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The future of radio between quality and “hearable” content

We take the opportunity of the event with Helen Boaden, head of BBC Radio on 15 March 2015 (register here) to explore the universe of radio and its boundaries. Mobile, wireless, multi-device. Way before the rise of the Internet radio anticipated many of the consumption patterns that are seen in digital media today. Then there is the characteristics that many regard as the most distinctive of all: before Facebook, Twitter and the likes came along, radio was an ante-litteram “social media”.

“[Radio] is the original form of ‘social media’ in that it allows you to connect with other people and ideas in your community or beyond, for free; this is what makes radio unique and the reason behind its longevity”.

John Donham, CEO of TuneIn


This point of view is shared also by Helen Boaden, director of BBC Radio e and the next guru in store at MtMG, according to whom “the emotional power of good radio lies in its intimacy and warmth”.

Right because of this ability to be at once socialand smart, ubiquitousand technologically light(hence usable in many contexts), many believe that the death of radio was largely exaggerated. Helen Board is among them:

“I’m not someone who believes that radio is a version of the Titanic”

Helen Boaden

Digital rebirth– Eventually, video did not kill any radio star (contrary to what The Buggles sang in their famous hit in the Seventies). And neither did the Internet. On the contrary, as an advertising research revealed a few days back, radio is becoming more and more popular in the US, mostly thanks to its new digital versionranging frommusic streaming(such as Spotify) toalgorithm-generated custom radio(Pandora), going through on demand repositoriesof audio content (Soundcloud, Audioboo, and YouTube with Vevo), all the way to super-clustersof radio stations (for example, TuneIn or iTunes Radio). To complete the picture, there is native format called podcastthat, ten years after its invention, is being met with increasing popularity.

Helen Boaden’s lecture at RadioDays Europe 2014? It is available on Soundcloud, of course, together with millions of other audio contents.

Besides broadcasting– For all these reasons, radio is still the depositary of a central role according to the report published last month by the BBC “Future of the News” (available here in an immersive formatand here in Pdf).

The BBC has been well awarefor some time that digital media are revolutionising media consumption: not just because they require more multimediality and interactivity, but also because use today is more and more based on multiple devices, as clearly proven by this video made for the report.


In this new scenario, in which the media follow us from our living rooms into our cars, through the park where we go jogging and the office in which we work, radio seems to have good competitive edgevis-à-vis the other media: it is already there.

[In ten years] there will be more radios in bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and, of course, cars. So, here’s an unfashionable prediction: the TV news and radio bulletins; the long-form TV and radio current affairs documentary that explains and investigates; the inquisition in a radio or television studio of public figures – these formats will all be in rude health in 10 years’ time. They will all prove surprisingly durable.

All the above, being well aware that:

Of course, the way we find and tell stories within them will have to change, and this work may not be broadcast into most people’s homes, they will get it over the internet. Those connected devices – and the people who use them – will expect much, much moreof the BBC, too.


Between technology and contents– According to Nic Newman, author of the Digital News Report of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and author of some very interesting yearly “Media and Journalism Predictions”, 2015 will mark a rebirth of audiomainly due to a boom in connected mobile devices. Among them there are not just smartphones or the new smart watches, but also an interesting version of wearables, defined “hearables”, or devices to be worn and providing functions as virtual assistants engaged through voice control. A bit like those recently seen in Spike Jonze’s film “Her”. (Wired explains what they are quite well).

Wearables, hearables, nearables and payables will be some of the buzzwords of 2015 as the mobile revolution takes the next great leap.

Nic Newman

Chances are. The spreading of hearables will also bring about a new demand of audio contents. This is only half of the story according to Helen Boaden: besides expecting the radio of the future to be more and more on-demandand “augmented” with videos and imagines, the head of BBC Radio believes in the importance of original and high-quality content. And here is where the Radio is making its stand to stay relevant in our new digital lives.

Digital innovation is essential to keep radio relevant, but it is only half the story. When choice proliferates and competition intensifies, high-quality, distinctive contentwill become even more important.

Helen Boaden