Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign and editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign and editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

Commercial radio reaches the Big Four-O on a high, despite some challenges

So, happy birthday, commercial radio, 40 years old next week. The sector has come a long way since springing to life on ships anchored just outside British waters in the 60s to circumvent record companies and the BBC.

Among the first groundbreaking presenters were Kenny Everett, Tony Blackburn and John Peel, but the proliferation of digital has led to more than 300 commercial radio stations since then. Collectively, they generated more than £550 million in ad revenues last year, the third consecutive annual rise, although 2013 is set to be tougher.

To commemorate the sector officially reaching middle age, we take a trip down memory lane courtesy of the former Campaign media reporter turned radio star Torin Douglas (p24). His recollection of reporting on the formation of the UK’s first legal commercial radio station, LBC, is a great testament to the rich heritage of both the sector and Campaign.

'The sector has come a long way since springing to life on ships anchored just outside British waters'

Going forward, commercial radio is not without its challenges, although prayers for a creative shot in the arm with a John Lewis-type ad moment were answered this year when Ogilvy’s Dove spot "autotune" swept the board in Cannes. Despite the growing number of stations, they have done little to dent the BBC’s dominance of time spent with listeners over the past five years, broadly split 54:46 per cent in the BBC’s favour.

They are having to work ever harder for share of spend from agencies too, where the focus is increasingly on the ability to buy "audiences", not brands. Across the board, money is being invested into "connected opportunities" – where agencies can package up ad inventory that can be sold on to clients wanting to reach certain profiles, regardless of context.

Such an approach is a step-change from the traditional strengths of radio, and broadcasters need to develop more connected, IP-enabled opportunities to keep up. The likes of Absolute are developing opportunities around in-stream ads to allow tailored geo-targeting, while Global’s mobile apps now reach eight million active monthly users.

The two-year-old Radioplayer has more potential too. Currently, separate groups sell ads around the console individually, but could the next step be to unify the sell and offer agencies access to Radioplayer’s seven million monthly users?

As the Radio Advertising Bureau’s Simon Redican is keen to tell me, such initiatives are in addition to the established broadcast power of radio ads, and offer plenty of reasons for optimism as the sector move towards its half-century.