The year ahead in radio

The year ahead in radio

Posted January 8th, 2012 by debritz

By popular demand, here are my predictions for Australian radio in 2012. There'll be some Brisbane-specific predictions in a future post. (Update: they're here.)

1) The drift away from old media will continue, with tradional radio audiences exploring online alternatives.

2) As a consequence of this, 2012 will be the year that advertisers start to wise up. Times are tough for business, especially in retail, and nobody can afford to throw around advertising dollars unless they know their ads are going to hit the mark. The demand will grow for better audience research and if the networks and Commercial Radio Australia aren't prepared to provide it, then the dollars will go elsewhere (mostly online). Sticking with the current diary system for ratings suits broadcasters because it is fluffy, but when websites can tell you exactly how many left-handed, red-haired, 29-year-old females earning $60K or more are tuning in at 7.38am, then a book that's filled in at the last minute by people with faulty memories, an extremely low care factor, and a tendency to write down the name of the station that did the most marketing during the survey period rather than the one they were actually listening to, looks pretty shabby.

3) More on-air changes mid-stream. Shows that don't work will be yanked quickly, just as they are on television.

4) Lots of backroom changes, with further consolodation of managerial power at HQ (not necessarily a good thing for the "local" medium) and mergers of sales teams.

5) A make-or-break year for Fairfax Radio. The big problem is 2UE in Sydney, which is struggling to remain in the talkback race against the mighty 2GB. You haven't got a network if you're not competitive in the nation's biggest market. When the sale of its radio assets was abandoned last year, Fairfax said it wanted to create synergies with its newspaper and online businesses. But how to share resources between "soft left" papers pitched at a wealthy demographic and a right-leaning radio station pitched at the lowest common denominator? If the answer isn't found, former suitor John Singleton could end up with the bargain of the century.

6) An increasing awareness that digital radio is not the panacea for free-to-air radio's ills. While many of the multichannels are offering great content, not too many people are listening. There has been some movement towards getting digital radio receivers into cars, but that's problematic because digital currently only works in metro areas. An in-car 3G- or 4G-enabled internet device that could pick up radio from around the world, as well as receive video and other data, send emails, do social networking and make phone calls, would wipe the floor with DAB+. And it's not too far away now.

7) As a result of tough times in the commercial sphere, more questions will be asked about the ABC. If, as seems probable, the Federal Coalition comes to power this year or next, Aunty will be under pressure to explain and curtail its spending on radio services and its expansion into new media, especially where it is perceived to be competing with commercial operators. This has already happened to the BBC, which has been forced to abandon or reduce some of its services.

8) Even more networking. It's cheaper, but not necessarily smarter. One big thing radio has going for it is the fact that it can dance to the local beat.

9) As a consequence of this, local audiences and advertising could begin to drift away, in the first instance to the slicker community stations (whose true listening figures the commercial networks will continue to conspire to conceal) and eventually, perhaps exclusively, online.

10) The importance of star power will begin to wane in every format except talk or older-skewed music stations. Somewhere, some bean counter is already weighing up the savings to be made from jettisoning big-name, big-bucks stars against the potential loss in revenue from ratings declines. Another bright spark in the programming (sorry, content) department of the youth-oriented stations will realise that, mostly, it's all about the music. If they play the songs the kids want to hear, they will survive.