Come osserva Katie Allen nel suo articolo del Guardian sull’emittenza commerciale locale in Gran Bretagna, il market report sui media in UK pubblicato a fine agosto da OFCOM non lascia molti spazi di ottimismo alle radio locali. Nel 2006 le loro entrate pubblicitarie hanno subito un calo del 10% (potete scaricare il Comunications market report 2007 dal sito OFCOM, è come sempre una lettura affascinante; ma se preferite un testo più conciso potete trovare su Unstrung un estratto ricco di dati già pronti).
Secondo l’articolista, tuttavia, gli ultimi dati relativi al 2007 segnalerebbero una inversione di rotta e un rendimento che da tre anni a questa parte non era così positivo. Gli ascoltatori percepiscono il valore dell’informazione locale, del senso di appartenenza che una stazione radio riesce a trasmettere insieme alla musica e alle parole. E gli inserzionisti seguono a ruota. La moda dell’ascolto della radio via Internet va sicuramente presa in considerazione, ma alla fine a che cosa può portare la distratta navigazione tra le emittenti della Nuova Zelanda se abiti, poniamo, a Canicattì? Forse Radio Canicattì può dirti qualcosa di più utile. Sembra un principio banale ma per quelli che non parlano altro che di globalizzazione imperante, e per molti editori radiofonici, forse è difficile da capire: per la maggior parte delle persone, la vita è fatta di prossimità. Là fuori ci si può sentire molto soli e non per questione di campanilismo o provincialismo. Quanto alla pubblicità, sarà anche vero che tutti siamo ormai i consumatori di un mercato globale. Ma io – non so voi – dal panettiere dietro l’angolo ci vado ancora e se la radio mi racconta che nel mio quartiere hanno aperto un nuovo servizio, una nuova iniziativa dell’economia locale, di solito sono contento di saperlo. Certo, io ho la fortuna di poter ascoltare emittenti locali di qualità come Radio Popolare (che oggettivamente fatica moltissimo a tirare avanti). Ma il caso inglese dimostra che se la radio locale viene interpretata in chiave di comunità e servizio, anche i conti possono quadrare.
Numbers rise for stations that count locally
Millions tune into local radio in the face of worldwide competition
Katie Allen, media business correspondent
Monday September 10, 2007
Falling advertising revenues, lower listening figures and the tightest budgets for years: there was little to celebrate for local stations in the last radio industry snapshot from Ofcom. Against a backdrop of new TV channels and a voracious web, the report highlighted a 10% drop in revenues last year alone for local commercial stations. Figures on listening hours painted an equally gloomy picture, down 4% over the past 12 months. To cap it all, news that their most serious rival, the BBC, had raised its spending on radio to a five-year high signalled even tougher times ahead.
But that was last year and more recent data, though not exactly heralding a turnaround, offers more than a glimmer of hope. Luckily for the hundreds of stations from Pirate FM in Cornwall to Isles FM in the Outer Hebrides, local commercial radio has just put in its strongest performance in three years.
Almost 25.8 million adults listened to a local station every week in the second quarter, according to the industry’s audience figures from research group Rajar.
The Rajar results are notoriously volatile but they do show that huge portions of the population still listen to local radio.
Doomsayers predict a steady decline in local listening as radio fans realise they can reach any station via the internet and on new receivers. If a housewife in Weymouth can get non-stop music shows from New York, why should she listen to Wessex FM, they argue.
Local radio bosses and advertising executives say that it is precisely this internationalisation of media that drives a bigger appetite for something closer to home.
Emap’s Big City network, which includes Viking FM in East Yorkshire and Key 103 in Manchester, says its research proves the sense of local identity is not being compromised by a globalisation process.
Travis Baxter, the network’s managing director, uses the term “glocal” – global and local – to sum up listener needs.
“I may very well be in Newcastle and able to fly round the world a lot cheaper and the internet gives me access to a whole load of things that are outside the community I live in,” he says. “But actually one of the consequences of that can be that I have a reinforced sense of ownership around the place that I currently live in.
“That is robust not just in the smaller markets like Inverness or Dundee, it’s evident in the larger markets and it’s evident in London as well.”
In fact, 42% of all UK radio listening is to local radio and 77% of that is to local commercial radio.
For advertisers that is a big audience to sell to and like the listeners, many companies see being local as a special advantage.
That feeling is reflected in a much less volatile trend for local radio advertising revenues compared with national stations – something that can help the smaller stations weather a consumer downturn. Andrew Harrison, chief executive of commercial radio industry group RadioCentre, cites a “surprisingly large bedrock” of local advertisers who still see radio as a powerful way to boost their business.
“It’s a bit of a myth that all advertisers want to do national advertising, all want to have national campaigns, that all business is national,” he says. “Most people work and live local in small local businesses that need to advertise and survive locally.”
RadioCentre reported recently that commercial local revenues were up 1.2% year on year to more than £40m in the April-June period.
That is only a slight uptick, but still the strongest growth in more than two years.
Mr Harrison puts much of local radio’s ability to attract advertising revenues down to listener trust and a sense of “word of mouth”.
“It’s almost like on the web where people are discovering peer-to-peer recommendation. That’s what local radio has been doing for years,” he says. “It’s not literally peer to peer but it is listener phone-ins, and it is the local bloke with the local accent in the studio round the corner.”
The Local Radio Company network of stations has been built up around the concept of must-have local news, travel and information. Underlining its emphasis on local links, three of the group’s south coast stations have just entered a joint venture with Portsmouth Football Club.
Bigger rival Emap says its growth in local revenues reflects a growing base of clients who are tapping into their stations’ links to the local community.
“It has long been seen as the home of local retailers and motor dealers. But if you listen to any of our stations today you’ll find those types of advertisers have been joined by financial services, solicitors, new housebuilders,” says Sue Timson, group sales director at Emap Radio. “We recently had major sponsors on some of our biggest promotions by cosmetic dentists.”
As for keeping hold of the audiences that advertisers crave, the BBC remains local commercial radio’s biggest challenge. Whether it is Terry Wogan on Radio 2 or Chris Moyles on Radio 1, commercial stations know that if they lose a listener to the BBC’s big stars, they will face a huge battle winning them back.
John Myers, who heads the GMG Radio business, home to the Real, Smooth, Century and Rock brands, says local radio has to resist the temptation to compete by playing more music.
“The success of local radio will be dictated by what is going on between the songs. Any station that wants to play 10 in a row is doomed to fail,” he says.
GMG Radio, which is owned by the same group as the Guardian, says it is trying to keep listener loyalty partly by focusing on news and filling regional newsrooms with local reporters.
“There will always be what I call ‘Geek FM’ – those people who will want to have the buzz of listening to radio stations around the world on their laptop,” says Mr Myers. “But the fact is that radio is an entertainment and information medium so it provides content relevant to your life.”
Just as snowstorms get children listening to local radio in anticipation of news their schools are closed for the day, this summer’s floods drew massive audiences.
The official listening figures are not yet in, but anecdotal evidence suggests thousands of new listeners turned to their local radio stations in search of travel updates, messages from emergency services, schools news and – for those completely isolated – some company.
The environment secretary, Hilary Benn, singled out local radio as a key resource during the floods but the industry wants more MPs to take note. In an effort to gain more government and regulator backing the industry’s RadioCentre association is sending out a CD of flood clips – reporters knee-deep in water, tearful listener phone-ins and police messages – to MPs, key advertisers and the broadcasting watchdog, Ofcom.