Web 2.0: Mainstream Media Not Dead Yet
So, my first blog post here. Hello there. Nice to see you. Pull up a chair, grab a cup of tea.
As it says on the bottom of this blog posting, I rejoice in the job title of "Head of Future Media & Technology, BBC Audio & Music Interactive" - a job title which results in a business card with some really quite tiny writing. If you're interested, I head up one of the "embedded" teams for Future Media & Technology - a set of people who work on our radio and music websites, mobile sites, DAB Digital Radio, our radio services on Freeview, Sky, Virgin Media, and, yes, the BBC Radio Player. We produce stuff like the recent BBC Electric Proms, as well as the award-winning BBC Radio 1 website, and the website behind the ever-more-popular BBC podcasts.
The BBC has a number of these embedded FM&T teams. Each of our teams act as knowledge-centres for particular types of BBC output. My team's work is around radio stations that have over 29 million listeners a week, so it's us that people turn to whenever they have questions about how audio and future media are mixing these days. I've worked in radio for over 18 years (as a presenter, a commercial copywriter, a webmaster and digital director), so I'd hope that I understand a thing or two about radio - even though I doubt that Chris Moyles would be entirely delighted if I did the show before him these days, instead of at the station we both worked at in the 1990s.
I got an email recently, asking something like: "Is Web 2.0 a threat or an aid to traditional media, like radio? How might we see traditional media adapt to stay competitive in this new world?"
Well. Web2.0 is generally deemed to be defined as online applications which derive their effectiveness from inter-human connections.
But what's "traditional media", I wonder? In the broadcast sense, it might mean a linear broadcast stream: turn on the radio, and you hear whatever's on the radio right now: no way to pause it, rewind it, control it in any way other than the "off" switch. And the same's true of television. Except it isn't.
Television, we're told, is becoming less and less reliant on the schedule. Viewers with digital video recorders (like Sky+ or Freeview Playback) frequently claim that "they never watch live TV any more" - their hard-drive recording specific programmes, allowing the viewer to instantly access them. This "disaggregation" is made possible by the electronic programme guide. The programme title - the main way viewers navigate through the schedules - has never been more important.
But radio, too, is seeing "disaggregation". DAB Digital Radio now also contains an electronic programme guide for many radio stations: it's not as advanced or as consistent as its TV cousin (and the user interface for EPGs on DAB sets is normally pretty poor) but it holds the key to reinventing part of the medium. Broadcasters, like the commercial multiplex-owner "MuxCo", plan to use the EPG to broadcast innovative new programming using overnight capacity.
Radio has also gained benefit from the internet. The BBC's listen-again service is continually growing (in terms of unique users) month after month; and particularly efficient at growing niche programming, with some listening figures for programmes comparable to those off-air. Podcasts, too, add considerable numbers to broadcaster listening figures: and some programmes (the BBC's In Our Time or Peter Day's World of Business, Virgin Radio's The Geoff Show) are disproportionately popular online - once more, niche programming reaching a wider audience.
So, it's an odd question to ask "how traditional media might adapt to stay competitive". The report-writers, and the journalists, love an "Internet kills the media" story; but the reality is that the "traditional" media is continually adapting its products to fit the Web2.0 world. Virgin Radio even went so far as to launch its own social networking site (before the big Facebook craze); the BBC's Radio Player launched in June 2002, far before the excitement of YouTube; and additional data and visuals on DAB have been trialled by the BBC and commercial radio alike.
And have we succeeded? In spite of the explosion of internet content, total radio listening has remained relatively steady. Mass media like radio and television has daily access to audiences that even the largest websites would dream about. MySpace, the home of tons of music and youth-orientated websites, is used for 25 minutes a week; yet BBC Radio 1 itself is listened-to, on average, over 10 hours a week - youth commercial station Galaxy reaching over 7 hours a week. If Web2.0 is all about "inter-human connections", then we do a pretty good job.
Yes, we've work to do. It's why I enjoy working in multiplatform support for radio, keeping radio relevant to today's audiences. And no, we're not complacent - partly the reason why we continue to reinvent what we do. But, I'd humbly suggest, "traditional media" is, in the UK at least, doing a good job of keeping up with the Web2.0s.
Do you think that radio, as a whole, is remaining relevant? What would you really like from radio in the future? I'd be interested in your comments.
James Cridland is Head of Future Media & Technology, BBC Audio&Music Interactive.
Some parts of this post originally appeared on his personal blog james.cridland.net.