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BBC chief plans re-invention around on-demand and hybrid radio

helen boadenHelen Boaden, director of radio at the BBC, spoke today at the RadioDays Europe Festival about the media icon’s efforts to reinvent its broadcast presence to reflect new and changing technologies. The BBC is working to “reinvent radio for the Internet age” with an online audio service. This new take is expected to include live, on-demand, and archived BBC content that listeners can turn into their own personalized radio stations. Boaden pointed to the success of NPR’s Serial podcast as a signal that online audio content has the potential to capture lots of interest and attention.

Her talk also touched on the subject of “hybrid radio” that combines FM and DAB frequencies. Boaden said the BBC is collaborating with other European broadcasters to make plans for how to adopt this smartphone technology. (NextRadio is leading a comparable charge in the U.S. to enable radio chips in smartphones.)

Boaden said that the BBC could damage its “family silver” if it cannot adapt and innovate in these areas. In a more dire metaphor, she said broadcasters might “wither on the vine” if they don’t respond to the digital expectations of listeners.

Podcasting and archiving (which can be essentially the same thing in some cases) do present a natural opportunity for radio, especially talk radio. In the U.S. public radio programs that have large over-the-air audiences are frequently placed in the top ten podcasts in iTunes. Serial, the poster program for a resurging podcast movement, is an Internet-only program that enjoyed promotional support from its broadcast founder, This American Life (which also distributes its shows online).

Anna Washenko

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