Radio looks to reach the Facebook generation

A great strength of radio is the sense of community it creates but, as Kevin Hilton reports, sound wireless now has to come to terms with social media and data technologies if it is to keep the position it has built over the years.
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Connectivity is among the big technological debates in television broadcasting right now. Getting internet access for social networking and email on TV sets, as well as connecting them to second screens like smartphones and tablets, is a priority for many broadcasters and manufacturers in an attempt to keep up with the fast pace set by new media. Radio went digital before its visual rival but is still lagging behind in terms of how to combine traditional broadcasting with today's increasingly computer-based world, which has become a social place because of Facebook and Twitter. This view was voiced in two TechCon technology conference sessions at this week's (31st October) 2011 Radio Academy Festival, held at The Lowery in Salford, Greater Manchester. Dan McQuillan (pictured), managing director of software developer and distributor Broadcast Bionics, argued in his presentation, From TOGs to the Twitterati - Connecting Old Media with the Social Media Generation, that audiences were ahead of the radio stations in using and exploiting social media. In his session, Putting It All Together: Metadata and Interoperability, Adrian Cross, head of the development team at Unique Interactive, outlined the technologies necessary for radio to be part of a connected media landscape and not become a second or even third class citizen in the new broadcasting world. Broadcast Bionics produces a range of automation and play-out systems, one of which is PhoneBOX, a computer-controlled call manager and switcher. Listeners calling into radio stations is the most basic but still effective form of interactivity but McQuillan comments that despite now having the Radio Player and RadioDNS, the project promoting connectivity with the internet, radio is still not a completely two-way experience. "The audience wants to interact and is ahead of us," he says. "Surveys show that approximately 68 percent of 18 to 24 year olds are watching TV and actively commenting on programmes with their friends using social networking. There is no longer such a thing as a passive viewer or listener." TOGs to the Twitterati refers to the loyal audience of the BBC Radio 2 breakfast show hosted by Terry Wogan, who retired from the slot in 2009. A core of older listeners, known as Terry's Old Geezers/Gals (TOGs), provided some of the presenter's material through email, backing up Wogan's claim that he had been doing social broadcasting for 30 years. McQuillan says that while radio stations and presenters are now embracing Twitter and Facebook, in addition to email, both the technical infrastructure and proper exploitation of the platforms are still lacking. "Radio should be the most social media of all, as Terry Wogan has said, but it's not so interactive, partly because the new media technology is so fresh," he comments. "Radio studios are re-designed every five to ten years but we're now trying to get shed-loads of data from listeners into them without distracting the presenter." The challenge, says McQuillan, is to develop a new type of radio studio that has the bi-directional process necessary for proper social communication "built into its DNA". This, he says, could be a single console with screens; Broadcast Bionics is currently working on PhoneBOX 4, which is being designed around messaging and text. "We as an industry can do this social media so much better if we dare to think that radio is more than audio-only," McQuillan observes. A major part of achieving this will be done in the background through the technology lots of people have heard of but few fully understand, metadata. Adrian Cross' argument is "radio stations will be able to do better in a constantly connected world by having good quality metadata". Cross says he wants to get across the importance of this because media in general is heading in the direction of interconnected devices and if stations don't want to be a secondary or tertiary aspect of another developer's device and instead be on a proper "radio button", then metadata is the only way to make that work. Unique is working with major radio groups like Bauer, which, comments Cross, take metadata very seriously. But, he adds, there are "many hundreds of radio stations" that do not yet see how necessary it is today. "We're working in a world with companies like Amazon and Google, which run on data," he says. "The people running the platforms radio stations need to be on to reach the new generation of devices will want to see that their metadata is first class. If people want to be part of what is going now, they ignore metadata at their peril." www.bionics.co.ukwww.ubcmedia.com

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