Radio 1 courts teens with smartphones

Ben Cooper Ben Cooper admits he's a festival dad

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Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper outlined his youth-focused strategy for the station at the Radio Festival in Salford on Tuesday. The BBC Trust wants the network's average listener age to fall under 30 from the current figure of 33.

Cooper, who was promoted to station controller last year, said there were two issues that affected average age: "smartphone teenagers" and "festival dads and mums", which, aged 42 with children, he admitted he fell under.

Start Quote

We have got to evolve, otherwise we're going to be dinosaurs”

End Quote Ben Cooper Radio 1 Controller

He said he believed the station, which reaches around 12m listeners per week, could do three things to move some of the older audience onto 6 Music and Radio 2:

  • Find "a new generation of presenters" such as Youtube stars Dan and Phil hosting the Radio 1 Request Show from next January after the exit of older DJs like Reggie Yates and Vernon Kay.
  • Be firm on the music you play or the music you don't, including a reference to the controversial exclusion of Robbie Williams' latest No. 1 single Candy from the playlist
  • Events such as the Radio 1 Teen Awards

Cooper said focusing on "smartphone teenagers" - more than half of teenagers reportedly have a smartphone - was key, and research showed that most are still attracted to big brands.

But, he admitted, average listening hours had dropped from around 8 hours per week to 7.5 due to competition from the likes of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Hence the station, which has a service budget of £37.7m, had to "focus on those areas and attract them with content that they like".

On air, on screen

Radio 1 has adopted a "listen, watch, share" strategy. In other words, listen to radio and share it on social media. Cooper stressed that the "watch" part, dubbed "visualisation" in the radio industry, was not about trying to mimic tv or just having a studio webcam.

"I believe that what you want is different things at different times of day," he added, whether that was website updates on songs played or a "fully tv experience" for the Teen Awards, which was watched by around a quarter of a million on BBC Three but drew 5m views via online and BBC Red Button.

The station is also following a two-screen strategy, aiming to exploit the daily use of mobile devices and fixed screens (i.e. desktops/tvs) from the morning alarm to bedtime.

In the previous year, Radio 1 has changed its schedules, indie suppliers and, according to Cooper, "been flattening the management structure". It also relocated from BBC Yalding House to New Broadcasting House.

They also hosted Hackney Weekend in June - their biggest free-ticket event with an audience of 100,000 - after opening a temporary academy for the Olympic boroughs with help from BBC Learning.

Breakfast changeover

In a Q&A session with writer and broadcaster Miranda Sawyer, Cooper said he wanted to focus on digital innovation, and the licence fee meant that one of Radio 1's roles as a youth-focused station was to experiment with digital aspects which other BBC stations could adapt and commercial radio could "monetise".

"We have got to evolve, otherwise we're going to be dinosaurs," he warned.

When asked about whether former Breakfast DJ Chris Moyles would return to the station, he replied he didn't know but that they would talk in the new year. The presenter, who is on a break with the station so he can perform in Jesus Christ Superstar, has a Radio 1 contract that terminates at the end of 2013.

Cooper said he thought Moyles' replacement Nick Grimshaw was doing a "brilliant job" in the breakfast slot, adding that they'd had "some really strong AI scores among younger audiences".

Grimshaw, who answered questions at the end of the session in Salford, revealed he had especially enjoyed the last two weeks as the show began to naturally evolve and he felt less self-conscious.

Speaking in front of an audience which included his parents, who live nearby, he said things he had done better included "shutting up a bit" and not spreading a five-minute quiz over 25 minutes.

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