Sunday, February 22, 2009

Absolute: Somehow, it's not payola

Absolute radio has been following up its playing of the new U2 single with ten second "blipvert" suggesting you buy the track from iTunes.

So. That's a piece of editorial - playing the U2 single. And a piece of advertising - "buy the U2 single".

Isn't that, at best, a little grubby?

“We had to get approval from Ofcom because we are in uncharted territory,” says Absolute Radio chief operating officer, Clive Dickens. “The song was already in the highest rotation it could have on Absolute Radio - 27 to 30 times a week - so they were confident any commercial relationship between us and [U2’s record label] Universal was not influencing the number of times we play it.

“And they wanted to be confident that the consumer would know when they were being advertised to. We felt we came up with a creative that made it clear this was an advert. U2 typically don’t market their stuff on the radio, and we sold it at a significant premium over normal spot advertising.”

Obviously, with Absolute having so few listeners, it's hard to see imagine that too much undue influence is being thrown about, but it's still the principle, isn't it?

Yes, Absolute is the sort of the station which would unthinkingly wedge its schedule with squillions of plays of the U2 song. But does that really suddenly mean that slapping an advert on each time isn't chasing a bit of money? And while U2 might always be on Absolute anyway, what if another band came along who might not normally get those thirty plays a week, but whose label might be interested in investing? With this precedent, would there not be a temptation to, for example, ramp up the plays for tracks from the new Genesis Snog Exodus album a couple of weeks prior to release? So that when the record hits the charts, data can be presented to Ofcom showing how the station has been playing Genesis Snog Exodus loads anyway, so why not not take a few quid for every play?

Absolute might be confident that listeners know what they're hearing is an ad, and not editorial. But it all reminds me of those Laser 558 "spins" which the station would admit afterwards were "pay-ed ad-vert-ise-ments".

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