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Radio Audio Week 2019

James Purnell

Director, Radio & Education

What a week last week was for all of us working in radio. From the Radio Festival on Monday to the British Podcast awards on Saturday, it was great to see radio in the headlines and to have such a focus on what’s happening across the industry.

And of course we also hosted the inaugural Young ARIAS at the BBC on Friday as part of the Radio Audio Week. I was so impressed with the calibre of the winners and really glad to host the awards, as bringing new talent from across the UK into broadcasting is essential for a future of brilliant and captivating content.

A brilliant week

All in all it was a happy week - the RAJARs landed in the middle, bringing gifts for pretty much everyone. Commercial radio celebrated a record reach - and we were delighted too. All our breakfast shows and stations did well - and this in the quarter that we changed over half the daytime shows on Radio 2 and 6Music. When you make schedule changes, you always prepare for churn. But we’ve seen a brilliant audience reaction.

Huge congratulations to our fantastic presenters who’ve been part of the big changes. They’ve taken a lot of creative risks, and it’s great to see the audience finding these new shows and loving them.

And another round of congratulations to our winners at the British Podcast Awards - it was heartening to see so many of our shows recognised on the night and I’m really proud to see how popular they’ve proved over the last year and since we launched BBC Sounds.

Our off-air talent deserve credit too - those developing and producing our programmes and podcasts. It’s harder to do this naturally because radio doesn’t have TV’s equivalent of rolling end credits. We’re trying to put that right in Sounds, but we’ve got a lot further to go. But these healthy RAJARs - and the range of wins on Saturday night - are also a great vote of confidence for everyone who made these shows work, from the production and technical teams through to the commissioners and heads of station, not forgetting our brilliant comms, marketing and digital teams.

On Monday, at the Radio Festival, I got to present an update on Sounds, six months in. We’ve had a good start - with 1.3m weekly users and 84% of app users saying they’d recommend it to a friend. We’re learning from feedback the whole time, but anyone who has done a product launch knows those are encouraging figures. You can find more detail here.

Time to step back and look at the whole picture

Having been dazzled by video, the big tech players are now properly turning their attention to audio. These are the biggest companies in the world, with virtually unlimited spending power. It makes for an exciting market, with lots of opportunities. But it means that in future the BBC won’t have as big a share of the market or of our audience’s media time.

At the same time, audiences and stakeholders are asking us to do more - whether fighting disinformation, helping children to take their first clicks online or just telling stories about British life.

In response, we’re going to reinvent the BBC for these new generations and new opportunities. We will be smaller than these global giants - but I believe the BBC and BBC Radio will continue to be as special to our audiences and as important to society as it is today.

To do that, we’ll ensure BBC Radio will maintain its relevance in this much more competitive market. We also want to maximise the digital opportunity. And we want to make a difference - whether through innovating, supporting new artists or covering questions like mental health, the menopause or exam revision - all of which have featured on our shows last week.

Last week suggests we’re on track - from our RAJARs to our creative approach with podcasts. Our linear stations are holding steady, with online listening and podcasts growing. It’s just one quarter, but it was a happy week to be in radio.

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