I have no desire to sit back and manage decline: BBC Radio’s Bob Shennan #RDE17

Now unlocked: How BBC Radio plans to stay relevant in the 21st century.

“Radio is resilient and adaptable… but streaming has transformed the economics of the industry,” the new Director of BBC Radio told the RadioDays Europe conference.

Radio’s reach is at its second highest level in the UK since surveys began, so those who say radio is doomed should think again, but there are challenges, according to Bob Shennan.

“Whilst radio seems like it is doing well, it is also under immense threat. Media is being transformed, audience habits have shifted. We’re now part of a global market with many new entrants,” he said.

“At BBC radio we are responding with ambition to reinvent the radio experience, growing our linear and our new digital offerings and making them available to all audiences… creating world class radio.

“We need to be brilliant at linear radio which is the core of what we do (90% of consumption), but we also need to connect with audiences in the places they want to be… It’s easy to assume young people don’t listen to the radio, they do, but they don’t listen to as much and they also do other things while listening.”

Shennan wants to transform the BBC’s digital offerings to reach new younger audiences.

The BBC is the most listened to podcast broadcaster in the UK, with two and a half million people consuming podcasts every week.

BBC Radio also has successfully added visuals to its audio output. The iPlayer radio app has been downloaded by 12 million users, 100,000 hours of Radio One visual content is viewed every day.

“The future of BBC Radio will always rely on our ability to create great content in speech and music, accessed in the most convenient way. As the BBC approaches its 100th anniversary, we will remain as relevant as ever,” said Shennan

Building on its success so far, he wants to push further:

“There’s more we can do in the podcast space… creating personalised services for people to go on an audio journey of discovery, perhaps aggregating other people’s content… It will be more than just consuming our linear brands, it will enable people to dive deep into audio content in a friction-less way.

“Listen, look and share is the strategy.”

Dropping a bombshell in the way BBC Radio will be produced in the future, Shennan said that, as a result of a recent review of the BBC, about 60% of radio and podcast content will be contracted out to deliver “the best ideas and best value for money from external suppliers of content.”

News and current affairs content will not be outsourced, but other content production will be progressively contracted to the private audio production sector.

Bob Shennan is looking to the future in his new job as Director of BBC Radio:

“I have no desire to sit back and manager decline. This is a time when we need to maintain a future for radio in the next 100 years.

“All radio broadcasters must act together… we’re in this together, divided we will fail but if we work together we will succeed.”

View Bob Shennan’s conference presentation and discussion.

The full text of Bob Shennan’s speech is below:

I thought I would start by quoting from the BBC pitch for its royal charter:

“The purpose of these plans is firstly and mainly to adapt our service to a changing world to meet changing tastes and needs… Radio networks must surely be shaped with proper regard to what the public in general has shown it wants. The role of Radio cannot be judged in isolation… but has to live with other mass media.”

Not Lord Hall, but Lord Hill. Not the latest BBC charter, but an extract from Broadcasting in the Seventies.

Nothing changes. Fifty years ago it was the effect of television. Today radio faces the huge challenge of adapting to the multiple effects of the Internet.

Thankfully radio is nothing if not resilient and adaptable.

That resilience can be seen in some of the data from the last audience figures – published for the final quarter of 2016. Reach to all radio in the UK was at its second highest level since the current methodology was introduced 18 years ago. Listening hours now top 1 billion, and nine out of every 10 adults is tuning in every single week. The BBC is delivering a considerable chunk of that success story – our 10 national services now reaching 32 million listeners.

But paradoxically whilst radio is both doing really well, like all traditional media it is under threat.

The pace of change is exponential. Media has been transformed – is being transformed.

Audience habits have shifted. They are spending less time with traditional media. The range of options for consumers today are numerous. We are now part of a global market, with new entrants from the internet which know no international boundaries. In music the development of streaming services has transformed the economics of the industry and impacted on the listening habits of, particularly, young audiences. The mobile phone is all powerful.

So, how do we respond to this shift?

In short – with ambition!

We want to re-invent and grow radio.

Reinvent the relevance of the radio experience by building new ways to connect with its essential attributes.
Grow it by working harder to make our linear and new digital offers attractive to all audiences and in new places. To grow, we’ll challenge ourselves constantly to create the best, world class live and linear radio – always mindful of the need to replenish our loyal audiences with a new generation.

It’s tougher than ever, but remember Radio 1 appeals to ten and a half million people over the age of 10, hours are stabilising, the commercial sector has seen some impressive growth in hours among the young. When the doom mongers tell you that radio is over, I’d remind them that a whopping 84% of the 15-24s tune in each week. It’s quite clear that streaming choices in the UK are magnified by the impact of radio play. What’s more, radio remains an essential curatorial voice which the music industry in the UK is ever more reliant upon.

Simultaneously I want to transform our digital products. Make them the best they can be. Reach new and young audiences in ways that appeal with brilliant and relevant personalised content.

It’s already good – we’ve been innovating and experimenting. The BBC is the most listened-to podcast producer in the UK and we aim to transform our offer in this space. Our Radio 1 YouTube and Vevo channels have more than 4.2 million subscribers. Just listen to this statistic – 100,000 hours of Radio 1 visual content are now viewed every single day. Radio has taken the advent of social media in its stride. Short form versions of our speech on Radio 4 and 5 Live have added millions to their following.

Our iPlayer Radio app – already downloaded by nearly 12 million users – has been quickly followed by our playlist-focussed BBC Music app. Every day we are extending the impact of our content, especially in mobile phones.

The future of BBC Radio will always rely on our ability to create a strong, compelling mix of content across speech and music, with world class talent, relevant to our audiences, and allowing them to access it in the most convenient way.

It’s an exciting challenge – and as the BBC approaches its 100th anniversary, I am determined that its founding outlet – its senior service – will remain as vital and relevant as ever. The third great golden age of radio is still to come.

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