Radio 1 for the ‘head down’ generation


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Since Tony Hall’s speech last autumn we’ve been thinking further about what Radio 1 on BBC iPlayer means and we now want to share that with you.

If you are reading this on the bus or the train, look around you and see how many people are staring at a screen. Welcome to the HD generation – that’s the ‘Head Down’ generation.

As the Controller of one of our key ‘youth’ brands, whose job it is to engage the next generation with the BBC, I have to answer a rather important question: what does Radio 1 look like on a phone, tablet or laptop?

Radio is far from dead. Indeed, radio listening remains remarkably healthy - each week for example, over 40% of all 15-24 year olds in the UK tune into Radio 1. But they’re not listening for as long; instead spending a lot of their time on their favourite device with YouTube and social media - a challenge shared across the music and radio industries. So, my challenge is to make sure that they ‘bump’ into Radio 1 in those spaces.

Since I became Controller of Radio 1 and 1Xtra in October 2011, our strategy has been summarised by the line ‘Listen, Watch, Share’. Our core focus will always be about making great radio programmes and discovering new music; but we’re now in a world where almost everyone expects to be able to see key moments - and then share them with friends. We can see this from YouTube, social media, fellow music stations and press, who all have a presence online to reach young audiences.  

We were quick to embrace social media to interact with our audience - we have almost 1.8m ‘likes’ on Facebook, just over that many following us on Twitter, and were recognised by Guinness World Records as the first radio station on the planet to have over a million subscribers to our YouTube channel.  As well as YouTube, our visual content can be found on the Radio 1 website and on BBC Red Button and, to a lesser extent on BBC iPlayer - with the platform recently hosting Zane Lowe meets Rick Rubin, as well as a 45 minute One Direction programme presented by Scott Mills, combining an interview, backstage footage and their recent performance at Radio 1’s Big Weekend.

These platforms will all continue to be important for as long as they remain relevant to young people. But we also want to ensure there is a dedicated place for our visual highlights within the BBC – and BBC iPlayer is obviously the natural place for this.

Now that we are reaching young audiences in those third party spaces, it is time to offer an onward route from Radio 1’s YouTube channel into the rest of the BBC.  Our aim is to reach younger audiences that are not engaged with radio in the same way as previous generations, and to develop their relationships with traditional radio where these already exist.

So, subject to regulatory approval, later this year we are proposing to launch a dedicated space in BBC iPlayer for existing types of Radio 1’s visual content.  BBC iPlayer is a natural home for our videos, given that around 25% of 16-24 year olds already use it on average each week.

And how will it look? To start, it may help if I say what it’s not going to be: it won’t be a 24/7 service with a ‘schedule’; it won’t include standalone official music videos; and we have no ambitions to produce traditional TV programmes.

Instead, all of our videos will continue to be related to our broadcast output at Radio 1, with the same distinctive editorial tone and exclusive BBC content.

We will provide a clear place within the BBC where you will be able to see intimate performances from Radio 1’s Live Lounge, key sessions and highlights from live events like Radio 1’s Big Weekend. We’ll continue to film the biggest name guests appearing on our shows, as well as the audience’s favourite features and what are possibly best described as our more random, creative moments - Greg James on a wrecking ball being one memorable example.  We expect much of our viewing to come from Radio 1’s YouTube channel, Radio 1 listeners, and browsing on BBC iPlayer.

The videos on BBC iPlayer will be longer than most of the clips on our YouTube channel and will expire after 30 days when the catch-up window is extended from 7 days later this year. We anticipate that one or two new pieces of visual content will be posted per day, with a peak around coverage of live events like Radio 1’s Big Weekend - as already occurs.

In short, our presence on BBC iPlayer will be a natural extension of us reflecting and celebrating youth culture in the UK. I hope to continue to inform audiences of our distinctive mix of new music, educate through social action campaigns and entertain with our diverse family of presenters, in a new home within the BBC for the HD generation.

Ben Cooper is Controller, BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 1Xtra


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