Access to Radio: Turn on. Tune in. Cop out?
1. KEYNOTE – DAVID FERGUSON
I’m the Chairman of the British Academy of British Composers and Songwriters -the trade association representing music writers in the UK. We have 3000 members whose writing activity ranges from the most extreme forms of squeaky-gate classical music, right the way through to the cheesiest pop music and everything that you can imagine in-between. And in that context I’m going to attempt to talk about radio with a fairly broad brush, because there is more to radio than just talking about pop or rock music.
This time last year we were in the process of doing our best to lobby parliament on the Broadcasting Bill. Many of us in the music industry thought that Ofcom was going to be a horror story, and I think we are all pleasantly surprised that Ofcom appears to be considerably less of a horror story than we thought.
One of the things that was apparent during the passage of the communications bill was that whilst the rules and regulations for television looked as though they were going to be relaxed, (and that struck us as being a serious concern and threat) it also became apparent that the rules regarding radio looked as if they were going to become somewhat harder and stricter.
Certainly there was a lot of lobbying by CRCA, (the independent local radio organisation). It is very noticeable that CRCA was not as successful in their lobbying as, for instance, Pact were on the television level. (PACT represents independent film and television producers)
Ofcom have started consultations on how they are going to look after radio on a day-to-day basis. One or two things emerge from it which sound quite good; one phrase from an Ofcom document says ‘its job is in fostering plurality and diversity’. This sounds good, let’s hope it is the case and let’s hope that the processes that Ofcom use is one of continuous consultation. What you can’t do in twenty-first century broadcasting is to lay down a dictat and hope that it will last and work for ten years.
The landscape changes so rapidly that the process has to be ongoing and the consultation has to be with both the consumers and listeners of radio, and also those who are stakeholders – the people who are either trying to have their work broadcast on radio, or are indeed commercial radio stations.
There are some worries inside this: the first Ofcom consultation appears only to do with what are termed “outputs”, i.e. what the listener actually receives. Those of us who actually produce work for broadcast know that a whole range of things determines output:
· the delivery sysytems
· whether or not the programming is in some sense automated;
· whether or not programs are syndicated;
· the appearance of what seems to be a local radio station actually being a part of a national radio station
· the degree of plurality, diversity and localness of content.
The process by which franchises are awarded to radio stations is cause for concern. I have been extremely critical about Jazz FM: in my opinion, it should drop ‘Jazz’, and just call itself ‘FM’. Ofcom has got to address the concern as to what happens to commercial stations who clearly move away from what was their agreed format at the being of the process. Jazz FM doesn’t play Jazz anymore and it should have its licence removed.
If a broadcaster says they are going to do X, they have to be held to do X because that is the basis on which their licence was awarded. Of equal concern is whether some broadcasters are going to put in ambiguous claims about what they are going to do, and there isn’t clarity in what they say they are going to do.
This allows them to have what is called ‘format creep’, and these issues are things we are looking to Ofcom with a large degree of hope, to make sure that they don’t let these sort of abuses of the licensing system take place.
There’s a wonderful phrase about local radio, that localness is probably most identifiable when its not there. We’ve seen in other countries what happens when local stations are taken over by larger ones and consolidation takes place. I was in a rock and roll band at the tail end of the 70’s and remember touring around the States and absolutely everywhere you went the radio station was local, singular and entirely to do with that place.
You now have the situation in which two companies control the bulk of station and radio programming in the US. Recently in the Sates, the Dixie Chicks decided that they weren’t going to support President Bush in the Iraq war and Clear Channel simply pulled them. Could this be a case of Washington dictating the playlist to the rest of the country?
I hope that it is possible for good commercial radio to exist on a local level and I hope that the regulator encourages and enables commercial stations to genuinely provide local content. The real importance about local content is to do with access. It’s to do with the starting point. Its where, if you’ve got a band, or an act, you possibly get your first exposure to an audience. This is absolutely crucial to the bottom-end of the music business.
There are two levels of local radio: there’s very local radio, and I think there’s also a need for regional radio in this sense, they are two different things and I hope there’s room for both of them.
· BBC Charter Review
Received wisdom has it that very little of the BBC’s radio activities are under threat during the charter review, but I think it’s really important to actually say just how important the BBC is as a radio player.
The BBC broadcasts over 37’000 hours of music a year – an astonishing amount. To my community who write music, the BBC pays £45 million a year in licence fees which go to the writers of music. It is fundamental to the economics of writing music.
It is also a fantastic supporter of music played live. There are six orchestras supported by the BBC; this again is vital to the health of professional musicians in this country. Various of our Scottish members are continuously telling me how fantastic they think BBC Scotland is in helping Scotland define itself: it is absolutely the only reference point for new Scottish talent coming through.
The broadcasting bill pledged that in virtually every area in the UK it would be handing out a licence to a local commercial operator and there would be a “plus one” for the BBC. Additionally, when the BBC themselves launched their own paper last week, they started talking about wanting to do micro-stations that extended closer to the community.
Radios 1 and 3 are crucial to the health of music writing in this country. Radio 1 is the only serious entry point for a new act in the rock and roll business. It has a terribly difficult job in trying to be extremely popular whilst at the same time introducing new material. It doesn’t always get it right but it is, nonetheless, an organisation which in my view really needs to be encouraged, and particularly so by people inside the industry.
Radio 3’s commissioning of new music makes it by far the most important player in British culture. The diversity of material on Radio 3, with its world music and jazz programs, whilst appealing to a minority audience, are praiseworthy.
Those who can hear Radio 6, a station playing an enormous range of music, wholly unencumbered by advertising and chart pressures, can only wish that there were two or three others more, playing equally esoteric lists across the digital frequencies.
The new changes that the government is already pursuing are to do with Community Radio. Community radio, (local, not-for profit radio), is a highly desirable thing, for a variety of reasons.
There are real values community radio can bring to society:
· social inclusiveness;
· point of access at which people can start to get into the whole process of broadcasting;
· education & training;
· legitimacy, enabling cheap, affordable access to broadcasting, thereby sidestepping pirate stations.
It’s vital that community radio is different from local, commercial radio and isn’t seen as competing with it, because that will create serious tensions and problems, on both sides.
Whilst I recognise that many commercial, independent, local radio providers have concerns about community radio, I hope that Ofcom and others manage to get the balance right, so that community radio can thrive in the 21st century along with the commercial radio and the BBC.
(MC – Ofcom)
The first thing people always me ask is, ‘What about Jazz FM?’ There are a couple of misconceptions with Jazz FM and also the Dixie Chicks. It wasn’t quiet like that with Clear Channel, but why ruin a good story…(!), and it’s important to bear in mind that Radio 3 can afford to be diverse…
The Jazz FM format was never non-stop jazz. The first people who had the licence did that – that’s what they wanted to do. When it was taken over (2 or 3 times) the present incumbents wanted to, (and it is valid for them to do so because it’s a marketing decision), during the day to push all the soul and to play jazz in the evening. Through the format that they have got, that is the way they can run it. The fact of the matter is that Jazz FM was never licensed as a sole Jazz station, and they can do it the way they are doing it.
The addition of the word localness – local material and locally made material – into the communications act is not actually a new obligation. What it represents is a protectionist move, to protect what localness we already have. For present and future licences, it’s important to know that.
In its time, the Radio Authority did a lot of things that didn’t win many medals, but what it did do was to understand that, in the transitional time between the winding-up of the Radio Authority and the start of Ofcom, something ought to be done about some of the issues that impact on the whole localness issue.
Ofcom is looking at those things now, and they will be up for the next consultation. There will be consultation on input. Although in theory, a regulator shouldn’t be regulating the input of a radio station, it should be able to regulate by listening to the thing. The restriction of automation, syndication and networking are all issues Ofcom considering.
Automation can bring fabulous programs. Ofcom fully understands automation and is not against it. What worried the Radio Authority, and what we can now tackle through the consultation, (and I hope through yourselves pitching into that consultation), is this. If we all wake up tomorrow morning and find out that every local radio station in the UK is automated, do we think that would be a good thing? I personally don’t think so, therefore we put a restriction on daytime automation, but it is not a blanket restriction; the same is true with syndication and networking and so on.
The formats are still in place as the regulatory tool by which Ofcom will regulate stations. I don’t share David’s pessimism or, indeed, hatred of the output of independent radio. I don’t share his pessimism about formats being incapable or doing that, but you are quite right, it is up to how Ofcom wield the format around.
Already, in past 6 months, format regulation – a description of a radio station on a sheet of A4 – has been raised with respect to stations that we feel have been veering away from their format already, so initial signs are that it will work.
As far as local content is concerned, yes, music is mentioned in the bill and can certainly be an ingredient of localness. There is an obligation, clearly, for stations to have an appropriate amount of local and locally made material. Now music can be an ingredient of localness and I know that the music industry moans that radio stations have centralised playlists and won’t play local music, or indeed records that are selling well in a particular area.
Well, Ofcom, unlike our colleagues in France, are not the ‘music police’. We do things in a different way. Radio stations will do things if they are going to win an audience and radio wants to line up with success. Interestingly enough, some of the informal research that we have done, and indeed some of the informal research that the radio authority did, does show that people do want to hear local artists on their station.
And the stations that do stuff like battle of the bands and actually get the music industry harnessed and working with the radio station find that it works really well for everybody. But, not all stations do it, and now to be honest, if I can address you as the music industry, you really have got to get your act together to make sure that radio stations know what is out there for them.
The music industry in this country is massive, it has billions of pounds when compared with the radio industry, and I think what the music industry needs to do, if it wants to take itself seriously, is to actually use its weight on things like this, to speak with one voice.
(M-D – GWR)
In defence of commercial radio, there a number of points. Commercial radio does a different job to the BBC. The BBC does a great job; they have half the audience, we have the other half. Radio 3 does a great job and it spends £70 million doing it. GWR own Classic FM, which has three times Radio 3’s audience, and it’s grown that audience by popularising classical music. You could say that it just plays populist excerpts from film scores, and there is an element of that, but it’s bought a new audience by adopting existing orchestras, initiating music teacher of the year, supporting instrument in schools and other initiatives.
It does it through partnerships – it doesn’t spend licence-payers money on it. Regarding local stations, GWR has 31 local FM stations across the country.
Is there a network playlist? Yes, we do music research, asking people the kinds of music they like and test tracks. For popular music, there isn’t much difference around the country. Do our stations have to take the music? No. Any of our programme controllers can change it, and a lot of them do.
At the moment, what is coming out of research is that our core audience of 24-35 females are not keen on much of the new music. A lot of that has come from the decreasing interest in the Pop Idol phenomenon. People see it as disposable, and aren’t getting into pop music as they did previously. Many of our stations currently tend to play more classic pop tracks, which has been driven by our audience research.
Do our stations play unsigned bands? Is it a significant part of our output? No. The FM stations target a 25-34 year old female audience. Our research indicates that this audience isn’t really interested in unsigned bands. Stations connect with their communities in different ways. Trent Radio’s “Winner stays on” played out an unsigned artist’s record everyday until it was out-voted by a more favoured, unsigned song. Hugely successful, it ran for 3 yrs, and came to an end only because it was time to review content.
GWR run pop concerts across the country. In Milton Keynes a local act that had worked with the local radio station played a concert GWR supported which attracted 30’000 people. The artist was a singer-songwriter who played two songs and shared the same bill as Busted and Jamelia. It’s not about having quotas and saying ‘you must do this’, because it varies area to area.
Every part of the country has a of contemporary pop radio station. Under the new licences advertised by Ofcom, we are applying for different formats and we have no desire to compete for new licenses with pop stations. We’ve been working really hard with a format called Storm over the past two years. Storm, a modern rock station, broadcasts on digital radio in certain parts of the country as well as on Sky and Cable. It has around 100,000 listeners, mostly 15-24 year old males, and is doing really well. It plays quite a lot of unsigned music.
It comes back to research; we’ve talked to the (Storm) audience and they tell us unsigned music and live music is a big part of their lives, so we reflect that on the radio station. We wanted to do something slightly different with Storm unsigned, so, as well as playing four unsigned acts over the week, we send out posters, and flyers with the name of their band and how their fans can vote for them on our radio station. We also send them a CD-Rom with examples of how to write press releases and their local press contacts to help them advertise the fact that they’ve had airplay on a radio station. Yes, it helps us promote Storm in the market place, but we think it’s helping those bands feel they are involved and are moving on.
Generally, GWR have been really supportive of access radio. Out of all the radio groups, our response to Ofcom was fairly positive, mainly because most people at GWR come from an access, community or student radio background.
We think there are issues of access stations starting up in areas where they’ve only got a small local station. That doesn’t necessarily affect us because our stations tend to be bigger, but we think it’s a great opportunity to grow new talent, both in music and behind the mic. We have lots of presenters from community or student radio and we are very happy to work with access radio and help out in our areas. Radio is at a crossroads at the moment; it’s going in very different directions. T
There are lots of opportunities and its something which, working with and alongside the BBC, we can grow and bring in new music and radio stations.
London station, Resonance, does very different things and I think could become incubators for good ideas across commercial radio, in lots of new areas, and in digital radio too. Lots of different digital stations can afford to do different things by using technology in different ways. This is where automation comes in. I can see the arguments for economic use that Ofcom have pronounced for us all, but if you are a marginal station, maybe playing unsigned music, you are going to need to use that technology in a smart way to exist.
Is consolidation a bad thing? It could be, but it can be a good thing as well. At GWR for example, we had a lot of pop radio stations, through consolidation we can develop a portfolio approach. We’ve gone on to develop a fresh hits station, Planet Rock, (classic rock), and Storm, (modern rock). We are providing diversity and choice by there being a single owner. Single owners can, from the benefit of having a very popular FM station in that area, support new stations, and support more marginal formats that are really tuned-in to expanding choice.
(M-A B – French Music Bureau)
We don’t have such a liberal covenant in France, but cultural niches are very important for the French government. France has a very different cultural background to that of the UK.
In 1981, when socialist president Mitterrand was elected, he promised to liberate radio. There would be no more pirate stations but he would encourage thousands of legal, small radio stations. It worked very well and everyone was very happy. French people can’t understand that there are still pirate stations here in the UK.
When we tell them that the only way to bring new foreign acts to England is to go through pirate radio, they just don’t believe it. Yes, radio has become too commercial, and suddenly it became a political, economic and cultural issue to try to get more French music on air. In the case of NRJ, the biggest public network broadcaster, only 20% of it’s output was French music and big commercial networks output just 7 or 8%. Everybody, especially the government and the industry were very concerned.
The French equivalent of Ofcom, CSA, (Control Superieur de l’Audiovisuel), whilst not having quite the same responsibilities as Ofcom, can advise the government with lobbying from the industry.
Independent record producers were very concerned that they couldn’t hear their own kind of music on air. The French government was eager for broadcasting to uphold French culture, so a law was passed in 1996 that radio stations had to play 40% of French-speaking music, and half of this had to be new music.
Radio stations were arguing the quality of French production was not good enough to achieve the 40% quota; they gradually tried to reach that percentage, but appealed to the record companies to provide better material. The record industry committed itself to investing money into production and new artists.
That was the first positive outcome of the legislation – the record industry really invested and the quality of production changed dramatically. Little by little, a new system evolved in which the playing of old French hits was gradually replaced with a more contemporary playlist.
Before this legislation, network station Sky Rock played only 7% of indigenous French music. In changing its format to hip-hop and R&B, the station has seen its audience increase dramatically. Previously not really heard on French radio, hip-hop was well supported by the network and a proliferation of hip-hop radio stations emerged all over France.
A new culture began. Suddenly any hip-hop artists could sell 3,000 records; not all of it especially good, but at least the artists were heard on the radio. The French government was not trying to push hip-hop; it just happened to coincide with the development of urban youth culture in France, which was gaining momentum.
Unlike the UK, youth culture didn’t really exist before, but the development of urban culture really brought a new youth culture to life. It changed the whole landscape of radio in France. All radio stations saw their audiences increase. No one expected this, but it showed the French liked to listen to French-speaking music.
Adult formats playing older material easily reached the quota but this was at the expense of not highlighting so much new talent. The policy has since changed to reach a balance. The basic quota is still 40% of French-speaking music which includes 20% of new artists, although stations can chose between 60% of French-speaking music with only 10% of new artists, or 35% or French music and 25% of new music. The French music industry is really pushing new talent with great production and diversity. French music is now taken far more seriously, because standards have risen, making it easier to promote.
Personally speaking, the big problem now is that the quota does not include instrumental music, electronic dance music or world music produced in France, but without French singing.
France, is probably as much influenced by American music as the UK, and despite the quota system, there is still a lot of space for English speaking music. The French system has many critics, but we don’t have as much American music on the air as does the UK.
The UK has so many excellent artists in this country it’s a shame to be playing so much American music instead, especially in the urban genre. In France you’ve got your chance, and it isn’t true that we are not willing to have British artists; many British artists start their career in France, and there is still a lot of room on French radio.
It’s true there’s an abundance of local French radio. Looking on the internet this morning, I found 6 thousand local stations, many national ones and public access radio has at least 5 or 6 different channels. Nrj is still the biggest.
In looking at new trends, in France, there are fewer listeners per station due to the increasing number of digital radio stations. It is interesting to see that currently, rock and R&B are going up again and adult formats are going down. Additionally, there are 600 community radio stations in France that are financed by different kinds of support, one of which is the levy on radio advertising that supports community radio.
This is a levy on radio advertising nationally, on all radio stations and is a system that’s been in use since the war in France, first to support French cinema, and then levied on each blank CD or tape sold, and is re-distributed to artists and producers.
This has always been useful, especially for independent producers. We have a similar levy on the box office, so it means that the biggest sellers, like American artists, are bringing money in for new French artists and it works really well.
(SS – Juice FM/ Totallyradio.com)
I’d like to talk a bit about small independent local radio stations and digital platforms. I am a director of two local radio stations, Juice in Brighton and Splash FM in Worthing. They are very different types of radio stations.
Splash FM is what you would expect a local radio station to be, quite local, dead cuddly, local news, tide reports; it’s not the least bit trendy. It broadcasts to a slightly more mature audience and is wonderfully successful; really good at capturing the hearts and minds of local people. It’s been going just over a year, and the team at Splash are good at connecting with the local community: we’ve played more than a hundred demo tapes from unsigned bands. Splash is there to appeal to the local community, which, in a town like Worthing is not particularly forward thinking.
Our small station in Brighton, Juice, is slightly more interesting but only because it is in Brighton – it’s still a local radio station. Being in Brighton means that we do a lot more interesting things, but that is quite unusual. We’ve had Juice since the start of October ’03, and since we’ve taken it over, we’ve made many changes.
During the daytime we’ve made it far more accessible and play more of the music mass research tells us people want to hear. When we took over it was a dance music station, and its audience halved over a period of 6 months because it wasn’t really appealing to what people want. However, we have also introduced over 60 hours of specialist music, the vast majority, all but 4 hours, is produced locally in Brighton. Juice are really good at supporting the local music scene, works with a number of record labels and we hope that we won’t see a further decline in audience by alienating the daytime audience. More interesting music tends to go out in the evening and at weekends.
In a town like Brighton where there is a really thriving music industry, it counts for something like 20% of the local economy. We have an audience that will support it.
The only problem with the mainstream music most people want from local radio, is that is that it doesn’t leave much for the independent music sector which is probably of more interest to the people here. The big boys make millions, but the independent sector still accounts for 25% of the industry and is really important.
The problem is, if you are an independent music maker, where do you get your music played? There are very few radio stations in this country compared to France, all of which are trying to break-even by appealing to the mainstream, so this is where digital platforms, especially online radio, come into their own: they are the main conduit available to us at the moment.
Our online project, Totallyradio.com, produces 20 different specialist music shows a week, which are available on demand and appeal to a wide audience. We have 150,000 listeners all over the world, which is more than we get in Worthing and Brighton put together.
Projects like Totallyradio are potentially very interesting for the independent music sector; we are very keen to work with more record labels for example. The other thing that digital platforms offer smaller independent music producers is that it effectively provides manufacturing, distribution and retail in one hit.
It’s quite difficult for independents when big players like iTunes are not giving very good deals, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it yourself. We are involved in a project in Brighton that is about to launch in the UK in a few months, and is all about getting independents on download services. We are teaming up with them because we’ve got a worldwide audience of people tuning into us because they can’t get the kind of music they want to hear on the FM radio stations and smaller labels find it really hard to get into shops, particularly in a worldwide marketplace.
Potentially, it’s a very interesting way of tackling this problem, because we can’t expect the commercial radio industry to bend over backwards to accommodate a music sector in which even the independent sector is many times bigger than the whole of the UK radio industry. Every record label has a roster of artists who have built up a following and what we need to do is find better ways of encouraging that following to participate in new platforms.
We can reach 70 million + people through Sky and it’s a very cheap way of broadcasting to so many people. Costing £60/70’000 a year, it’s not very much money when you consider it would cost you that to broadcast to Brighton alone, for example. But all this requires some co-ordination, and people with cash and vision.
The jury is still out on DAB, there about 500’000 DAB receivers in the whole of the UK. There’s a lot of chat about that being doubled by Christmas, that’s fantastic, but still only a million receivers out of 60 million people. Reception is not great and the costs of broadcasting on it phenomenal – that’s a real barrier. Astro Satellite broadcasts to the whole of Europe and North Africa for the same price as DAB cover Sussex…
Community radio is fantastic, it could be a really exciting thing, the problem is, the current suggestion that in some places, though not in the very small marketplaces, they can raise half their revenue from advertising. This would not be possible, for example in Worthing, though it would in Brighton.
Juice was making a big loss. It is now breaking even and will make a small profit next year, but this wasn’t easy – it could tip back into loss very easily. If we are struggling, being 100% commercially funded and geared towards targeting a commercial marketplace, I am concerned that community radio funded from advertising is going to find it difficult to survive, which is a shame, because it is a really good idea. It should be funded like the French radio stations, because it is a great place to bring up a new generation of broadcasters and give people their first exposure, but I fear it will be at the expense of existing commercial platforms, who already find it hard enough, and the smaller level of radio stations.
Stuart Brand (Head of Radio and specialist in Community Radio, DCMS)
The key characteristic of community radio is community gain which is defined in the Community Radio Order. The timetable for the Order is that both houses will agree it by the end of July ’04, [this has now happened], and Ofcom will start advertising the licensing process around September. In terms of the number of stations, it is harder to say how many there will be. Our estimate so far is that Ofcom may issue about 50 or 60 licenses per year, to a plateau of about 200. It all depends on the level of interest.
There will be certain restrictions on the licensing of community stations, at least to begin with: community radio stations will not be licensed where they would overlap with stations with a measured coverage area (MCA) of less than 50,000 adults. Community radio stations will not be allowed to take advertising or sponsorship if they overlap with stations with an MCA of 50’000 to 150’000.
In all other areas, community radio stations will generally be limited to getting no more than 50% of their income from advertising and sponsorship. Ofcom will conduct a review in two years time to see if these restrictions are still necessary. If these stations are not damaging the profitability of ILR, (Independent Local Radio), the restrictions could be modified or removed by a second order.
Community radio must be different; there is no point, and no social benefit, in duplicating existing outputs. There will be no chains; people will only run one radio station. In terms of music policies, it will be up to stations to come up with their own ideas; there will be no network.
One example of a community radio has a playlist, but the DJ’s alternate songs from the playlist with their own choices; this gives a wider range of music. Government has provided £500’000 for initial start-up funding. That may grow, but there will be some need for other sources of revenue such as advertising.
The idea of a levy on commercial stations’ advertising revenue is interesting; it has been discussed, but it was felt that advertising would be the lesser evil. In practise, a lot of them will not reach the 50%, limit on income from advertising and sponsorship. Some won’t use any advertising money, some as a matter of principle, but they may receive income from other sources such as from the Social Regeneration budget and through local authorities.
This means that they shouldn’t be a threat to ILR radio, but will complement it. We want to be quite protectionist at first and perhaps remove some restrictions later on. Licenses will last for five years, with the prospect of renewal.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
(KH) Initial discussion could focus on the idea of adopting the French model, especially given the dominance of American music. One month Radio 1 played 60% of American music, even though the charts were 60% British music.
I understand the concepts around free trade and restriction of free trade, but what is the exact wording of your objections to having a quota? What exactly do you hate about the idea of quotas?
(MC) I never said I’m against quotas. I don’t think they would work, but its academic because we don’t have them. Ofcom only exists to enact the Communications Act, it’s not for us to say whether there should be quotas. The act is very wide-ranging, and it would have included quotas if it were felt to be appropriate.
I would say that we need to be careful about quoting numbers from a specific time, such as 60% of the charts being British: things change, and radio stations have different target audiences. I don’t think our culture is ready for the French or Canadian model; there are better ways to serve the aim of diversity.
There are better ways for the industry to convince the radio stations than to impose quotas on them. The music industry needs to get together and decide what they really want and convince stations, because they will accept ideas that make money and serve the target audience.
Who do you consider to be the music industry? Five majors or the thousands of independents?
(MC) That’s your problem! If the small labels don’t speak with a single voice they won’t be listened to. I don’t know if it is possible for them to get together with the majors and speak with one voice, or whether their interests would conflict, but the industry needs to make its point of view clear.
Your statement about the financial situation of the music industry is incorrect. You mentioned earlier that there were billions of pounds in the music industry. In the 1990’s Polydor, in a good year with little piracy, were lucky if they made 19 million pounds profit.
There are not millions or billions of pounds in the music industry; that’s a total misconception.
(MC) I was told that the British record industry was something like a £5-billion business. By comparison, the radio industry is £600 million.
(KH) The total turnover is 5-billion, but the problem is the five majors, soon to be four, will reduce choice even more. There is a huge difficulty with the music industry being able to talk with one voice because of these tensions. There is the music business forum, where, on broad issues, large areas of the music industry are talking to each other constructively. AIM and the BPA are both inside that, but there are points where there will be clashes and the majors’ agenda and the way they operate is very different.
Polydor do not make huge sums of money because they spend so much not directly on the product; majors distort the economy for the rest of us by spending vast fortunes on marketing, which then means they don’t make as much profit as they should.
The way forward is to encourage the government to look at options like those which used to exist in the film industry, which again got distorted by multinationals, where tax breaks were available to smaller independents which enabled them to encourage further work.
The BBC is used to dealing with quotas because it has to have regional and independent sector input, and has done since the early 1990’s. Having a quota worked into the charter of renewal, maybe not as aggressive as the French version, shouldn’t be too difficult.
(DF) Personally, I’m in favour of it, but I think there is little chance of the government putting quotas into the BBC charter review, although the charters they will look at will be to do with independent production on radio and possibly TV. What I’m not sure of is whether it is completely obvious that these will be good news. The implications behind them are varied. If you work in my sector of the industry, which is doing soundtrack music, the increase in independent quotas would be a disaster, because independents pay considerably less than the broadcasters themselves, and they try and restrict your rights.
(KH) The BBC does exist to do things that the commercial stations can’t.
But those lines are blurred now, what you hear on GWR is what you hear on Radio 1.
(MD) We don’t program based on what’s on Radio 1.
But Radio 1 has an unhealthy monopoly, there’s no commercial competition.
(MD) Digital platforms mean a greater potential for a lot more non-BBC stations than exist on FM at the moment. And this provides more choice and more scope for new operators and help balance the see-saw against the BBC.
The BBC doesn’t have formats. If Radio 2 wanted to turn into a Jazz station, it could. The problem is that the BBC can afford to duplicate digital radio stations like Oneword and this can crush the competition. BBC output is great, but it doesn’t always allow the commercial radio to grow. Now that we have spectrum balance, it would be nice to have regulatory balance as well.
(MC) The commercial radio industry has to be very careful about saying that Radio 2 could become a Jazz station and that commercial radio stations can’t: commercial radio stations do move their formats because times change. Most commercial stations moved away from the maturer audience to get younger listeners. That was the ground that Radio 2 pounced on; an audience that a large part of commercial radio decided not to serve.
(MD) I think the issue is whether stations can be licensed commercially to match that. ILR has chosen within its formats, perhaps the BBC could do a similar thing.
(DF) Formats at the BBC would be appalling. What should be hoped for from charter review is that the governors do interfere, and become an access point for people who have serious grips about BBC programming, to get those points in at the governing level so that the BBC does not act with high-handed arrogance, as it has in the past. The balance has to be that the BBC serves the country, that’s its job. Commercial stations must broadcast, but also return money to their shareholders.
There are elements of turf wars here, what will the turf look like in 5 or 10 years? One objective is to allow access to the BBC creative archive to people outside the BBC so that people can make their own programming, and benefit from things like the BBC Symphonic Orchestra. How will this change? Will other people take up and license this material? Punters think digital radio and downloads will overtake conventional radio stations. I see strong reasons for this not to happen, but the turf is changing, how will this affect the questions we’ve argued about today?
(SS) I don’t think iPod will kill the radio star, because on the download sites you have to find the material you want, they are often hard to navigate. There will always be the need for a radio presenter or a DJ, who communicates on a one-to-one level with listeners, telling them about great records he has found, something that is maybe unsigned. People like to discover new things; that’s why digital radio is so good, it has broadened my horizons – records come in from all over the world.
I think in an increasingly digital world, the problem will be in finding stuff. I good example is Windows Media Player, this comes with Windows and it’s the format we use for Totallyradio. About a year ago they restructured the way this works, and is simpler.
Whereas it used to have access to thousands of radio stations but was very chaotic, now, although you can still run searches, they have restricted the radio and the visual content to about ten choices.
We’ve got as much space on this as the BBC and Virgin, unlike the US, Australian and Canadian versions, in whose territories, it is far harder for smaller companies to get on. In five years time it may be a difficult to get anywhere, because the gatekeepers will still exist, but they will be people like Windows Media who decide what they want to show people. So the digital future isn’t all rose tinted spectacles, there are still dangers out there.
What is interesting about the internet is the way that you can create communities and niches that support each other. Totallyradio got its one hundred thousand listeners through word of mouth; we can’t afford to market to a global audience. We develop audiences by linking with fanzine sites. When you start this, you discover each genre has its own fan base. Many communities like techno or hip-hop are very computer-literate, so the best way to reach them is through the internet. That’s really exciting for independent producers and labels.
(MC) I have a nightmare of waking up and finding a generation of people who think that radio is just another way of distributing music. It is so much more than that, so I think you’ll find that radio stations will get their acts together to prevent that happening and change the way they present music and the choice of music.
(MD) In local communities, people tune in because they want to be part of local life, that’s why in the majority of our market we lead over Radio 1 and 2; our stations are local. However, our research shows that younger people can access the internet, DAB, and downloads, they just see radio as another of those mediums. They don’t have the same understanding of radio that other age groups do, so it will be harder for us to reach them. If you ask older people, they get music they like from the radio. Anyone under twenty will say music television, even more than the internet for younger generations. That’s why we want to build communities around things like localness.
Marie-Agnès, you mentioned the concept of deregulation, like opening a dam and letting things flow out. Was that how it happened?
(M-A B) Yes, because before that there were very few public or commercial radio stations. The new President said anyone who wants to do anything, can. It was a good way to start, and from there things naturally moved on. Regulation and commercialisation then started to creep back in, but it was a good way to see what was there.
The choice now is fantastic compared with the 70’s. We should celebrate this and also the work of the BBC. Does the panel feel that they have access to the BBC?
(DF) Radio 1 has been scandalous at various points in its life – the kickbacks, payola to producers, etc. We should put pressure on Radio 1 to clean up its act: there should be no question of them playing songs just because of the video that goes with them. But other elements are fantastic.
Roger Wright is a terrific controller of Radio 3 and opens it up to new music. We find similar things with Radio 2 and the website is very good. One BACS member complained about the conditions including waving moral rights on the song-writing competition, (Sold on Song), so we got on the phone and they took it down immediately. So they are responsive. I wish Radio 1 was as responsive and responsible.
(From the floor) There was talk four-six years ago about Radio 1 becoming a commercial station, and they readied themselves for it by kicking out a lot of DJ’s bringing in new ones, readying themselves for commercialisation. That drifted when their listener-ship went down, but this still may be an issue. To work with video producers would be in their interest if they became commercial.
(DF) It was Conservative policy to sell off Radio 1, and I think this government also considered it. They’ve retreated from that position, and in the process, Radio 1 has become confused about where it should be going. I hope the charter review will force Radio 1 to become a tool for communication.
British music has led musical trends in every decade, from the Rolling Stones and Blur to glam rock and dance music. We are half way through this decade and nothing new has come out of Britain. We are stagnating at the core of exchanging information, which is what radio is all about. New acts like Amy Winehouse and Jamie Cullen coming out of the UK have nothing to do with radio now.
(KH) The creation for this decade is Pop Idol, that’s what’s going around the world now, it’s the number one format.
To what degree do Ofcom have a remit to govern the BBC? I assume not, but the BBC statements suggest they are just as desperate for good audience figures as the commercial stations. At the upper levels, do Ofcom report to the DCMS, who also manage the BBC? Is there one group that can look over both commercial radio and the BBC?
(MC) Ofcom does regulate a little bit of the BBC, when it come to things like harm and offensive content, although Ofcom’s stance is that it is up to government who regulates the BBC. Now is the time for you to look at the BBC’s role in regard of the questions raised tonight, this should be harnessed in charter review.
(SS) The review process will start with the green paper and there’ll be some reports out and discussion in November.
(DF) If you belong to a Trade Union or Trade Association, it is important to get these views forwarded to the music industry, which is lobbying very hard about charter renewal. Make sure that your views are heard, because the BBC is a public service broadcaster.
How successful was the Canadian quota? Maybe the French quota was so successful because it was as much about preserving the French language as it was about preserving French popular music.
(M-A B) I don’t have any figures, but I know that we can’t get any more French artists played in Canada because Canadian artists are getting so successful. I think the same has happened in Canada as in France. But in France there are also many Canadian artists who fit the quota in France because they sing in French.
(DF) The quota doesn’t only cover music; it also applies to magazines and other media. It is supposed to resist American domination, but there will be consequences.
(M-A B) That’s why Radio 1’s self-imposed quota of 40% of British music is interesting. Why does no one mention it apart from the piece in Music Week?
(KH) That was in response to the figure I mentioned earlier, which came from Fergal Sharkey. Radio 1 became sensitive about the low percentage of British music they were playing, so put out PR to counter these claims. There is no official quota, they just ‘aim to play’ at least 40% of British music.
But the problem is not whether it is British, but that it is dominated by major labels. Radio 1’s playlist is dominated by 5 major companies over thousands of independents, that’s the biggest problem.
The independents do have the backing of the public, and a fair portion of airplay for their share of the market. Radio 1 does champion new music and they are in a difficult position; either they are attacked for not representing new music, or for not playing what people want.
(SS) Yes, Radio 1 still do very well, although of course there are things they could do better.
(Notes compiled by James North, edited by Jonathan Robinson, July ’04 )