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The digital revolution raging through traditional media is accelerating and radio is no different: there are growing numbers of digital and internet listeners, meaning that the business model and consumption trends are changing fast. Yes, people mostly listen via AM/FM and the stations sell advertising (or get publicly funded via the BBC) but the next few years are crucial.

As James Cridland points out, the combined audience of the Radioplayer online radio platform in the UK is 5.7 unique users a month, with more than 22 million individual sessions, a bigger audience than ITV and Channel 4 combined.

And the possibilities are huge: according to RAJAR, radio listening reached its highest level ever recorded (91.6 percent of the UK population) in the first quarter of this year.

But the BBC still looms large with an audience including more than 55 percent of the UK adult population, making the job of commercial radio brands – facing the threat of platform shift and the BBC – a tough one indeed.

One man charged with understanding all that is James Rea, who was last month appointed Guardian Media Group’s deputy group programme director. He still retains responsibility for for news output and special broadcasts, but with a lot more besides, including “developing new partnerships in the digital arena to extend the group’s content to new audiences,” according to the company.

According to figures from last October, one in four listeners of GMG stations (which comprises Rock, Real and Smooth radio) audience are tuning-in via a digital/online platform. I caught up with Rea to ask him what the plans are…

TMB: How will GMG distribute its stations across different platforms in the months and years to come?

Rea: GMG’s radio brands are already available reaching new audiences across many platforms: on mobile, online, on DAB digital radio, digital TV and on FM. Our focus is on creating content and then finding the most relevant platforms to deliver it on. Radio listening is at an all-time high; people love it and it also works in increasingly converged digital world.

With digital media what has and hasn’t worked?

There’s nothing that hasn’t worked – we’ve gone into this in the spirit of experimentation and trying new things.

It’s been a very encouraging start for Radioplayer. The first audience figures showed it had 5.7 million listeners in May. Radioplayer is a great example of how the industry – the BBC and commercial – can cooperate on technology which is crucial because our futures are locked together and we want to expand the overall listening audience.

We’re working with digital services like We7, not against them, and want to look at all the new technologies and how audiences are using them. We have music and entertainment radio brands which are loved and listened to by millions of people every week but the key to their success is the expert teams who understand the audience and build a listening experience that really connects. Digital solutions have a long way to go to deliver that heritage so there’s plenty we can bring to any partnerships.

In terms of digital expansion for GMG Radio – what’s on the horizon?

We think radio has a hybrid future – a coalition of many platforms and infinite choice. But it’s the quality of content that we should be obsessed about not the platform. We have human editors who know their audience and that is crucial. That level of understanding can’t always be delivered by a computer.

Do station audiences have a distinctive way that they use different platforms – what are the trends in usage?

Audiences are expecting more from radio brands and new digital listening platforms open up massive creative opportunities to connect with listeners. What’s clear is many listeners want more from radio – not just to listen – but to watch, share and feel much more involved. There are also others who don’t want interactivity so we need to deliver radio on many terms and different platforms allow that.

How is digital affecting the business, is there clear ROI or are you still experimenting?

Digital flows through everything we do. New listening platforms will grow overall listening hours, open up new content and fresh opportunities for advertisers.

Originally published on TheMediaBriefing

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