Media: Double Standards - 'Digital platforms offer a real breath of fresh air'

With the number of DAB radios in the UK about to hit two million, radio chiefs from both sides of the commercial divide discuss the state of the medium.

SIMON NELSON - controller of BBC Radio & Music Interactive

- Who are your key competitors?

We face an explosion of competition over the next few years. The most obvious source will be in the traditional radio sector, where consolidation will bring stronger commercial players, and digital development will increase the number of services available via DAB and digital TV.

- Is it hard to cut through the digital clutter when there are so many channels?

There's no question it's a lot harder to be heard, seen and found when you're competing on any digital platform. You have to learn a whole range of new skills in order to make your brand or content easy to find.

- What makes a successful digital channel?

The same things that work for the analogue world, that is, the quality of the talent, content and brand. However, if these elements aren't developed to exploit the particular opportunities that different digital platforms offer, I think the chances of success are lessened.

- How do you predict digital radio will grow over the next few years?

We're about to see the two-millionth DAB radio sold in the UK. By 2009, we're hoping that 40 per cent of households will have one. Television switchover presents us with the likelihood of almost every home in the UK having access to digital radio through TV.

- What attracts advertisers most about digital radio? What does it provide that analogue radio doesn't or can't?

This is far less of a concern for us than for commercial radio but it's clear that there will be a whole range of new opportunities to reach and engage existing and new audiences using the technologies, devices and platforms that digital is bringing.

- Is it right that the BBC has been allowed to launch a number of digital stations that compete directly against services already offered by commercial rivals?

I believe that all of our new services are distinctive and different from anything offered by the commercial sector. They enable the BBC to provide stations for audiences who felt that radio previously had nothing to offer them, to provide better value for the licence fee and to target whole ranges of output, particularly music, that just weren't being served before we launched these stations.

- Has the industry - the BBC and commercial radio together - done enough to promote digital radio?

We've done a lot. The BBC and commercial radio, through the Digital Radio Development Bureau (a joint industry body), have vigorously promoted the benefits of digital radio and are finally seeing the rewards in the growth of the medium.

- Who listens to digital radio?

In its broadest sense, if you include radio-listening via digital TV and the internet as well as DAB, then the figures are very impressive - more than 12 million listeners every week in the second quarter of 2005, according to Rajar.

- What is the best digital radio you can buy?

The BBC's commitment to impartiality means we can't promote individual brands (and anyway, I'd never hear the last of it from certain manufacturers). The best advice I can give is to buy one of each.

- What do you listen to? What's your favourite programme on a digital channel?

Music, sport, news mainly, but my favourite show is 6Mix on BBC 6Music - 8pm on a Sunday evening. A fantastically eclectic mix of current music mixed by people such as Gorillaz or DJ Format.

- What's the best party/event you've been to through work?

The Asian Network launch party in 2002 had the best music I've ever heard at a BBC party, although the photos of me on the dancefloor were the cause of some embarrassment when they were passed around the office.

PAUL JACKSON - programme director, Virgin Radio

- Who are your key competitors?

Our newest digital station, Virgin Radio Xtreme, is unique in its field. We don't feel like we have any direct competitors.

- Is it hard to cut through the digital clutter when there are so many channels?

With so many radio groups converging to the middle ground and sounding so similar, digital platforms offer a real breath of fresh air. They give us the opportunity to superserve the UK public's array of musical tastes.

- What makes a successful digital channel?

It is about knowing your audience. This is easy to say but often hard for radio groups to do. Also, listeners quite rightly demand the highest-quality product in a world of ever-increasing choice - so it is crucial to recruit and retain the best possible talent.

- How do you predict digital radio will grow over the next few years?

Growth and the success of the different digital platforms will, ultimately, be determined by the consumer. One of the key growth drivers will be placing digital platforms in cars as standard.

- What attracts advertisers most about digital radio? What does it provide that analogue radio doesn't or can't?

Advertisers do not buy the platform, they buy the audience. Digital platforms can extend audience reach and the wealth of niche stations can deliver targeted audiences. As digital platforms develop, new advertising opportunities will arise.

- Is it right that the BBC has been allowed to launch a number of digital stations that compete directly against services already offered by commercial rivals?

On a level playing field, commercial radio has the talent, drive and entrepreneurialism to be more successful than the BBC and competition on this basis is welcomed. The growth of digital platforms is allowing commercial radio to break the BBC's stranglehold on national platforms. It is important that the BBC remembers, and is held accountable, for its public service broadcasting mandate.

- Has the industry - the BBC and commercial radio together - done enough to promote digital radio?

To date, there has been a significant amount of investment into the development of digital radio by all parties. It will take many years before a return is seen on the level of investment made.

- Who listens to digital radio?

More than 44 million people listen to radio each week in the UK and I am prepared to bet that the majority of them have at some stage, perhaps unknowingly, listened via a digital platform.

- What is the best digital radio you can buy?

There are digital radios designed with features that target every audience and demographic. It's important that manufacturers continue to develop products that imaginatively meet the needs of our listeners.

- What do you listen to? What's your favourite programme on a digital channel?

Radio 5 Live and 5 Live Sports Extra do a great job with the Premiership, and Fighting Talk is outstanding. Also Alice Cooper's show on Virgin Radio Classic Rock is genuinely brilliant.

- What's the best party/event you've been to through work?

The Virgin Radio Xtreme launch party was great, but I am really looking forward to some of things we have planned for next year, so I am sure the best party or event is yet to come.

Topics

Become a member of Campaign from just £45 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content

Share

1 Why creative people have lost their way

What better way to kick off the inaugural issue of Campaign's monthly print offering than with another think piece on the current failings of our industry, written by an embittered, pretentious creative who misses "the way things used to be"...

Share

1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).