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BBC Sounds: a radio revival?

Posted by Louise Palmer on 7th November 2018

Last week saw the launch of BBC Sounds, which (as the BBC itself describes it) is a new audio app, bringing together live and on-demand radio, music and podcasts.

News of the launch on the BBC’s website highlights the move to entice more young people, with figures showing that 97% of the people who use the BBC iPlayer Radio app on a weekly basis are over the age of 34.

As the Guardian reported, younger audiences are listening to more audio than ever before, but it’s much more likely to be a podcast or new music. So, BBC Sounds is a clear move to attract those audiences.

Personalisation is the key ingredient in this BBC app launch, allowing younger (and older) audiences to find new music and content that is tailored specifically to them — not the other 15 million listeners who are tuning in to the same wavelength or digital channel.

So does this launch signal a landmark moment in radio broadcasting history?

Yes, I think so. The BBC owns half of the national radio market and its new app is a move with the times, creating the personalised experiences that young people in particular have come to expect from services such as Netflix and Spotify.

But are we on the cusp of a radio revival?

Radio is already very popular. The Ofcom Communications Market Report 2017 highlights how nine in 10 people in the UK listen to the radio every week, and how they are also listening for longer. There are 50 national radio stations across the UK and the number of community stations are on the rise.

So no, not a revival, but rather a radio rejuvenation — a time to reinvent radio’s place in today’s content-rich world.

As the BBC’s director of radio and education James Purnell said: “If we don’t do anything… you’ll have a two-speed BBC radio audience. People who’d grown up with it and people who didn’t.”

For those of us aged 35 and over, the “wireless” has had a place in our hearts and homes for a long time. And all the while that we’ve been tuning in, the radio has watched on with a knowing smile as cassettes, mini disks and CDs arrived with all their jazz hands and then fell by the wayside.

Internet-enabled services present the latest challenge. But with younger audiences oblivious to radio’s charms and thriving on on-demand, internet-enabled content, it’s a harder one to shake off this time.

Yet radio has such power to entertain, inform, educate, challenge and connect, as those of us under its spell will attest to.

If the launch of BBC Sounds, podcast services, new apps, community stations and ever-more DAB channels allows new and younger audiences to discover such a richness of content, then I’m all for it.

Louise Palmer

Deftly switching between business and consumer accounts, the focus for Louise remains the same; how can Wildfire tell clients’ stories in a way that is faithful, relevant and engaging? Her wide technology PR experience makes Louise an agile Managing Director, combining the strategic management of PR programmes with a hands-on approach to get under the skin of clients and motivate her teams.