Radio? Seriously?

‘Radio? Seriously? I hear press is the next big thing too!’

LinkedIn provides many fascinating insights into what others think of what you do. This particular comment was made by a man who works in ‘paid search’ - an industry that didn’t exist 20 years ago, and therefore provides him with the self-aggrandising feeling that a) he works at the cutting edge of something, and b) any other media that’s been around for longer must be dying.

I’m a big fan of paid search. It’s brought much great content my way. It’s an effective and precise method for finding what I want.

I’m also a big fan of cutlery. It’s brought much great food my way. It’s an effective and precise method for putting it into my mouth.

However, my emotional connection is still very much with the content/food, rather than the search/cutlery. This fact doesn’t seem to have changed, even when I was introduced to the phenomenal modern concept of the ‘Spork’.

Great radio advertising creates messages that fit perfectly with the food, not the fork. Get the perfect tone, voice, and script, place it in the right show or daypart, and you can leverage the listener’s profound love of their favourite radio station for your brand. 

So, news for you, my LinkedIn contact of a contact. Radio’s not the next big thing. It’s the thing. It’s humour, it’s news, it’s music, it’s live, it’s changing, and it’s loved by a non-diminishing 90% of population. Hooking into that is a lot of fun.

That won’t change in the next ten years.

But paid search will. It will become screenless, as you use your voice to search and your ears to gather the information from your Amazon Echo or Google Home.

If only there was a blueprint for a method of delivering information in a perfectly judged / entertaining / informative manner using audio alone.

Oh, perhaps radio is the next big thing after all.

Podcasting: Apple's New Analytics

Last week Apple announced they would be launching podcast analytics, their new reporting tool for podcast providers.

The news came at their Worldwide Developer Conference, where business and engineering managers announced improvements to the interface and user experience on the iOS11 update, along with a few best practice guidelines. 

The great news is that it's what audience-focussed podcast creators have longed for since the dawn of the medium.

The announcement at the end of the session was met with applause which, frankly, felt understated given the implications this has for our fledgling industry.

 

PLUGGING A GAP

The new analytics tool, which is still in development, will allow providers to see how much podcast episodes are played, and for how long, when listened to on the Apple podcast platform. Apple's Global Head of Podcasts and Internet Radio, James O. Boggs, was mindful to note the reporting tool still aimed to respect the privacy of users, with analytics not tied to individual user IDs but based on aggregate data.

Privacy and security is a mainstay of Apple products and services. They claim never to "monetise the information you store on your iphone and icloud" and so perhaps this genuinely is the reason they've been reticent to release podcast usage data until now. Noble as this mission statement is, it's pretty crucial to the value of their brand too, so you can understand why they've not been in a rush to sell out.

Those of us working in commercial content however, are elated at the news that we will soon be able to report back properly to the clients who are already taking a leap of faith by investing in branded content. Apple still provides the most-listened to platform for podcasts, so being able to report on how much our audience is listening and which parts of the episode are most interesting is essential to the business model. Whilst the dearth of data thus far has inspired many hosting platforms to develop their own user data tools, the opportunity to contrast episode performance and specific content as well as territory and subscribers on Apple is an unrivalled boon. Moreover, as content creators, it is frankly irresponsible not to consider and explore the sorts of people who are consuming your product. So the chance to react to data from the world's primary podcast platform arrives not a minute too soon

On top of that, the news makes the basic pitch for commercially-funded content a whole lot more attractive! Whilst perhaps this isn't their motivation in releasing the data, Apple predict a 20% growth in their podcast business this year, and with a thousand new shows submitted each week, the medium is booming. The revisions to the app in iOS 11 will allow creators to categorise their programmes and series as standalone episodes or narrative storytelling categories; or group content into seasons so that new subscribers can download chunks to their library at a time.

 

COMMERCIAL FUTURES

Mr Boggs also mentioned the current business models for a financially successful podcast as including 3 tenets; ads and sponsorship being the primary and most common. He said: "host-read ads in particular are successful and profitable". In addition, Boggs didn't dismiss listener donations and community support as a means to funding this content. But the third model he noted was upsell. This is potentially where the podcast industry has the opportunity to seriously evolve, and is undoubtedly a strong driving force in the development of a reporting platform for Apple podcasters.

Simply put, upsell is the idea that the podcast audience can convert to customers in the sale of products related to the content they're listening to.

 

EASE OF USE

The announcement is furthermore exciting because of the podcast audience’s integrity. We know that podcast listeners are educated, intelligent, curious and affluent. They choose to engage with branded content if and when it is of a calibre they can find on broadcast radio, film or written editorial. Its advantage over these rival or complementary mediums is convenience and ease of use.

It's smart that Apple have put the work in to make the user experience more inviting for time-poor but discerning listeners. Asking people to interact with any media is all about minimising the steps they need to take to achieve this. By bringing the interface more in line with their existing Music app, Apple are going for a familiar, unified look to their listening material. Most people listen to podcasts whilst doing other things, so if they're able to just hit a button and follow a familiar mechanical process for part of that, such as easily accessing their recent downloads, then surely those are extra points for getting your content into more people's ears.

Boggs nodded to the independent podcast networks producing content in partnership with Apple and pointed out the household names and brands that were getting them "excited about episode content that entertains, informs and inspires". He returned during the speech to take guests through some best practise guidelines for producing podcast content, touching on everything from cover art to competition and metadata. Interestingly, he took a moment to acknowledge the importance of quality in audio productions. Whilst he acknowledged that not all podcasters had access to the world-class studios that set the pros apart, there was of course a little plug for the iPhone's in-built mics and custom tech.

We eagerly await more news on the next phase of development for Apple's reporting tools, and indeed will be racing to bring you our verdict the iOS11 application updates. If there's one thing that's clear, it's that Apple aren't rushing this stuff and perhaps having the confidence to prioritise quality over speed is a little example we content creators can take inspiration from as we approach an exciting new era.

You can watch the full speech here

British Podcast Awards

We don’t go on about it much, but you might know that we’ve been flying the podcast flag for a while. And so, we were delighted to attend the very FIRST British Podcast Awards last week! There were fifteen categories – from true crime to sports – judged by the very best in radio and podcast reviewing (Helen Zaltzman, Miranda Sawyer etc).

...and our very own National Trust Gardens was nominated for TWO!!!!

The do itself was excellent. There were around 300 people there and lots of mini quiche (also excellent but I burnt my mouth). Most interesting was the diversity of ages, and types of people in the room. This wasn’t your average showbizzy gig, this was a community of passionate, creative people who were thrilled to be there celebrating their own and each other’s work. Hey you doomsayers, podcasts ain’t goin anywhere.

Winners included The Cinemile (Best New) – a couple who go to the cinema each week, and review the film on their mile home –  to BBC World Service’s The Inquiry (Best Current Affairs), to The Beef and Dairy Network Podcast (Best Comedy). There’s room for everyone in the podcasting and that was wonderful to see.

Anyway, I urge you to have a flick through the rest of the winners and add them to your commute playlist. Also… we got a bronze in Best Branded Content. So all round thumbs up.

Brands and the Podcast Revolution

We've all lived through more digital revolutions than we can remember. Today, around 71% of UK adults own a smartphone, and we're free to go about our lives snapping photos and videos, uploading them with accompanying punchy captions in seconds. In fairly recent memory, digital cameras were a novelty, the internet was a sort of weird, dial-up underworld, social media was MySpace, and Apps and filters were something different altogether.

There's a rough pattern to the evolution of this consumer tech:

First comes the innovation, then the early-adopting consumers and investors, then better tech, then the mainstream users and creators, then a mainstream race to cash in, then naturally the hike in overall standards.

But who thought the next revolution would be in audio? I wouldn't have put money on it, until now.

 

ONLINE LISTENING

There are some 22.3 million people who listen to online audio in the UK, from on-demand music services to online radio and podcasts. 19% of those people listen exclusively online (even more so for younger demographics)

Now, 12 short human years (a ripe old age in digital terms) after it first appeared, the podcast has come of age commercially. And it's going to be powerful.

Imagine a digital marketing tool that rivals the depth of engagement and intimacy of reading a book and has all the convenience of an on-demand, multi-platform entertainment, but without the big production price tag.

This beautiful and simple media has blossomed quite organically from the timeless spoken word. Moreover, from storytelling and conversation. Yet it's different from traditional and even current radio. Radio has long been smart to brands that are built around listener lifestyles and demographics, choosing the commercial partners who are most appropriate to this, but within the confines of a broadcast platform. Podcasts, on the other hand, whilst still able to place content integrity first, can be brought to you directly by these companies, making those same companies no longer mere partners in delivering something a listener can be passionate about, but the providers of it.  All this adds up to increased intimacy with the host brand and - if it's a good product - all the good feelings the listener associates with the programme.

 

PODCASTS FOR MARKETING

To state what is increasingly obvious to brands exploring podcasting - and I say brands, because this is still, predominantly a marketing exercise - the benefits of providing podcast content is that it allows them to build key strategic messages into an entertainment context. When Fresh Air Production worked with the National Trust to pilot their new podcast project last year, we took this simple commercial radio principle into how we designed our programmes, seeking out interviews and on-site stories that allowed our presenter to weave in little known facts about the Trust's wider remit, in a natural context.

The other benefit is the in-depth engagement that podcasts bring. Podcasts provide the panacea to a life of incessant motion and dwindling down time, particularly for metropolitan audiences. Engagement is hooked mainly around the narrative, storytelling format. Audiobooks may have long fed this busy audience's need for information or knowledge, but now they are seeking entertainment, amusement, exhilaration, relaxation and escape through a personal experience that mimics a social one. This is surely something that Audible are very aware of as they work to launch their 'Channels' programme platform in the UK. Through podcasts, we're able to engage in the conversations, stories, memories and emotions of others privately, without censorship. The average listening duration for podcasts is around 17-20 minutes, which allows people to fit listening in whilst they're relaxing or doing something like commuting, exercising or cooking; it's a way of supersizing their time by learning new stuff, or making tasks more enjoyable. That's long enough to plant some really strong emotive messages about your brand or product in the hearts and memories of a listener, provided you do it in the right way. Compare the cost of that 20 minute engagement to the cost for 18 seconds of dwell-time on a web page or video, and this is interesting indeed.

 

A NEW AUDIENCE

But podcasting as a commercial venture doesn't just have to be a brand or product-selling exercise. A recent brief Fresh Air Production took from the UK Houses of Parliament was to engage more people with the basics of how Parliament is run. With the help of presenter Meera Syal, we created a 6-part series that not only did the job and blasted into the iTunes top ten in its second week, but also became a useful learning resource for the public and new staff alike, helping them explore a brand new audience on this channel. I would argue that a company or organisation's podcast audience is not the same as its web audience, or social media audience. Granted, podcast consumers live in a digital space, so anything that helps them explore this in one finger tap is a coup for cross-promotional marketing, but in another sense, this is an entirely unique audience that we are only just starting to understand.

Another asset is the versatility of the medium. There's no standard format for a podcast, beyond what will be most appealing to your target listener. You can curate a fictional drama with your product at the heart of it, as GE did with 'The Message', a nail-biting story of a an "alien" coded message, or you can create indirectly related content, as ASOS did with smart, inspirational businesswomen in 'My Big Idea', or as fashion brand Mr Porter has done with their award-winning, candid series of brave and smart conversations 'Fathers and Sons'. Or, of course, you can stick to your core subjects, like a National Trust podcast about gardens, and develop your core existing audience's perceptions through that. Some hosting platforms are experimenting with hyperlinked images in situ for podcasts. Imagine hearing a URL mentioned on your listening device - a link to donate to a charity perhaps - and at the very moment you were moved by a story, it was possible to tap the image on your phone and go directly to the donation webpage. 

 

DIRECT RESPONSE vs 'UPSELL'

But the confusion I am surprised to meet in many a conversation with new clients is this: In spite of the fact that content is now the driver for a thriving, multi-million dollar industry, the idea of creating something that doesn't directly and explicitly tell people your brand does "X", can be hard to sell-in. The challenge is that many of them are still looking for a direct response. They want to walk away with a number or a measurable action to quantify their investment, and so the challenge for podcast creators or production companies is to either change this point of view, or promise to deliver these numbers.

The funny thing is that commercial radio programming has been doing this for years! I'm not talking about ads or even sponsorship - I'm talking about integrated programming: client messages woven into entertaining content that people will engage with, enjoy listening to and react to. Clients will pay a premium for this over promotions and sponsorships too. Of course, they do have numbers to back it all up, but RAJAR aside, the soft sell is that radio brands have an emotional closeness and trust with their audience that a brand can piggy-back on. Surely this power is only more pronounced in the personal, self-curated entertainment podcast audiences search out?

And this is the other big change we're starting to see in podcasting. In spite of all that lovely, soft brand messaging and emotive power, investors still want cold, hard data.

 

A TURNING POINT FOR DATA

iTunes don't release their data to just anyone (although they're about to get better at this), but the hunger for this information has driven a wealth of innovation with apps, services and hosting platforms springing up all over the place, offering insights on demographics, listening behaviour, numbers and interests. Surveys are another old-fashioned but powerful way to find out what your most engaged listeners are like.

Research into podcast listeners is swallowed up like water in a drought. We know these audiences are intelligent, curious and well-educated. They don't want information that's crammed into their ears en-masse, but curate their own playlists and, I would suggest, seek out an emotional experience that they will remember, as well as new information they can share. They're self-educating, generally a little more affluent and predominantly (although by no means exclusively) aged between 18 and 34. A large percentage of them get to make decisions in their business too, which makes this a very exciting arena for products and services to explore commercial partnerships in.

But we don't yet win podcast business from brands by proclaiming that almost every smartphone owner has the option to listen. Lifestyle habits and preferences like this develop organically over time, as long as the experience gets easier and more strongly represented in the cultural zeitgeist.  Nor do we trade off the fact that nearly 5 million people (calculated from midas stats) regularly listen to podcasts in the UK. We are asked for the number of people who download these programmes, or the number of people who listen. It is a digital tool. Marketers prefer to be able to measure how old those people are, where they live, perhaps their income, work, social or family background.  Sadly, information that isn't readily volunteered in this liberal new medium.

Yet.

RIGHT TIME, RIGHT PLACE

This is where the rise of programmatic advertising aligns with the podcasting story, and although podcast platforms tell us little about the socio-economic status of their listeners, they can give us a strong idea about the mutual interests and passion points of their consumers in the selection of programmes they choose to listen to.  Where the likes of Contently have found solutions by collecting 'story' content, repackaging and serving it to multiple diverse and localised audiences, brands themselves, sitting on small goldmines of first-class content, seem reluctant to release their property into the new and unexplored platform of podcasting. The ones that do so may well win big.

So in short, I think there are very exciting things to come from podcasting, very soon, and the brands who are exploring this now are placing themselves streets ahead of the flock that will follow.

So how best to prepare? It may feel premature to think about what comes next, when the struggle to make cash and data out of this has barely begun in earnest, but my bet is that the next era will be that of a more discerning ear.

 

QUALITY CONTENT FIRST

Podcasting is a beautiful, liberal platform which harnesses new technology and easy software to put content creation in the hands of the public at relatively low cost. Most mobile phones have an in-built microphone after all. But what previous content platform explosions have taught us is that a quality product and finish will also speak volumes about the company that's paying for it. So whilst self-styled podcast producers and tech whizzes are falling over themselves to make things quickly, Fresh Air's plan is to be concentrating hard on doing what we've always done: providing premium, well-targeted content of the highest standard, lovingly-crafted mixes and detailed, immersive soundscapes, all recorded on the best kit we can get, as per our radio broadcast training and backgrounds.

From a content perspective, the BBC were early pioneers of the podcast, of course, their main selling point being that their content is second to none in quality, creativity and innovation. The mistake would be to compromise this standard with weak commercial integration. In 2010, when changes to the OFCOM codes around undue prominence led to a sudden mad panic for some commercial radio stations to sell everything from their bread and butter to grandma's knickers, what the industry quickly learned was that this very bread and butter was one of highest value assets their businesses possessed. "Just because we can, doesn't mean we will" was the unofficial mantra of the Global Commercial Programming department at the time, a company that has continued to increase its reach and share of UK listening audiences with a strong brand ethic and nose for well-aligned partnerships - plus a healthy eye for its audiences.

In this way, Apple may have led the charge to put technology in the hands of many once again, but radio has paved the way for consumer expectations.  It is radio standards, principles and talent that will win biggest when brands stop asking if podcasts can work for them and start asking how well

We Made a Podcast for Parliament

“Parliament Explained” is the first podcast by the UK Parliament, and part of their ongoing efforts to demystify what happens in the centuries-old House of Commons and House of Lords.

The task of explaining how government takes decisions, how members of the public can change the law, or why you should care about politics can a daunting one. Podcasting is the perfect medium to reach people who are looking to expand their knowledge, and so the series of six episodes uses case studies and interviews with Parliament staff to offer an in-depth understanding of the institutions. It’s all narrated by leading actress and comedian Meera Syal.

Branded podcasts are growing very rapidly in the UK, and Fresh Air Production, part of the Radioworks Group, is one of the companies leading the way in helping organisations to make the most of audio content. Neil Cowling, Creative Director of Fresh Air, said:


“Podcasting is a medium that more and more brands are using to tell engaging long-form stories, and land strategic messages that can’t be communicated through standard advertising. We’re hugely proud to be working with The Houses of Parliament, and it’s a testament to the growth and quality of the medium that such a supposedly stuffy institution is commissioning their own podcast series.”

 

“Parliament Explained” is available on iTunes here

Live Podcasts at the Edinburgh Fringe

Patrice, Mark, Steve and Laura!

Patrice, Mark, Steve and Laura!

Last weekend our lovely Assistant Producer Laura popped off to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to showcase some of the podcasts we’d been making for Audible.co.uk. Here’s what she had to say….

Possibly my favourite place in the world, I was buzzing for haggis, comedy, theatre, and of course doing live recordings of our best podcasts!

The first – Mark Dolan’s VIP Lounge sees comedian, broadcaster, and all round LOVELY guy Mark Dolan interview the most eclectic, fascinating, and… kinda strange people that might live next door to you. In our case, VIP stands for very interesting person. To explain it a little better – for our Edinburgh show (in front of a 100 strong, super giggly audience) Mark met a man who injects himself with SNAKE VENOM (he’s 49, looks about 30, and his blood is now going to be used to make anti-venom!), and a lady who eats… well.. she eats brick. Apparently she preferred the sandier variety of the two brick pieces I had handmade for her earlier that week.

The following day, we did a live Q&A with Dom Joly of Trigger Happy fame. We had sent him on a wild and wacky travel podcast around the USA exploring some of the stranger American tourist activities. We showed the best photos and videos on a big screen (including some of him alligator wrestling. As you do. And high as a kite on a Colorado cannabis tour) as he talked us through what he got up to. Uncensored and hilarious in true Dom Joly fashion.

It was a wonderful weekend, everyone laughed a LOT, and I also got my pork roll with apple sauce and lots and lots of haggis.

Keep checking back here or on Twitter for more updates on Mark Dolan’s VIP Lounge and Dom Joly’s Big American Vacation to be released exclusively on www.audible.co.uk later this year!

AP Laura goes to RadioDays Europe

RadioDays is the foremost international radio conference.  It’s held annually over two days in different European cities and this year the RadioDays ‘Next Gen’ programme gave 6 young radio professionals the chance to experience Paris 2016 first hand, share ideas, and develop their future careers.

To be a ‘Next Gen’ you had to make a 60 second video.  We brainstormed what might make a winner and…. after munching lots of croissants between (and during!) takes…. came up with this!

The very next week I was packed off to Paris to attend lectures on topics from podcasting, to breakfast show secrets, and to ‘programmatic advertising’ (who knew!) The ‘Next Gen’ got to hobnob with the very best radio producers, engineers, and presenters from around the world – from Oz to Berlin –  at the fancy gala on the second night. I had some amazing conversations, and was able to relay some of it at our very own ‘Next Gen - What Caught My Eye’ lecture on the last day (which we had a pretty decent turn out to too!)

A fantastic couple of days; I came back to London with a brain and notepad super full, and LOTS to report to my team! Vive la radio!

Live Podcast at the Comedy Store

We’ve been working alongside Audible.co.uk on a brand new show called “Thrash It Out”.

Thrash It Out is a live mix of comedy and topical debate, which will be hosted by Dom Joly, best known as the star of Trigger Happy TV.

So if you like the idea of settling a serious argument, whilst laughing hysterically then we have some VIP priority seating available for friends of The RadioWorks Group.

Tickets are free, and the show takes place at The Comedy Store next Saturday 14th November at 2pm.

For more information about the event and to book your free ticket click the link below:

Eventbrite

Don’t forget to Let us know once you’ve booked so that we can put the best seats aside.

Digital Audio - The Headphone Generation

In the last fortnight, two completely separate conferences - Radiodays Europe in Milan and Advertising Week Europe in London - have spent a serious amount of time talking about Digital Audio Advertising. To those of us who spent endless hours in 2004/2005 wondering whether this podcasting thing was ever going to take off, this is a huge relief.

Finally, this digital audio dimension is in a position to be properly monetised. It has the scale (17 millions people listen to digital audio every week in the UK) and thanks to innovations like DAX it has the relevant technology to make it easier and more accessible to advertisers. The potential is there to target listeners by age, gender, location etc and serve up audiences in ways that have never been previously possible through one-to-many broadcast radio.

So what does this mean for creative?

Thankfully, other people have done all the technical thinking behind this exciting evolution of the space, but for creative audio producers like us there are hugely exciting possibilities. RWS of Germany have carried out a fascinating study into "The Headphone Generation" - the audience who listen to audio through smartphones, regardless of the source of that audio - and what comes across most strongly is the increased intimacy of the user experience.

We've always known that radio listening is a one-to-one activity, but that's even more true when you've gone to the effort to download specific content to hear alone on your headphones.

It means that, no matter how smart the metrics are that allow you to target a digital audio listener, if a lazy agency then serves them up the same low-rent "TV without the pictures" radio ad they've produced for commercial radio they'll do far more harm than good. Creatives have to understand the context of their message more than ever, and allow the listener insight to drive higher quality, more personalised ads.

Get it right, and you'll create perfect matches between brands and content - See Mailchimp and "Serial" - that reflect the enjoyment and engagement of the listening experience onto the advertiser. Get it wrong, and the audience will feel you've invaded their space and pooed in their ears.

Working with the BBC, we've been doing this for years - building solus messages in a ultra-sensitive context where tonal fit is everything. It's about witty, intellegent writing, smart sound design, understanding the related content, and believing that your audience are listening intently rather than needing to be shouted at across the hairdresser's.

Now it's time to take that respect and love of audio into the digital space and make it work to the both the listener's and advertiser's advantage, with a new premium genre of commercial audio advertising.

Can you tell we're excited? Is it obvious?

Eastenders - Scary Radio

One of the joys of producing work for the BBC is that we get to work on really huge national campaigns that everyone hears about.

One of the other joys is that just occassionally you get the time and the freedom to really experiment.

It's rare that those things happen at the same time though, and so the Eastenders "Who Killed Lucy" campaign has been really wonderful to work on.

With the TV treatments in Easter 2014 and February 2015 being so completely visual, we had carte blanche to interpret the concepts in audio. For many people that's a nightmare, but when you think in sound all the time it's perfect.

Our tools were a great track (Don't Waste My Time - Krept & Konan), some instantly recognisable voices, and a list of creepy death and murder-related words. Plus we had airtime on the UK's biggest radio stations.

The three parts of the campaign are obviously sonically and conceptually related, but without being repetitive.

And we got to use Ian's caff as our office for the day. Bonus.

Eastenders Trails - April 2014 - BiancaIanDenise

Eastenders Trails - February 2015 - Version 1Version 2