I love radio but just like everyone else, my time is limited. Family life, Social media, technology – they all grab my attention. I still listen of course, but not as much as I once did.
Overall, I find myself listening less to commercial radio for one very good reason:
They play far too many adverts
There was once a reasonable number, but it’s not uncommon now to hear 15 minutes an hour, one notable boss of a large group believes a staggering 18 minutes is acceptable, another station runs 22 minutes.
This route to commercial suicide is driven by share-deals and an out of date business model.
It’s not the fault of the programmer either. Instead, the blame lies at the door of those who buy and sell national advertising. The media agencies are too powerful, the radio groups are too weak.
This is how it works:
National client wants a media buying agency.
Agency pitches for the business promising to get the best rate in the world – even though they may never be able to deliver it!
To win the account, they hand back a huge slice of their 15% commission. Client loves this. Agency looks to radio for the difference.
Advertising agency calls big radio group and arranges a share deal. This is where they guarantee to give them a percentage of ALL their radio advertising in return for a big juicy cash bonus. They give more, they want more, they pay less.
Big radio group knows this to be a double-edged sword. Good because they get a share of the total spend, bad because this only works if audience levels hold up. If they don’t, more ads will be required to meet the deal. They head to church, light a candle and say a prayer.
This is why presenters ‘hook and tease’ so much. There is little point in having lots of listeners if they don’t listen for very long!
Meanwhile, over at the advertising agency, they’ve done the same share deal elsewhere. Perhaps as much as 90 to 95% of their total radio spend is now pre-allocated for the year ahead. If you’re in the club, you win. If not, you have little chance of getting anything near what your station or idea deserves.
The industry congratulates itself, everyone loves radio. This may be true but it’s also because they love the price. No one mentions ‘the price’, it’s the ‘Elephant in the Room’. Instead, all the talk is about volume.
The price of radio airtime today is pretty much the same as it was 20 years ago. In fact, it’s gone down in real terms. You try buying a new car at the same price you paid back in 1995 and see what happens. They laugh you out of the showroom but in radio land, we welcome you with open arms and even give you a bonus!
Is it any wonder people are filling their boots?
Commercial radio is the best, cheapest and most effective medium in the UK – and we can’t get what it’s worth
Everyone is walking over pounds to pick up pennies
Big group (one with a unique offering) tries to get the price up. Agency listens, nods, smiles and then sends them home without a penny more. There’s no way they’re going to endorse putting the price up, they’re the Ninjas, the Top Guns at getting really low, low prices. Even ‘auditors’ agree, who are part of the problem by the way.
The only way to get a better price is to plough the different pots available for on-line, websites and promotions etc. They’re not part of the so called ‘share-deal’ so offer a better rate for sexy digital stuff, but it won’t save their bacon – not yet!
Meanwhile, the latest Rajar arrives. Hours are worse than ever; listener patience is running out. Big radio group now has to play more adverts for no more money. The view from outside the industry is that commercial radio appears to be in a race to the bottom.
Radio programmer works out that when he adds together all the adverts, sponsor credits, newslink, promotions, competitions, jingles, traffic+travel and more, they’re asking listeners to digest more than 50 commercial messages in a single hour. Somehow, they have to inject content into this.
Programmer knocks at the Sales Directors door demanding action. He’s ran out of ideas. What can he do? At one point the breakfast team that morning said nothing for eleven minutes and they are the stars hired to deliver, err…. content.
Sales Director cares but waves programmer away, he’s got a target to hit
Station focus group reveals adverts are liked by listeners, they want to know who’s got a sale on, but there’s a fine line between ‘just enough’ and ‘too many’. People want entertainment, information and great content, ideally with music they like from presenters they love. Advert FM is not delivering what they promised.
Programmer takes a phone call from the boss. Its a bollocking. Get those hours sorted or else. He counters that there is little room for the craft of radio so can we do something about all those ads he asks?
Programmer edits the songs to give the impression they’re playing a lot more music.
It doesn’t work, hours are still in the toilet.
Commercial Radio starts blaming the BBC. It’s always their fault.
Meanwhile, big radio groups slashes more costs and introduces more networking, a press statement proclaims: ‘this is what local people want’ .
No one believes them anymore, but courage to do something about it went out of the window a long, long time ago…. This business model is bust!
The year is now 2025
Rajar is published – it’s still a diary!
Average hours are down to an all time low of 4.2. People are shocked, a few remember the great days when it was over 6.
The boss speaks up; Cheer up everyone – 4.2 is the new 7
Everyone chuckles – then the telephone rings.
It’s the big agency with the big deals.
They’ve decided that radio no longer works. They’re pulling everything with immediate effect.
A trainee sales executive on her first day in the job bravely asks a daft question: If we had a product that worked and everyone wanted it, why didn’t we put the price up and play fewer ads?
Over at the local cemetery, a miserable old radio guru turns in his grave!