Speech by Bob Shennan, Director of Radio and Music to the Radiodays Europe conference on Monday 20 March 2017.
I thought I would start by quoting from the BBC pitch for its royal charter:
“The purpose of these plans is firstly and mainly to adapt our service to a changing world to meet changing tastes and needs… Radio networks must surely be shaped with proper regard to what the public in general has shown it wants. The role of Radio cannot be judged in isolation… but has to live with other mass media.”
Not Lord Hall, but Lord Hill. Not the latest BBC charter, but an extract from Broadcasting in the Seventies.
Nothing changes. Fifty years ago it was the effect of television. Today radio faces the huge challenge of adapting to the multiple effects of the Internet.
Thankfully radio is nothing if not resilient and adaptable.
That resilience can be seen in some of the data from the last audience figures – published for the final quarter of 2016. Reach to all radio in the UK was at its second highest level since the current methodology was introduced 18 years ago. Listening hours now top 1 billion, and nine out of every 10 adults is tuning in every single week. The BBC is delivering a considerable chunk of that success story – our 10 national services now reaching 32 million listeners.
But paradoxically whilst radio is both doing really well, like all traditional media it is under threat.
The pace of change is exponential. Media has been transformed – is being transformed.
Audience habits have shifted. They are spending less time with traditional media. The range of options for consumers today are numerous. We are now part of a global market, with new entrants from the internet which know no international boundaries. In music the development of streaming services has transformed the economics of the industry and impacted on the listening habits of, particularly, young audiences. The mobile phone is all powerful.
So, how do we respond to this shift?
In short – with ambition!
We want to re-invent and grow radio.
Reinvent the relevance of the radio experience by building new ways to connect with its essential attributes.
Grow it by working harder to make our linear and new digital offers attractive to all audiences and in new places. To grow, we’ll challenge ourselves constantly to create the best, world class live and linear radio – always mindful of the need to replenish our loyal audiences with a new generation.
It’s tougher than ever, but remember Radio 1 appeals to ten and a half million people over the age of 10, hours are stabilising, the commercial sector has seen some impressive growth in hours among the young. When the doom mongers tell you that radio is over, I’d remind them that a whopping 84% of the 15-24s tune in each week. It’s quite clear that streaming choices in the UK are magnified by the impact of radio play. What’s more, radio remains an essential curatorial voice which the music industry in the UK is ever more reliant upon.
Simultaneously I want to transform our digital products. Make them the best they can be. Reach new and young audiences in ways that appeal with brilliant and relevant personalised content.
It’s already good – we’ve been innovating and experimenting. The BBC is the most listened-to podcast producer in the UK and we aim to transform our offer in this space. Our Radio 1 YouTube and Vevo channels have more than 4.2 million subscribers. Just listen to this statistic – 100,000 hours of Radio 1 visual content are now viewed every single day. Radio has taken the advent of social media in its stride. Short form versions of our speech on Radio 4 and 5 Live have added millions to their following.
Our iPlayer Radio app – already downloaded by nearly 12 million users – has been quickly followed by our playlist-focussed BBC Music app. Every day we are extending the impact of our content, especially in mobile phones.
The future of BBC Radio will always rely on our ability to create a strong, compelling mix of content across speech and music, with world class talent, relevant to our audiences, and allowing them to access it in the most convenient way.
It’s an exciting challenge – and as the BBC approaches its 100th anniversary, I am determined that its founding outlet – its senior service – will remain as vital and relevant as ever. The third great golden age of radio is still to come.
Photo credit: Conor McCabe