Media: Double Standards - 'A budget of £200 million isn't a disadvantage'

Two commercial directors from radio take issue with how the BBC dominates their market but defend the tendency towards consolidation.

DON THOMSON - commercial director, Chrysalis Radio

- Why have you restructured your commercial team?

The needs and demands of advertisers of how to reach their consumers are changing rapidly. The size and nature of media agencies has also changed significantly through consolidation. We have now merged the various elements of our commercial offering - airtime, promotions, sponsorship, digital platforms, database - into unified sales groups so that we can offer fully integrated radio solutions to our clients.

- What's the best campaign you've ever run?

The ongoing Buena Vista Home Entertainment campaign promoting Disney stories on DVD is great entertainment: 60- and 90-second story commercials using Rik Mayall and Liza Tarbuck that really make you listen. Causes the product to fly off the shelves, too.

- Given that three companies now control 75 per cent of the marketplace, would you agree that consolidation in the radio industry has stifled creativity and had a negative impact on the quality of programming?

No. Radio's ability to create compelling programming should be enhanced by consolidation. It should enable companies to invest more in content rather than infrastructure. We are working on creating more network properties that will enhance the output and start putting a few dents back in the BBC. (It's a myth that 75 per cent of the business is controlled by three companies. It's only true in national sales.)

- Have advertisers been slow to invest in digital radio?

Advertisers don't think in terms of investing in "platforms". They invest in media brands to reach their consumers, and our job is to make our media brands as attractive as possible to those advertisers. DAB is just one of many new platforms that radio is consumed on.

- Does the Rajar system of measurement need to be overhauled?

It is being overhauled. The radio industry has invested vast sums in finding the best way to measure radio listening on a multiplatform basis. Next year will see considerable further steps forward in this area. I would like to see radio and TV measured by the same system, and now does seem to be the right time to investigate this fully.

- Does the BBC have an unfair advantage on its commercial competitors?

Yes. Not only does the BBC still control the vast majority of FM spectrum, it is able to cross-promote its radio services on TV at will. The brilliant "Elvis" Radio 2 ad currently being aired, is another shining example of this. The true "media" cost of this campaign runs into millions of pounds. How much does it cost the BBC? £0.

- Who is the most exciting emerging artist right now?

Lily Allen, James Morrison.

- How did you come to work in the radio industry?

I was working as a sales rep for Kellogg, flogging Corn Flakes and the like to Tesco and Sainsbury's and heard an ad on Piccadilly Radio for sales people. It sounded a lot more fun, and it was.

- What are your top three radio shows and why? Nick Ferrari on LBC. Giving a politician a serious grilling one minute and seguing into hilarious trivia the next. Jamie and Harriet on Heart - great chemistry, humour and banter in the morning. Peter Allen and Jane Garvey on Five Live. Again, great chemistry; one often seems to be able to anticipate what the other is going to say next.

DUNCAN GEORGE - commercial director, GCap

- Why have you restructured your commercial team?

Our thinking was based on customer feedback and our own belief that there was a more effective way of working. We have introduced more clarity to our agency points of contact, given more emphasis to our compelling multiplatform solutions and placed great ideas at the heart of our customer proposition.

- What's the best campaign you've ever run?

From a commercial perspective, I've got a lot of favourite radio ads but, if I had to cite one, it would be Hamlet "bummer". I've posted it up on to www.gcapmedia.com if you fancy a listen. It's hilarious and even as a non-smoker it makes me want to light up.

- Given that three companies now control 75 per cent of the marketplace, would you agree that consolidation in the radio industry has stifled creativity and had a negative impact on the quality of programming?

No, I don't agree. First, it should be pointed out that this is 75 per cent of a 6 per cent medium. There are other media owners who are bigger in revenue terms than the whole of the radio industry. There is a lot of competition in the middle ground with commercial companies and the BBC both vying for share, but I don't think this has meant a lowering of standards, far from it. Poorly programmed stations cannot succeed in this environment.

- Have advertisers been slow to invest in digital radio?

Revenue tends to follow audience, so as the platform gains momentum, we are finding more and more advertisers willing to invest. There are plenty of examples of advertisers who have taken early-mover advantage, O2's sponsorship of Chill through Drum is a great example.

- Does the Rajar system of measurement need to be overhauled?

It just has been with a new two-year diary contract with Ipsos and a new London-wide panel using Arbitron PPM meters managed by TNS and running in conjunction with Barb to gain new learnings for both the radio and TV industries. Rajar must, of course, continue to evolve and reflect the changing radio landscape. I do believe that data will ultimately be collected by meters, but not until the compliance and editing issues have been solved.

- Does the BBC have an unfair advantage on its commercial competitors?

A programming budget for network radio of around £200 million (excluding online) isn't a disadvantage.

- Who is the most exciting emerging artist right now?

Impossible to answer; there are so many. I've been listening to Ray LaMontagne recently; he's a good songwriter and knows his way round an acoustic guitar.

- How did you come to work in the radio industry?

I switched from press to radio many years ago and I've loved every minute.

- What are your top three radio shows and why? Lauren Laverne on Xfm: music and dry sense of humour. Johnny Vaughan on Capital - he's very amusing and the show sounds great. Five Live on a Saturday afternoon (if it's covering Arsenal).

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