Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland
Last year, Chris Evans was the presenter of the most listened-to breakfast show in Europe – The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2.
The BBC earns most of its money from a television licence fee, currently US$195 or so, which households in the UK have to pay if they have a television. This licence fee (and the sale of programmes to other broadcasters) pays for the whole thing – so there are no commercials or sponsor credits on BBC Radio 2: it’s entirely commercial free, and perhaps that’s why 14.6m people tune in every week.
Of course, that’s not entirely true. The BBC does a very good job of promoting its own services. Were they to spend money on similar advertising elsewhere, that would be a very high bill indeed. So there is plenty of promotion of new BBC television shows, and plenty of breathless interviews with big BBC stars who often have something to plug. But that’s fine, and that’s not really “commercial messaging”.
Chris Evans left the BBC at the end of last year; and has just started presenting The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Virgin Radio, arguably one of the smallest national radio stations in the country, with 414,000 listeners.
Virgin Radio (a trademark of Virgin, yes, but owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in the UK) is a commercial radio station: but the Chris Evans breakfast show is entirely commercial free. There’s not a single commercial in the entire three and a half hours.
Of course, that’s not entirely true, either. He’s sponsored by Sky, one of the UK’s largest TV broadcasters. There are occasional sponsor credits, but if the first show is anything to go by, there’ll be plenty of promotion of new Sky television shows, and plenty of breathless interviews with big Sky stars who often have something to plug. But there won’t be a single 30-second ad for washing powder, sausages, double-glazing, or anything else – “not for the first hundred years,” said Chris – presumably exaggerating slightly – in his first show.
It’s a canny move. If the only thing holding his previous audience back was the prospect of radio commercials, Virgin Radio have removed that objection. And why not.
In truth, the loss of commercial inventory from the breakfast show won’t damage the station much: it stands to considerably gain from the marketing and halo effect that its new big star will have.
When radio’s online competition has a much lighter ad-load, or no ads at all, it’s a clever move to work to rethink commercial radio’s revenue model. Good on Virgin Radio for giving that a go.
About The Author
James Cridland, the radio futurologist, is a conference speaker, writer and consultant. He runs the media information website media.info and helps organise the yearly Next Radio conference. He also publishes podnews.net, a daily briefing on podcasting and on-demand, and writes a weekly international radio trends newsletter, at james.crid.land.