James Cridland’s Future of Radio: BBC’s switchover plans that aren’t; and the right way to deal with iHeart’s bankruptcy

James Cridland, the radio futurologist, is a conference speaker, writer and consultant. He runs the media information website media.info and helps organise the yearly Next Radio conference. He also publishes podnews.net, a daily briefing on podcasting and on-demand, and writes a weekly international radio trends newsletter, at james.crid.land.

This week’s round-up includes a note from James: It was good to be at Radiodays Europe in Vienna this week. With 1,600 delegates, it was great to be surrounded with people who have a good feeling about radio’s future; and humbling to have good attendance for the sessions I was speaking at: particularly the podcasting one, which was standing-room only. The team have done a good job of writing up every single session.

United States

  • A $1.6 billion Spotify lawsuit is based on a law made for player pianos – a great article on how music copyright works (in the US). It’s an utter mess; and brilliantly, it works differently in every country in the world.
  • All Fired Up Field Fires Back – spot on commentary about the state of radio in the US, this. I’ve been saying for a while that journalists would take iHeart’s bankruptcy as an excuse to talk down radio – it’s good to see someone fighting back.
  • Pandora to buy ad-tech firm AdsWizz for $145m – a big deal, this, since AdsWizz is a company which many radio stations are relying on to monetise their online streams. And a clever move by Pandora, boosting their advertising capabilities.
  • Views, from a technologist, on Alexa’s effect on radio. Mandatory #lazybugglesheadline but a good piece.
  • ABC News to launch new daily podcast Start Here – the radio industry should watch cautiously here; with the NYT, NPR and ABC News in the socially-engineered “first podcast of the day” space, this has the capability to change listener habits in radio’s breakfast heartland.

United Kingdom

  • Bob Shennan announces a new personalised radio app from the BBC, to launch later this year: all the BBC’s audio in there, including podcasts. Here’s his full speech
  • Shennan’s new app thing was rather overshadowed by an apparent announcement, in the same speech, that the BBC was no longer going ahead with DAB switchover. Not quite. Here are the actual facts:
    • Pedantically, there actually aren’t any plans, yet, for switchover: since the radio industry still hasn’t hit the 50% digital listening target. As a futurologist, I’ll look into the future and tell you that this target will be hit on 17th May this year.
    • Once the target’s hit, the government – not the BBC – will look at a suitable, listener-led, timetable for switchover. I suspect government will wait at least until January 2019 – a year after the completion of the Norwegian DSO – to evaluate this. (A suitable timetable might, in fact, be to simply leave it up to listeners, who are switching over anyway.)
    • The timetable is likely to be set for at least two years in the future (making it March 2021 at the very earliest). However, Ofcom’s slow progress with licensing DAB smallscale multiplexes – the only viable way for smaller stations to transition – would suggest this sort of speed is unlikely.
    • Other things in the way: the UK government will be preoccupied with Brexit, particularly from January 2019 to mid 2020. There will also be a UK General Election in May 2022, at the very latest. Given that 90% of voters listen to the radio, it might be prudent for one of the political parties to make politics out of a switchoff.
    • Shennan is calling for FM switchoff to be listener-led (again: no change). This is, I’m sure, in no way related to the BBC’s generous allocation of FM frequencies, clearly has nothing to do with glancing at NRK’s loss of over 10% market share since Norwegian switchover, and is also obviously unrelated to BBC stations underperforming on digital in comparison to commercial.
  • Guardian journalist – and inventor of the word “podcast” – Ben Hammersley spoke at Radiodays Europe, telling them that radio’s dead. More strictly, that linear transmission is dead and that radio companies should plan for an on-demand future. I’d agree with the second half of that sentence.
  • Get Carter Productions wonder whether Spotify’s DIY advertising is really the best idea in the world… and a wonderful example of a client-produced ad
  • The See Radio Differently Podcast ▸ – I’m on it this week, along with an ex Labour leader and the boss of BBC Radio. #oddoneout
  • Ebiquity report rings ‘alarm’ as advertisers under-value traditional media – something that broke before the Facebook news.
  • Briefings: A brief daily news podcast player – this is a very neat and simple idea. Worth a peek. Contains my own podnews.


James Cridland