Can Radioplayer be the one-stop-shop the industry needs?
Radioplayer's decision to launch the UK service last week at the lofty Paramount Club perched above London aptly reflects the high hopes for the digital innovation.
In a fragmented, multi-platform world, commercial and BBC radio businesses have united to deliver a single internet-based player that aims to stream every Ofcom-licensed UK radio station in the country.
The Radioplayer console plays audio when you click "listen live" or play "listen again" content on the individual radio websites, and has its own dedicated site, Radioplayer.co.uk.
It has benefited from an impressive scale from the outset, hosting all the stations owned by the BBC, Global Radio, GMG Radio and Absolute Radio, and the independent Juice 107.2 in Brighton.
This has already been added to this week, with most of the stations owned by Bauer Media, UTV Media and Folder Media now on board.
Andrew Harrison, chief executive, RadioCentre, said: "The target is to get all of the main radio stations on it within the next two to three months. Then we'll start to work with hospital and community radio."
Each player has a common search, allowing users to find results for stations by genre, artist or station name. The search uses the tagging information provided by radio stations (meta data) to deliver results.
The interface has been purposefully kept simple and will be continually updated, according to Michael Hill, UK Radioplayer managing director.
Hill said: "Our first prototype had five stations, so only five sets of meta data. We now have nearly 200 and will soon have close to 300, which is totally different. We have to keep on trying to get a better experience for our users."
The BBC is using the space around the player to cross-promote its shows, while the commercial companies are using it to host exciting new ad inventory.
Harrison said: "Initial interest from advertisers is very encouraging. They see we have a standard format to offer across online and there are a good number of major advertisers that are testing the platform."
At launch, some of the UK's largest advertisers carried ads across the Radioplayer interfaces, sold separately by the individual stations, including the Central Office of Information, Swiftcover, Direct Line, Volvo and Lexus.
Other advertisers to have used the format since then include sports brand Reebok and energy drink Powerade.
Radioplayer has been widely welcomed by radio buyers, eager to have a new sale for the industry.
Matt Landeman, board director at Carat, said: "Anything that makes consuming radio easier, is a good thing. The team is already talking about a couple of commercial opportunities."
Although it is not possible to book a cross-player campaign through a single point of contact yet, the individual stations are willing to work together. For example, today (8 April), the electronics manufacturer Dymo is using a display ad on the Capital player, and display and pre-roll ads on Absolute Radio's player.
Bauer Radio, the UK's second-largest commercial radio owner, arguably had more to lose than most in signing up to the new venture. The group has already established its own bespoke radioplayers at considerable investment, which are already reported to be profitable.
It was enough to make the company hesitate, but while not being one of the founding launch partners, the allure of the united UK Radioplayer proved too much, and now Bauer executives are fully on board and thinking a step beyond.
Dee Ford, group managing director of Bauer Radio, said: "We can see an advantage in being able to buy across the player. Our priority is to offer complete flexibility to our commercial partners, working with them to enable the best possible opportunities for clients to reach, interact and engage with our audiences."
Clive Dickens, chief operating officer of Absolute Radio, believes the industry will come together to offer a single sales point, if the desire is there from agencies and advertisers.
He said: "In a digital economy, competition isn’t from each other, competition is from other online products."
Despite users of the Radioplayer being able to find any station through one single interface, the participating stations believe the benefits outweigh the potential dangers of losing listeners to previously unknown rivals.
A buoyant Stuart Taylor, chief executive of GMG Radio, said: "We're just as likely to be discovered on someone else's website, than the other way around. That’s why you need to make sure your search terms are appropriate, and make sure your programming is as good as it can be."
The jury's out on whether Radioplayer will have an immediate impact on digital listening. Tim Davie, the BBC’s head of audio and music, referred to the player’s launch as a "quiet breakthrough". Dickens, however, is more ambitious and believes it will increase online listening straight away, perhaps by as much as 10% in its first year.
He said: "Rajar estimates online currently only accounts for around 3% of listening. That's a tiny amount when you think of how long people are online. We already have around 10% of our listening online, and I don't think it’s going to be long before that expands to all radio."
Others have more modest expectations of its impact. Amanda Burningham, ideation director at UM London, said: "I wouldn't say it will dramatically change listening, but the player will draw consumers’ attention to listening online.
"When the player has apps and you can listen through mobile, that’s when it starts getting interesting."
Scott Taunton, managing director of UTV Media's stations, including TalkSport, simply calls the initiative "a sensible thing for the industry to be doing" in an increasingly complex and competitive multimedia landscape.
Radio was the only medium to see advertising spend fall among the UK's top 100 advertisers last year – down 6% from 2009 to £199.3m, according to The Nielsen Company.
Taunton said: "It's good that there is a joined-up approach with the commercial radio and the BBC. We could have done our own thing, but we're all doing it together."
Radioplayer has already attracted a lot of interest from the UK media and beyond, and is that rarest of things, a bona fide "media first". While it's true commercial opportunities have yet to be realised, both at cross-station level and at granular audio, visual station-specific level, it is just the start.
Taylor said: "The player has been a genuinely collaborative effort. There's more to come on mobile and search. It's not perfect, no one's claimed that, but we are improving it all the time."
This article was first published on mediaweek.co.uk
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