Commercial radio needs to sort out thisdigital disorder

By by Ian Darby, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 11 November 2005 12:00AM

Watching Sony's epic new Bravia film, which ran just before the Manchester United versus Chelsea game on Sky Sports on Sunday, I was impressed with the impact a bit of integrated thought can provide.

As soon as the match kicked off, you were hit with moving pitch perimeter ads for the Sony Bravia TV range that show the bright balls bouncing around on those new animated pitch-side hoardings. Off-putting when trying to spot the football but a good bit of support for the TV spot (well done OMD), especially as the game pulled in more than three million viewers for Sky.

This was basic stuff, perhaps, but an example of the power of television and one which Thinkbox would do well to talk about. But while TV might be fighting to justify its share of the advertising pie, its house seems more in order than commercial radio's. The recent Rajar figures were disappointing for commercial radio as a whole (showing, as they did, the BBC building a record share of listening at 54.6 per cent). More worrying perhaps is commercial radio's role, or lack of it, in the growth of digital radio.

Evangelists for the future, such as GWR (now part of GCap) and Emap, seem to be investing less than previously in interesting digital initiatives.

Indeed many in the industry are despairing of a situation that has seen Ralph Bernard, GCap's chief executive and perhaps the man who has done most to drive digital radio in this country, threaten legal action over Ofcom's plans to open up the digital radio market. Critics argue that togetherness, rather than infighting, is needed on this issue.

Many now feel the BBC's contribution to the digital future is becoming disproportionate. For instance, can any commercial company match the Beeb's recent activity via Freeview that linked its broadcast of material from the Gorillaz Manchester concerts with visual and audio content? There are signs that radio trade bodies, such as the Digital Radio Development Bureau, the Commercial Radio Companies Association and the Radio Advertising Bureau, are getting their ducks in a row in at least planning for a digital future where more than 10 per cent of households own a digital radio.

However, the top radio companies such as GCap and Emap need to show more leadership in driving digital takeup and on making the future clearer to advertisers. With possible venture capital bids likely to surface from the likes of Tim Schoonmaker, the former Emap Performance chief executive, the GCap situation is not really helping matters.

While GCap is headed by a digital fanatic in Bernard, it is hard to see how the company can lavish resources on digital radio ventures when it is trying to deliver £25 million in savings to the City. It's a shame to say it, but the BBC is looking like becoming the real hero of the digital radio age.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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