Thursday, April 05, 2007

The possibly brave, slightly new world of digital radio

Most of the interest in the bids to run a second national DAB network has focused on Channel 4's efforts to get itself a slice of transmission pie. Even the MediaGuardian weekly podcast conceded the rival bid, from National Grid, sounded dull and workmanlike. You could see the sense in it: NG operate tall towers with electricity in them, so handing them the transmission network could make sense. More sense, possibly, than giving it Channel 4, with their television ways.

However, that dull, workmanlike bid has now transformed into something else: with Ofcom's approval, National Grid wireless has just been sucked up by the financial locusts of private equity. Macquarie have paid £2.5billion for the business; so if they win the bids, another chunk of the UK's communication infrastructure will pass into the hands of people who lack even the basic overview of shareholders. That's got to help the Channel 4 bid, surely?

Unless, of course, Ofcom is comprised of the sort of people impressed by cheap suits and the stink of too much money.

National Grid - back when they bidding and pretending they'd be part of an electricity and gas company instead of one owned by merchant bankers - told Ofcom that if they won, they'd be including some Channel 4's proposed radio stations in the deal. At this, Channel 4 reared up like Foghorn Leghorn and asked "Wha... I said what?"

Although it might have been better for NG to have asked them first, though, it seems unlikely that Channel 4 would refuse to join them if need be. They've done a lot of work on this radio thing.

Here, by the way, is the list of what Channel 4 is proposing if it and its consortium win the day:

E4 Radio will be a music service with an entirely fresh approach, aimed at a 15 to 29 year old audience. Driven by interactivity with its listeners, a commitment to new music and an ability to grow new comedy talent across the UK, E4 Radio will encourage its audience to shape the content and style of the programming, as well as respond to it.

It's a nice idea - we certainly don't find much to complain about with E4's music television service during the days, but we're not entirely sure the TV channel has demonstrated "an ability to grow new comedy talent" and why they think they'd have more luck on radio.

And stop talking about interactivity. Even Radio 3 lets its listeners text in; it's redundant to mention it (like saying "we will communicate with sounds") and to base your entire network on such a vague, all-encompassing idea (votes? user generated content? phone-ins about the binmen?) seems ill-advised.
Channel 4 Radio will be a speech-based service aimed at a 30 to 54 year old audience, with an emphasis on news, current affairs, comedy, drama, documentaries and debate. News and current affairs will be at its heart and it will build on Channel 4‘s distinctive public service contribution to intelligent and innovative programming.

We do love Channel 4 Radio's morning reports podcast, and could quite happily welcome a second intelligent speech station in the UK. We're a little puzzled as to what speech is left if you remove news, current affairs, comedy, drama, documentaries and debate - is this just a way of saying "we won't have any money to bid for sports rights?"
Pure4 will be a music and speech service targeting 30 to 49 year olds, with an eclectic range of music complemented by intelligent conversation about the arts and contemporary culture.

= "and now here's a new single from The Good, The Bad and The Queen."
All three services will have regular news throughout the day, and news will be particular feature of Channel 4 Radio, which will have an in-depth morning news and analysis programme. Channel 4 believes that by integrating its television, radio and online news services it can create a flexible format that will give listeners high-quality, challenging news and analysis whenever and however they want it.

In other words, they're hoping that it won't cost too much.

What about the partners, then? What do they promise?
UTV will re-introduce the original Talk Radio format, mixing studio discussion with phone-ins and chat about issues of the day.

The original Talk Radio format? Before it finally turned into TalkSport, that station changed its style and formats so many times, I don't believe there's a man alive who could tell you what it was originally like. It's not entirely clear why UTV would be rushing to re-establish a station that nearly went out of business and required a substantial makeover on a medium with a smaller potential audience, but we're sure they've thought it through. Let's just hope everyone's not busy interacting with E4 Radio, eh?
Emap will continue to innovate across media platforms by creating a new radio service with the same brand values and attributes of the UK’s best selling celebrity magazine, Closer, with the launch of a music and lifestyle station aimed at 30 to 44 year old women.

Since Closer seems to exist for no other reason than printing blurry shots of Victoria Beckham, we can't even begin to imagine what this means. Actually, we can: someone will nip in every morning, choose one of those "All Woman" compilation albums, stick it on, hit "replay" and head off for the day.
In a joint venture with Chrysalis Radio, and as its first venture into DAB digital radio, Sky will produce Sky News Radio, a rolling 24-hour news service-providing up-to-the minute news and information supported by the significant resources of the Sky News team.

In other words: Radio Five Live with the sport and the news taken out of it. If this ever makes it to air, we give it six months before out-of-peak hours recreates the heady days of ITN Radio (i.e. the audio feed from the TV channel rebroadcast on the radio.)
For the first time, commercial radio will offer a national service for the UK’s large Asian community, Sunrise Radio. This national service will contain bespoke programming, focusing on Asian music and Asian artists.

Probably wise to stick with the music - Sunrise's name often seems to crop up in the complaints bulletin from Ofcom; although the complaints aren't always upheld, it does seem to be something of a lightning rod for grumbling.
Virgin Radio Viva, from SMG, will be a presenter-led modern music service aimed at a younger audience of 15 to 29 year old women, which will deal with issues of particular importance to them.

It's yet to be convincingly explained to me why women need a different sort of radio to men - is it simply the unerwiring in bras causes interference so the programmes have to be broadcast differently? We can only assume the arbitrary age-range has been cooked up between Virgin and EMAP so that the two identical stations appear to be a range of services.
Buoyed by its recent tranche of successful analogue radio licence awards, CanWest will provide Original, an album-led music service targeting listeners above the age of 40.

All embittered divorcee radio, all the time.
Disney is set to provide the first national children’s radio service aimed at 8 to 12 year olds and featuring music and entertainment.

Not quite sure where this would leave CapitalDisney, the service on regional DAB - will it be left to shows presented by second-string cartoon characters (Minnie Mouse, Huey, Dewey and Louie, anything invented by Disney since 1978?) while Mickey and Donald rule the national airwaves? More to the point, couldn't they have found a British company to come up with a children's radio offering? Rupert and Noddy and Postman Pat rather than High School Musical and Goofy.

Still, parts of the Channel 4 offering are quite intriguing. We're sure Jon Snow won't mind the double shifts it all suggests.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't think Channel 4 would make a particularly impressive job of running a radio station. Their youth 'channel', T4, is basically a low-budget copy of MTV with no original ideas whatsoever. I dread to think how Channel 4 would transfer a similar concept to radio.

Why can't we have something radical in radio, like a return to the concept of people just playing a varied bunch of songs every hour?

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