

Jimmy Buckland
commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 11:03 am

Isn’t this why we have 5 Live?

Its rolling coverage of the News Int story has been pretty comprehensive, and you’d assume they’ll be covering the select committee tomorrow.

Indeed the reason 5 Live exists is because the BBC didn’t want to have to scrabble a Gulf FM -type service together ever again – it wanted to have a regular scheduled home for this kind of stuff.

James Cridland
commenting at July 18th, 2011 at 11:31 am

Jimmy – ABC NewsRadio is a splendid resource too, and will be broadcasting the select committee. However, it isn’t carrying archive documentaries about Murdoch – it does the job of a rolling news service and not the in-depth features you get from, say, The Economist.

The two co-exist well, and – crucially – give a reason to promote the benefits of digital radio (on whatever platform). That’s one of the reasons why Australian takeup of DAB+ is going considerably faster than it is here in the UK. Why don’t we don’t want to learn from this?

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