Media: Double Standards - The future of radio: novelty or listener control?

Radio stations are keen to explore innovations in delivery and platforms, but which will win out - editorial or consumer control?

TOM LAIDLAW - NEW-MEDIA DIRECTOR, GCAP RADIO

- What are the big challenges for the radio industry this year?

Radio overall is in pretty good shape - we've got more listeners tuning in for longer. The big challenges I see in commercial radio are two-fold: winning back share from the BBC, while developing our radio proposition on the new platforms to give us new revenue, new relevance and new reach.

- How well has the radio industry embraced online and new-media technologies?

We have created an entirely new platform with digital radio. However, with online, most broadcasters followed the wider media investment pattern of the past few years, bailing out after initial expectations were not met. Now it feels like we have somehow been caught out by the broadband-enabled medium, because we ignored it for a bit too long.

- How important is online success for radio stations?

Longer term, I believe a station won't prosper without a complementary and coherent multiplatform strategy that offers its listeners added propositions. Becoming good at multiplatform takes time; therefore, we have no choice but to make it a short-term priority.

- In a world of iPods, mp3 players and websites such as Last.fm, how do you attract users?

By leveraging the strong relationship our brands have with their listeners, making content work harder across platforms, developing and refining products and promoting it all well. A more challenging strategic proposition is wi-fi radio entering homes, cars and pockets on portable devices. This really does open up the field.

- In this environment, how important is creativity in advertising?

Creativity is essential in all areas of our business, which includes advertising. Editorially, it is our job to continue to attract and engage with new audiences in a way that supports our on-air creativity. This is achieved through the development of new product launches and delivering content in new innovative ways, which in turn creates new compelling advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

- What sort of innovations can we expect to see in the radio and new-media market this year?

I think this year the web will come of age as a new "broadcast" medium to complement traditional radio. It will allow consumers to personalise as well as produce content and exploit the "infinite spectrum" of niche as well as mainstream tastes.

- What other new technologies are available to advertisers?

Aside from the standard ad server developments, for example, geographical and behavioural targeting, editorially, we are looking to deliver content in a more personalised environment. This will enable us to build up a more detailed profile of our user base and, long term, deliver them targeted and personalised advertising. The new initiative - DABverts (advertising on a DAB digital screen) - provides advertisers another platform.

- What radio stations do you listen to?

Loads. Truth is that the best music-listen I know of is the personalised extension of Xfm, we launched recently, Mi-Xfm. Start with a great station, and teach it to be perfect for me.

- What is your favourite mp3 player?

Can I cheat and say "my laptop"? It does everything else too and, anyway, I cycle to work and don't like headphones.

JAMES CRIDLAND - DIRECTOR OF DIGITAL MEDIA, VIRGIN RADIO

- What are the big challenges for the radio industry this year?

We need to ensure radio remains relevant for listeners and advertisers and encourage take-up of digital and other platforms, since they deliver better consumer choice and, therefore, longer listening times. We have to ensure the rush for mobile TV doesn't leave radio behind by choosing the wrong technology. We must continue to innovate in everything that we do.

- How well has the radio industry embraced online and new-media technologies?

Some players have been quicker to capitalise on new technology than others. Virgin Radio was the first radio station to broadcast on the internet in 1996. Since then, we've led the way for the UK radio industry - being the first to broadcast on Sky, the first to provide a daily podcast, the first to use new technology such as Wap and 3G, and the first to add social networking to our website.

- How important is online success for radio stations?

Critical. It's a new revenue stream for commercial radio, and enables radio to be relevant to a generation used to the interaction and community aspects of Web 2.0. Clients find integrated ad campaigns are vital, since they help harness the huge benefits of radio and online to best effect.

- In a world of iPods, mp3 players and websites such as Last.fm, how do you attract users?

Radio provides something iPods and Last.fm can't offer: newness. New music, new opinion and even new news. The shared experience of listening to a radio station is completely different to listening to an iPod, and the social environment of our online presence reflects that.

- In this environment, how important is creativity in advertising?

In terms of digital media, we can do anything a client wants - live video streaming, podcasts and more editorial on products or services. We challenge our clients to be as creative as possible and work with us on ideas as innovative as the platform itself - and because my team develops all the technology behind our website rather than farm it out, we can be as creative as the client needs us to be.

- What sort of innovations can we expect to see in the radio and new-media market this year?

Control and conversation. With sites such as YouTube, consumers are becoming more used to controlling their media experience. We're already reflecting this, with services allowing our VIP users to interact with each other and talk about the music they all love. I believe media owners need to give their users more control: which might give you an idea about where we're going - but I don't want to let Tom know too much.

- What other new technologies are available to advertisers?

This decade marks the 50th year of "mobile radio" through the transistor radio, so it seems only logical to explore the benefits of listening to radio in conjunction with interacting through mobiles. We have a massive potential to not only deliver a branding message, but deliver vouchers and offers through mobile technology to turn a passive listener into an active shopper.

- What radio stations do you listen to?

Of course, I am one of Virgin Radio's biggest listeners (you even get it in the loo at work, so I've no excuse); also BBC Radio Five Live and LBC 97.3.

- What is your favourite mp3 player?

For design? The iPod Nano. As a content provider? Anything else: Apple's Fairplay system is anything but.