The BBC Director of Radio and Music, Bob Shennan, has given more detail about a new BBC audio app that’s in development and announced that he will be appointing a Podcast Commissioner.
Addressing delegates at the Radiodays Europe conference in Vienna this morning, he also called for all of radio to work together more as an industry to tackle the challenges brought by the internet and streaming music providers.
He said: “For many years, in spaces like this, we have gathered as allies and rivals. Public radio versus commercial; commercial versus commercial. But today it’s really time for all of us in radio to come together as one united industry to secure our future. We should go faster and further in identifying our shared goals. We should safeguard radio as a force for good – and defend choice for our audiences by reinventing radio for the next century.”
Mr Shennan also outlined what the BBC is doing to target younger audiences, through podcasts and creating content that’s available online before it’s broadcast on the radio. He revealed that, while the BBC had had 240 million downloads of its podcasts last year, there are still nearly 2 million podcast listeners in the UK who don’t consume any BBC Radio output. The corporation therefore is taking on someone new to oversee its podcast work. “We’re about to announce the appointment of a new Podcast Commissioner who nurture the development of content, outside of our station brands,” Mr Shennan told the audience from the stage in Austria.
He also talked about the future of digital switchover, as we reported yesterday, saying radio’s future should be about a ‘mixed economy’ rather than just DAB.
In response to the speech, Global’s Ashley Tabor OBE told RadioToday: “We agree with the BBC that the time for a switch-off of FM is not now. We are delighted to fully support both DAB, and IP delivery of content. We have started many DAB stations on the D1 platform recently, invested in local DAB transmission and invested significant resources in new apps like The Global Player, home to all Global’s stations on mobile and connected devices. That said, around half of radio listening still comes from FM. With an installed user base like that, it would be premature to advocate an FM switch-off at this time. Now is the time for the BBC and commercial radio to work together to continue the growth and progress of radio in a multi-platform broadcast world.”
Here’s a transcript of Bob Shennan’s speech in full:
Radio – the word that binds so many of us. The habit that has captivated audiences for a century. But a habit, as we all know, that is under attack. Of course, listening has probably never been stronger. All around us, people are listening. Headphones sales must be exponential. The consumption of audio is phenomenal – as it says at the front door, with the rather brilliant strap line for this conference: The world is listening. It’s just not always listening to radio.
In the past five years, music streams in the UK have increased by nearly one thousand percent and while nine out of every 10 adults still tune in to the radio every single week, the media giants of the world are closing in. Our most recent audience figures show fewer 15 to 24 year olds listening than ever before. Spotify has announced that radio is in its sights. Podcasts are booming. The internet, let’s face it, is both a lively enemy but also a considerable friend for traditional broadcasters like the BBC.
Reinvention, therefore, has never been more necessary. So we’re changing what we do, and we’re changing how we do it. Over the past 18 months for example we’ve concentrated the developments of all of our linear stations on serving the needs of the under 45s, upgrading the programmes that we make and the talent that we develop.
Our youth service Radio 1 has been leading the way with new presenters and new formats. Linear listening is even up and we’re building all our brands in dynamic eye-catching ways. Radio 1 leads the radio world on YouTube with more than four and a half million subscribers. The Live Lounge sets have had half a billion views in the last year alone.
Our speech services are generating mass consumption through articles, animations, shortform and podcasts – all underpinned by brilliant social media. It’s all critical to building our radio stations’ brands.
These days, we’re also regularly commissioning programmes which aren’t first for a linear schedule. Our drama ‘Tracks’ reached thousands of new and younger listeners before it appeared on Radio 4. 5 live’s Flintoff and Savage has won a host of top awards and brought a different kind of conversation to the network. Our radio stations remain the best way to meet the needs of our listeners. They offer audiences company, personality, they allow them to feel part of a wider community. But there are other audience needs. Lean forward highly engaged needs, which technology allows us to meet on demand. In 2017, 240 million BBC podcasts were downloaded – an increase of 12 percent in a year. Our podcasts topped the charts and they’re some of the most popular in the world – and yet there are nearly 2 million podcast listeners in the UK who don’t consume any BBC Radio at all. So, we’re commissioning digital-first content, aimed at serving younger audiences. We’re about to announce the appointment of a new Podcast Commissioner who nurture the development of content, outside of our station brands. Last month we passed the million mark for unique requests for our BBC Audio Voice app and the BBC will be launching news and children’s skills in the coming months. Later this year, we’ll bring all this activity together in a revitalised audio product from the BBC. We aim to combine all our linear radio stations and audio streaming offer – and our On Demand content – in a personalised product, building relevant easy to access content onto our deep archive. With new consumers in mind, we want to create a new listening habit. This product is not just desirable for the BBC, it’s absolutely essential if we are to reinvent what we do.
I wanted to say something here about the BBC and DAB. We all once thought that DAB was – alone – the digital future of radio. People were not even mindful of the potential of the internet. But audiences want choice. We now know DAB is very important – but as a part of the ecology, along with FM and IP. We need to do more in the UK before we consider a switchover – and for that to be genuinely led by the audience. We are fully committed to digital, and we believe we should review the landscape again in a few years’ time. Great progress has been made but switchover now would be premature. For now, we believe audiences are best served by a mixed economy. Radio is better served by a mixed economy. I think it’s worth remembering also that new content is one of the great legacies of DAB. Look at the ingenious commercial radio brand extensions, whether Kiss, Absolute, Talk, Capital or Heart. Look at the emergence of our own BBC 6 Music – a unique editorial offer, now attracting 2.5 million weekly listeners and growing hours quarter on quarter. Listening, buoyed by new content as well as a new distribution network – the two go hand in hand.
Of course we’re all in the same boat, we established broadcasters – coming to terms with the challenges of the internet age. I remain convinced that we’ll prosper in the hybrid future – but that we’ll do so much more likely if we join forces like never before. Great radio is about truth telling – it helps us to understand each other. At the BBC, our output creates an honest dialogue and shared experience. Our mission is to enhance the lives of UK citizens, not mine every ounce of personal data from them to drive profits. In radio, we create content as an end in itself – we’re not doing it to sell something else. New digital technologies like 5G and Voice have the potential to transform radio again. How do we make the most of this technology? Or more pressing still – how can we preserve the critical space for radio in cars where we need to work with suppliers to ensure that radio thrives as part of the connected dashboard?
For many years, in spaces like this, we have gathered as allies and rivals. Public radio versus commercial; commercial versus commercial. But today it’s really time for all of us in radio to come together as one united industry to secure our future. We should go faster and further in identifying our shared goals. We should safeguard radio as a force for good – and defend choice for our audiences by reinventing radio for the next century. The world is listening.