Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Radio Advertising Plummets in Holland

The Music Says Everything. Apparently not enough to make radio sustainable in the long run.
I have often expressed my concern in public and here on this blog that many people in radio in the Netherlands seem to be in denial. They cling on to analogue ways of doing things when the audience has moved on. I am so fed up of endless live magazine programmes and awareness campaigns that are all designed to play on your emotions. Those in this sector also seem to seriously underestimate that generations are growing up who need video to navigate through content. Finding great stuff these days means paging through segments, not delving into lists.

What happened to Factual Radio Formats?

Radio in the Netherlands is usually just associated by the public with music and light entertainment. The special interest programmes about technology have long since disappeared. There is no equivalent of BBC Radio 4's File on 4. Big investigative pieces, when they happen, have long since moved to TV. Yet File on 4 understands that they can often get the bottom of an issue faster because they have a microphone rather than a camera. Likewise, great factual series that are popular in the UK like More or Less, Peter Day's World of Business, or the factual comedies like The Museum of Curiosity (complements the brilliant Qi) are absent from the Dutch airwaves. In many cases it has nothing to do with budgets. It's just that the talent has vaporised, or doesn't understand how to build a cross-media career. We're obsessed by what presenters look like and earn, never what their actions contribute to important social discussions.

I noted some radio people laughing when this video popped up at a media conference a few months back. The trouble was they didn't see themselves in the video, only those who make magazines.



Now comes news that in the third quarter of this year, the radio sector has seen a 10.9 percent drop in advertising revenue, compared to the same period last year. The sector as a whole earned Euro 42 million in the quarter. This is according to the Radio Advies Bureau. Things are still confusing because public radio and TV carry advertising blocks, so radio advertising doesn't just affect the future viability of commercial radio networks. Will that wake up a public discussion about radio and its role the media landscape in this country?

The Elephant in the Radio Room

Public and commercial radio networks traditionally avoid talking about important issues. It always boils down to the bitter arguments about distribution and the lunacy of licensing in a world which no longer understand scarcity.

The Dutch government has made serious strategic mistakes in the past, in the hope of cashing in on spectrum fees. Spectrum was auctioned off to the highest bidder when a beauty contest was really what was needed. There are no forums where people talk about content development. Nothing like the great Radio At the Edge discussions they used to have in the UK, that later became the Next Radio Conference. Or the Earshot Creative Review (still one of the best podcasts about radio imaging on the planet).

Next Radio Conference 2012 in London. Nothing like it over here.
There are some people playing around with Dutch equivalents of Spotify. But I believe creative speech radio production is rapidly dying on this side of the North Sea.

That's partly a language challenge. You can't export radio programmes in Dutch because the medium doesn't lend itself to dubbing or subtitling. There is no equivalent of Cannes, where TV formats are bought and sold. There is also a challenge in that there is no clear path for the public about how digital radio will be delivered. DAB+ has a lot of advantages. Except that DAB+ technology is not being integrated into smartphones (challenges with the antenna), or iPads, or any other tablets out there. Radio in the Netherlands is stream of conciousness stuff, being dumped the second it was broadcast. There are moments of sheer brilliance. But you'd better be there to listen to it live. Because radio wasn't designed to be found after the broadcast. Radio producers have enormous difficulty building coherent collections of useful stuff. It is incredible that there are whole networks set up to broadcast old music. But taking interesting interviews from the past and using that as a catalyst for new discussions is usually regarded as a sign of failure.

There is no Radioplayer on the Dutch market that understands the context of what's being broadcast. Just a channel. The problem is I don't have the time to have this stuff running in the background in the hope of getting briefed.


So what could happen next?


So some networks will limp along until the money finally runs out. Things need to get worse before they have any prospect of getting better. And that will happen now that the new Dutch government has decided to keep a fund to stimulate experiments in the written press and wind-down the fund dedicated to innovation in electronic media. As things stand now, the Mediafonds (16 million Euro) will exit at the start of 2017. No logic in that decision at all. Pure politics.

May be someone in radio will launch a start-up to search for a new business model? By that time, radio is going to be a part of a hybrid media future anyway - not a discrete device. That's already the way FM has gone in India....most people listen to the FM radio (app) that's inside their mobile phone. The radio has already disappeared from the workplace. Try and buy an autoradio in the Netherlands to add DAB+ to your car. How long will it take for the discussion to get kickstarted? Frankly, I can't wait around any longer.

In the meantime, I'll be doing something else.


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