THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

37 posts categorized "Radio"

12 April 2017

By preserving our sound heritage now, in the future we can recreate the past

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Sound recordings freeze moments in time: music or theatrical performances, the words spoken by the famous or in everyday speech, or the sounds of our environment. When played back, they allow us to understand, to experience, to be immersed in - to relive - those moments.

Yet preserving sound recordings and making them accessible is a huge challenge, not least because sound recordings can rapidly decay and as technology marches forward, formats quickly become unplayable.

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Many thousands of archived magnetic tapes urgently need digitising

The British Library’s Save Our Sounds programme received a tremendous boost when in 2015 a £9.5 million grant was earmarked by the National Lottery. After months of preparation and assessment, prioritising the most significant at-risk sounds collections around the UK and building a network of 10 collaborating institutions, our ambitious project called Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is launched today.

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage builds on the generous support of other donors and funders, meaning that the total project funding of £18.8 million is now in place. The funding enables the formation of the first ever UK-wide network of ten sound preservation centres. This network will now come together with the British Library to save almost half a million rare and unique recordings.

The funding allows the British Library to lead this major preservation and access project, sharing skills and supporting the ten centres across the UK in order to preserve their own unique and rare regional sounds and make them more accessible to the public.

The Library and its ten partners will invest in a schedule of public engagement activities, including well-being workshops, learning events for families, and tours, events and exhibitions. A vital element of the project will be a new website for listeners to explore a wide selection of recordings. This website is scheduled to go live in 2019.

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Cleaning a shellac disc before digitisation in the British Library’s sound studios

Dr Sue Davies, Project Manager at the British Library commented:

“This project has been a long time in development and, over the last 18 months, we have laid good foundations for the next five years. I am excited to be part of this HLF funded project which will make a huge difference to the care of and use of audio archives across the UK. I am particularly looking forward to working with the ten institutional partners, sharing our skills and making it easier for a wide range of people to engage with recorded sound.”

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Foyle Foundation, Headley Trust, the British Library Trust and the American Trust for the British Library and other kind donors.

The ten centres that will soon begin work on preserving their regional sounds are: National Museums Northern Ireland, Archives + with Manchester City Council, Norfolk Record Office, National Library of Scotland, University of Leicester, The Keep in Brighton with the University of Sussex, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, National Library of Wales, London Metropolitan Archives, and Bristol Culture.

Richard Ranft, Head of Sound and Vision

More information: 
Save our Sounds
Unlocking our Sound Heritage press release 12/04/17
£9.5m boost from Heritage Lottery Fund for our Save our Sounds campaign
Save our Sounds: 15 years to save the UK’s sound collections

07 March 2017

Michael Tippett: In the composer’s own voice

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Guest blog by Thomas Schuttenhelm, current Edison Fellow and author of  The Selected Letters of Michael Tippett, (Faber) a contributing author for the Tippett Cambridge Companion and monograph, also for Cambridge University Press, on The Orchestral Music of Michael Tippett: Creative Development and the Compositional Process. His book Vision and Revision: Michael Tippett’s Fifth String Quartet will be published by Ashgate-Routledge in 2017.

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Tippett at work (Courtesy of Schott Music)

Michael Tippett (1905-1998) was an English composer for whom the act of creating music was a constant obsession. His fierce commitment to composition resulted in works that were original in design and devastating in their expression. Each work by Tippett originated as a singular vision and resulted in a singular achievement and the consistency of his creative process allowed him to fashion artifacts of shocking originality. His oeuvre is comprised of works that are remarkably diverse especially when we consider that they were the product of just one composer. What is truly remarkable is that his compositional process remained so consistent throughout his many changeable creative phases.

Tippett was educated at the Royal College of Music and served as Director of Music at Morley College, London. In addition to his creative interests he was also active in broadcasting and television and his talks on music and musicians brought him widespread attention. Many of these have been preserved at the British Library Sound Archive and these will serve as a fascinating exploration into a hitherto unknown side of this dynamic creative artist. By referencing these remarks we are transported back into the historical moment and return to the most authentic source on Tippett’s music: the composer’s own voice.

Michael Tippett lived deep in the English countryside and his creative obsessions required him to live alone. This was both a choice and a necessity but this created a classic conflict between his social-emotional side and his creative side, and it left a deep ‘wound’ on his psyche as he told Dr. Antony Clare during a 1987 session In the Psychiatrists Chair.

1 Clare 23041987

In his interview with Dr. Antony Clare, Tippett continued: ‘The wound is something absolutely autonomous, something of its own …but the price, well, I was always willing to pay the price.’ Those most closely associated with the composer were well aware of his compulsion but some were unable to submit to the severity of his devotion to the creative act. Regarding his relationship with Francesca Allinson he remarked:

2 Clare 23041987

Allinson eventually committed suicide, and in the same interview Tippett admitted:  ‘Another man whom I loved and lived with at times also committed suicide [Karl Hawker]. I may, perhaps, attract people, I don’t know.’

Similar to the poetry of William Blake and William Butler Yeats, Tippett’s music was created from a self-constructed mythology. It is, at times, eccentric, but it is never without a guiding narrative or an internal logic. Tippett created characters of fantastical proportions to render these narratives through intricate operatic plotlines and in his concert music he invented such unique timbres for his themes that they required a realignment of the planes of musical abstraction. These attributes often confounded the public and he was occasionally the target of sharp criticisms, but his singular devotion to the creative impulse allowed him to persevere, and with each successive work his creative identity became stronger and his music became more strikingly original.

Tippett spent a considerable amount of time contemplating the details of his compositions and the essence of his originality lay in the conceptual dimensions that were so uniquely conceived for each individual work. Multiplicities abound in his music but they always remain in the service of a strong integrated vision for the particular composition.  

Tippett’s solitary existence allowed him the contemplative atmosphere in which to envision some radical music but he firmly declared that he needed, always, to maintain a strong contact with the world in which he was a part. His compositional process would transform his experiences into the materials he required for his music. Tippett’s imagination was luminous and it radiated outward, through the splendor of Augustinian windows, onto panoramic vistas that resounded with otherworldly music.  He explained to John Warrack on Musical Influences broadcast on 21 May 1969. 

3 Warrack 21051969

Inspiration for specific works often came from some outside source but his creative impulse was internal and his allegiance to it was unwavering. This process was often a mysterious one, even to the composer but he had an implicit trust in his powers of invention to guide his ear towards the sounds that gave the strongest resonance to his fertile imagination.

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Tippett in later years by Jane Bown (Courtesy of Schott Music)

Throughout Tippett’s long life he witnessed many shifts in style but he was unaffected by these changes and remained committed to creating his own original music.  Here he talks to Natalie Wheen in one of his last broadcast interviews from 1995.

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Tippett had an exceptional ability to capture the ethos of his time and he used this ability to create music where the hideous—‘mans inhumanity toward man’—and strongest visions of affirmation were placed into the strangest combinations. In the aura of its release, where chaos and brought into a convincing but temporary reconciliation, we are reminded how essential Tippett was to shaping the soundscape of contemporary music.

The Edison Fellowships are funded by the Saga Trust.  Three of the extracts come from recordings in the Alan Cooban collection (C1398) which was digitised with funding from the Saga Trust.

Follow all the latest Classical news on Twitter @BL_Classical

31 December 2016

Recording of the week: the first New Year's Eve radio message

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This special New Year's Eve selection comes from Paul Wilson, Curator of Radio.

On New Year’s Eve of 1922, just six weeks after the first official BBC radio broadcasts were aired, the first ever New Year’s message was transmitted, generating a mixture of awe and some wild speculation about what this new medium might mean for the future.

Leeds Mercury 1 Jan 1923

The Leeds Mercury, 1 January 1923

Whereas the Leeds Mercury was ‘bewildered’ at the thought that ‘hundreds’ of people might be listening, the Falkirk Herald predicted that by 1950 ‘men about town will be carrying a listening-in set in their waistcoat pocket’ and that ‘probably we shall be in touch with other worlds’.

Meanwhile, in Lincoln sixteen year old Alfred Taylor made a brief but more down-to-earth note of what he heard on 2ZY (the BBC's Manchester station) and 2LO (London) in his personal Wireless Log, along with the names of some neighbours who dropped by to ‘listen-in’ with him:

Alfred Taylor Radio Listening Log 1 Jan 1923

Alfred Taylor's Wireless Log entry for New Year's Eve, 1922

A decade later, producer Lance Sieveking was making a feature to mark the end of the BBC’s first decade but found there were virtually no surviving recordings with which to illustrate it. He therefore set about reconstructing some of the key radio moments of the 1920s by asking the original speakers to re-read from their original scripts. Today they give as accurate an impression of what the BBC sounded like in those first years as we will ever have.

This is one of them – a reconstruction of that first New Year’s Eve message broadcast from Marconi House on 31 December 1922. Now, as we move from a bewildering year into one which promises to be even stranger, the Reverend Fleming’s message seems as apt as ever: 

BBC First New Year's Eve Address 1922

Happy New Year from all of us here at the sound archive!

28 November 2016

The changing landscape of radio

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The Changing Landscape of Radio is the title of a report commissioned by the British Library into the future of UK radio and radio archiving. The report was commissioned from Rosina Sound with the aim of informing the Library’s developing plan for a national radio archive, which is one of the key strands of the Save our Sounds programme, the goals of which are both to ensure that the Library's existing sound archive is properly preserved, and that there are adequate systems in place for the acquisition of future sound production in the UK. Future heritage matters as much to us as past heritage.

Driverlesscar

Ford patent for an autonomous vehicle entertainment system (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, via Jeff McMahon, 'Ford Turns The Driverless Car Into A Driving Movie Theater', Forbes, March 2016, http://bit.ly/2e6TOFM)

The report has been published online on a new British Library project page, The Future of Radio,  along with project blog posts and a podcast in which radio experts debate the present and future state of the medium. The report is, we think, an entertaining reading, with stimulating ideas on how radio might evolve in the future which should engage anyone who listens to sounds, whether for pleasure or study. The Library's interest is, of course, primarily in sounds for study, and the report looks at the needs of researchers, and the issues the future archivist of radio will need to consider.

The report considers audiences (who are they? when do they listen? where do they listen?), devices, content, the industry, technology and legal considerations, as well as those researcher needs. Will radio become all catch-up or will the traditional 'linear' mode of broadcasting endure? What is the future for podcasting? What happens to in-car radio if we all end up in driverless cars and feel like watching video instead? In what ways will we be able to interact with radio in the future? Will innovations such as immersive audio change how we think of radio? Will we continue thinking of radio as 'radio', or will it turn into/be absorbed by something else? In ten years' time, what exactly is it that the radio archivist will be archiving?

Here are some snippet observations from the report to whet the appetite:

  • "The overall radio audience is stable. The majority of radio listeners have not changed the way they consume their content. Radio audiences are not, at present, being affected as dramatically by the digital revolution as audiences for music, newspapers or television."
  • "While linear listening is likely continue, there is a trend for media to be consumed in ever-smaller chunks. Shorter segments do not necessarily result in less linear listening or less listening overall. The shareable, ‘snackable’ nature of segments means they can be used for promotion alongside linear broadcasts, or to reach different audiences."
  • "Alongside the car, the home – and in particular the kitchen – remains the place where British people listen most to the radio. This helps explain why breakfast shows tend to have the biggest audiences and budgets, and therefore why these shows should be high on the priority list for inclusion in a national radio archive."
  • "Radio apps compete for people’s attention with all the other mobile apps available on a device – audio and otherwise. Streaming audio will quickly burn through most people’s data allowances, a problem that content downloaded over Wi-Fi avoids."
  • "The medium of radio is about emotional connection. People like radio for its companionship and for the connection it provides with the wider world. For these reasons the availability of music streaming services has not and will not kill off radio."
  • "Content that is related to radio output but provided on other media is becoming increasingly common and important in driving audience behaviour. A national radio archive would ideally include such content (e.g. web pages with further information, social media or live video streamed from the studio)."
  • "Increased choice means listeners can turn towards content that is more personal to them. The larger number of DAB stations increases the likelihood that one will be tailored to a specific need. The logical progression is for modular delivery of content to provide highly-personalised stations curated for individuals."
  • "Modular delivery mechanisms provide the building blocks for new ways to deliver radio: more personalised, more interactive, more contextually relevant. The BL should note that modular delivery could see the demise of the linear radio channel but we believe this will not be for at least ten years."
  • "A key factor for the success of a national radio archive will be accessibility, both in terms of how and where the system can be accessed as well as how easy it is to use the interface. Many archive projects have failed because potential users cannot get to them or if they can they do not understand how to operate them."

The British Library cannot guess the future for radio, but it does want to be informed about the options and the possibilities. Our next step is to start building a pilot national radio archive, the development work for which will begin next year.

06 October 2016

The future of radio: no. 4 - Nicky Birch

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The British Library is working with the UK radio industry to develop a national radio archive and has invited experts from across the radio and music industry to consider what the future of radio might look like.

Nicky Birch
Nicky Birch

Nicky has been working in the radio and audio industry for 20 years, as a senior exec at UK indie Somethin’ Else, a director at Sound Women. In 2015 she founded radio and technology agency Rosina Sound, which has been leading a project for the British Library to explore the future of radio to help inform the launch of the National Radio Archive in 2017.

The future of UK podcasts

Much has been written about the rise and dominance of podcasts in the US. Meanwhile many producers and listeners in the UK believe our output is not up to the same standard – that American shows are better funded, better made and better distributed (although those who have discovered home-grown successes like Kermode and Mayo, the Football Ramble or My Dad Wrote a Porno might disagree).

There are several reasons why the UK podcasting industry hasn’t grown as fast as in places like America or India.

The main issue is the dominance of the BBC, which offers a high standard of speech content on its radio stations and simply converts this output to podcast format, thereby dominating the podcast charts with licence-payer-funded content.

There is also the fact that UK speech producers have traditionally not worked with advertisers so closely – they don’t have the same commercial background as US producers. In the US producers are more adept at working with brands creatively to sell a product and don’t feel uncomfortable doing so.

Finally, the strength of the BBC and commercial radio in the UK combined has meant many listeners haven’t needed or wanted to look elsewhere for their audio content.

But times are changing. During our research with the British Library we have spoken to many producers and business leaders from across the radio and audio sector, including content discovery platforms. The word is that in the UK, our podcast revolution is coming. We put this down to four reasons:

  • Commercialisation

In the US, podcasting is in a start-up frenzy – people are rushing to invest because the advertising spend is increasing quickly. There was a 48% increase in 2015, and Edison Research is estimating $150million will be spent in 2016. This isn’t a huge amount in advertising terms, but it’s the rapid growth that has excited people there and made producers and advertisers here look up.

The problem for UK podcasters has been the inability to sell their own advertising space or market their programmes successfully, being reliant on iTunes as their shop window where few shows are visible at any one time.

Companies like Acast are now offering a service that includes hosting and ad sales, and recently Audioboo pivoted its business to rebrand as Audioboom, a podcast advertising sales company, and the big US network Panopoly has just announced it is opening a UK arm.  Most podcasters using such services are still not making their fortune or indeed financing the time spent producing the content, but these are still early days. Ruth Fitzsimons from Audioboom believes podcasters need to invest now to grow their audiences in order to reap the rewards later, and she expects things to change significantly in around two years time when more advertisers realise the value of podcasting.

One of the big changes in the commercialisation of podcasts has been the introduction of dynamic advertising, where a chosen advert can be placed within the audio for a period of time and then replaced with an alternative advert at a later date. This means a large archive can have great value. Unlike linear radio, more like Netflix, podcast consumers tend to explore back catalogues so old shows can continue to make money for as long as new shows continue to be released within the same series.

  • Democratisation

The fantastic thing about podcasts is that anyone can make them, and a lot of people do. This has parallels with video where we’ve seen the rise of the YouTubers who have no fear about embracing brands and making money.

The young audiences who watch YouTube are prime for conversion into audiences for podcasts. They are used to searching for their content and used to their stars selling to them – it is totally normal. In the world of audio we’ve yet to see any mainstream celebrities grow out of podcasting, but the medium is waiting for a young presenter who isn’t constrained by old-fashioned broadcasting to tear the rulebook apart.

  • Mass niche

Podcasts are a success because they fulfil a need to hear more of what people love. Listeners make an active decision to search out and subscribe to a feed. You are unlikely to stumble upon a podcast (I’ll talk more about discoverability later) so they tend to be driven by user interests.

For example, I love cycling so I listen to the Cycling Weekly podcast, and it’s even better during the big tours, because they can put out extra editions of the show which radio can’t always fit into a limited schedule. They serve my needs when I most want it.

While a cycling show may never be mainstream, there are enough fans of most minority sports to make such podcasts viable. When you advertise on a cycling podcast, you are guaranteed to reach thousands of committed cycling fans – that’s pretty attractive to a Wiggle, Evans or Cycle Surgery – which makes the value of the sponsorship greater.

Some sales houses like DAX are starting to understand this power. It sells programmatic advertising space to agencies across all audio platforms, including podcasts, so on-demand audio can now be part of a wider campaign across radio and streaming services.

A mass niche programme that knows its audience well can provide lots of user analytics to help sell those spots. Programmatic adverts in podcasting are unlikely to cover the full costs of producing a quality podcast on their own just yet, but combined with host sponsorship readings, funding drives and branded events are turning mass niche brands into stable long term offerings with growing audiences and increasing potential.

  • Discoverability

Finding podcast content is the biggest hurdle. The user journey around most podcast players is pretty challenging. There simply isn’t enough room in the shop window for the many thousands of new programmes being created every week.

This means listeners are driven by what the platform tells them is popular and hence the top 100 chart becomes self fulfilling. This is a big design challenge, and technology is rising to overcome it.

If each programme provided a richer set of data – such as fully automated transcripts, key topics and mood – this could be linked between programmes to help users discover similar shows they might like and should lead to an explosion in discovery. This is akin to the successful Spotify Discover playlists that look at what users have listened to and create a new playlist each week accordingly.

Bigger platforms, like Amazon, Spotify and Pandora, have good experience of personalised algorithm driven content selection that they will use to their advantage as they move into the speech radio game.

Technology aside, the BBC understands one can’t rely on algorithms to serve up the hidden gems listeners never knew they wanted. The personalised service myBBC will rely on a mixture of serendipitous discovery, curated content and algorithm driven discovery.

If the BBC get this right – and listeners feel like they are taken on a journey being offered on-demand content to suit their mood that they didn’t realise they would like – they will have cracked the holy grail of on demand content. Many others will follow suit.

These are exciting times for audio producers in the UK. Brands, technology companies and the BBC are all looking to content creators to tell compelling stories to their audiences. Podcasts are just one of the many ways to deliver these messages but there is a great opportunity to play to the strengths of the audio medium being cheaper, simpler and quicker than video, film and emerging multimedia.

For creative British audio producers and presenters now is the time to experiment, to create better and bolder content ideas, to show that an idea that begins with a podcast could grow into something much bigger. Now is the time to invest in those ideas, build those audiences and the commercial support will follow.


The views and opinions in these blog posts are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the British Library.


Other blogs in this series:

The future of radio: no. 1 - Charlie Phillips

The future of radio: no. 2 - Matt Deegan

The future of radio: no. 3 - Paul Bennun

Listen to a special British Library podcast discussion of The Future of Radio

 

03 October 2016

The future of radio: no. 3 - Paul Bennun

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The British Library is working with the UK radio industry to develop a national radio archive and has invited experts from across the radio and music industry to consider what the future of radio might look like.

Paul Bennun
Paul Bennun

Paul Bennun, former CCO and non-executive director of UK content agency Somethin’ Else, considers how technology will affect the future of radio and the implications of this for the British Library's radio archive.

The future of radio from a technology perspective

Since its inception, radio has always been the testing ground for human endeavour in communications technology. If we’re asking ‘where next?’ for any medium, one could ask ‘where next?’ for technology – but radio will give you the answer first.

Maybe this is because at its root, radio is just the unalloyed human voice – the defining human technology – and it’s always been easier to apply ‘the new shiny’ to radio first.

The initial task was engineering: recording, broadcasting, amplification. With the basics down, radio tackled culture (and dogma): production, commerce and licensing – even the mechanics of celebrity. All these served radio first.

With transistors came portability. With micron-scale transistors inside PCs came digital production and delivery – more people could make more media, faster. This made a huge difference to radio producers (who previously chopped up tape) but made only minor qualitative difference to the listener. Again, radio led the way when nanoscale transistors in consumer computer processors and widespread packet-switched networks (i.e. the internet) came along.

The second-order quantitative and qualitative effects of communications technology mean hardware, content, network and author form a complex system not a stack and thus the immediacy and multiplicity of voices is innumerable. This is where we are today: any audio you want, anywhere you are. You’re the broadcaster, too, if you want to be.

So what’s next for radio? I’d point at two interesting technologies: firstly that set of technologies we call ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI) – systems that learn; secondly, audio as an unobtrusive human-system interface (don’t laugh at Apple’s AirPods)

The first order effects give us bots and basic control of devices like Siri on the iPhone. But combined these technologies can bring us autonomous cars that come when you whistle, systems that make sophisticated cultural choices about content previously restricted to humans, and systems that seamlessly merge human intention and desire with changes in a database. How far this can take us is very hard to predict.

Imagine a pop-up audio service programmed by bots that ensures everyone in an ephemeral social group (e.g. ‘trip to the pub’ or ‘Claire’s Hen Night’) can share a hilarious ‘radio show’ in their respective Ubers, where a personality-rich robot slags off their selfies and makes rude comments about Claire’s ex. You didn’t ask for it; it’s just there for a while and then it’s gone.

Your politics and cultural preferences are just another pattern to be interpreted. If we connect them to a survey of current events, a news-and-music service presented by a bot, keeping you in the bubble of what you want to hear, is easily imagined..

We can be sure that in the domain of time-based media these things will happen in ‘radio’ first. All this poses the most enormous challenges for a library of record that wishes to capture public culture in a way that is useful for future eyes and ears.

If, ten years ago, ‘radio’ was a simple concept, that is no longer the case. Linear, audio-only broadcast has given way to podcasts, audio-on-demand, extended universes of supporting content surrounding the audio ‘programme’ and cloud music services – all make a claim to being ‘radio’ to some degree.

This volume and variety of content poses unique challenges in discovery, selection and capture, if a useful, usable record of radio’s contribution is to be made for future generations. In particular it is currently impossible to capture every second of audio published. We’re limited by available resource, which is something not even measured in money, but in storage density, network speeds and computing power (although this is in all likelihood a temporary problem given the projected increase in computing horsepower).

We can most certainly put ourselves on the path to an archive that does not act under any such constraint. And if we take a limited sample of radio content, we can still create an archive that may have many of the benefits of a complete set (if we choose carefully, and we augment our sample with data about the audio we did not capture).

Let us start with the assumption of the impossibility of creating a complete archive of radio content: we therefore have to choose what to sample. We have to ask: ‘what, in the future, will we find interesting or important?’

Given we are not restricted to the capture of audio, and indeed want to capture audio in its full context, the question of what our sample should contain becomes interesting and challenging. The descriptive words used by its authors, the individuals featured on it and its categorisation by third-party publishers are just some of the useful data which can help us analyse what radio in the late 2010s can tell us about ourselves. In the future it will help tell us how we got to where we’re going.

In fact, building on the theme of AI raised earlier, it may be the question of our choice of sample is not something best left entirely to humans. ‘What did we think was important in 2016?’ is an interesting question, and building a sample based on a human’s understanding of this question is important – even if it tells us more about the selectors than the creators – but AI could take us further.

Indicators of ‘importance’ and ‘novelty’ may be less useful than indicators of evolution — we can turn to good old physics to say, with certainty, something is changing. Evolution is propelled ultimately by gradients between two actors in an environment. Patterns, and the change in patterns, in properties of our cultural output are most likely to reveal information of importance to someone accessing the archive in the future. Complex patterns are best unearthed by computers.

Neural networks, ‘deep learning’ and machine learning are all excellent at pattern recognition. Using this set of technologies to assist the decision making process may be crucial.

While not without its own potential issues, it may be automation of a daily (or hourly) census of available material will lead to the sample of captured information containing greatest utility to a future researcher. The surveys of the information space, can, themselves, be of enormous value in the future even if only a small sample of the content in that space is captured.


The views and opinions in these blog posts are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the British Library.


Other blogs in this series:

The future of radio: no. 1 - Charlie Phillips

The future of radio: no. 2 - Matt Deegan

The future of radio: no. 4 - Nicky Birch

Listen to a special British Library podcast discussion of The Future of Radio

 

29 September 2016

The future of radio: no. 2 - Matt Deegan

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The British Library is working with the UK radio industry to develop a national radio archive and has invited experts from across the radio and music industry to consider what the future of radio might look like.

Matt Deegan, September 2016 (Photo by Paul Wilson)
Matt Deegan

Matt is the Creative Director of the new media and radio consultancy firm Folder Media. Prior to this Matt worked in the Strategy and Development department for the GWR Group and GCap Media (now Global Radio). In 2011, with James Cridland, he created the annual Next Radio conference.

The future of radio from an audience development perspective

The media sector has seen a huge amount of change as the world has become constantly connected with high performance devices in everyone's pockets. This change has meant that some new media has replaced old media, but devices and connectivity have also extended the amount of time that people have to consume all sorts of content, new and old. Some forms of media have been better at coping with this behavioural change than others.

The big transition the most successful media companies have made is in better understanding consumer behaviour and making sure the content they produce is what people want to consume, delivered in a way they want to consume it.

Many legacy media operators confused the historic barriers to entry in their sector with a belief that they were making the perfect product for their consumers. If there's only one TV channel, it'll likely have 90% reach. That doesn't mean that everyone likes it.

Radio's history has been littered with pronouncements that the medium will be replaced – by television, CDs, the iPod, the Internet, mobile devices – the list goes on. In the UK though, radio has stayed remarkably stable with around 90% of the country consuming some radio each week, around a billion hours of radio each week in total. If anything radio's consumption has seen increases over the past few years, not declines.

My personal take on this success is that radio has always been quick to evolve. From cat’s-whisker receivers to transistors under the bed, from in-car sets to radio being available on a Walkman, from being part of digital television to being on a Nokia mobile (next to Snake!), and of course in streamed form on desktop and mobile apps.

Radio has used this technological progression to consistently launch more content to better serve listeners. The few AM frequencies were supplemented by FM and now DAB, taking people's station choice from 5 to 20 to 70. Alongside this there’s been an explosion in specialist jukeboxes online and through mobile apps.

On form, radio has also changed, from only broadcasting live to most stations now providing seven-day catch-up alongside downloadable material in the form of podcasts. As a platform, radio is also an aggressive user of social media with stations running strong Facebook, Twitter and now Instagram and Snapchat accounts. Radio’s liveness means it's been quick to adopt Facebook Live and Periscope. The fact radio is based on sound without pictures has always meant that it can be fleet of foot, something that positions it well as it adopts and occupies any new platforms.

The internet has often been seen as the destroyer of legacy media, though I think this is often inaccurate. The internet has heavily affected newspapers by decimating their key income drivers: classifieds and job ads. Newspapers were the best way to deliver this content until websites did a much better job. US print revenues declined from $44.9 billion in 2003 to just $16.4 billion in 2014 – a devastating structural change to that industry. TV and Radio have fared much better through a more solid control of platforms and distribution. For television, their content has become more highly valued with the explosion of new platforms like Amazon Video and Netflix. For radio, the internet is still a small part of distribution with most listening still happening on broadcast radio receivers.

Perhaps the greatest risk to the future of radio is complacency. Radio stations are so used to being listened to on radio receivers that they are ignoring the fact that they are badly consumed on some other platforms, particularly mobile. This is where radio's co-option of platforms has started to look a little shaky.

Radio stations have essentially taken the approach of transferring their existing linear product: expanding it to cover more formats and shoving it on new things. Mobile, though, seems to be a little more resistant to the Today programme and Chris Moyles' charms.

While linear radio is certainly available on mobile devices, data collected from radio operators around the world has shown linear mobile listening has plateaued. Where audiences are increasing it is for the more interactive services – services like Pandora (the internet radio streaming service currently available in the US, Australia and New Zealand with plans to launch in the UK soon).

The mobile is a complex device that can do lots of things. You have a much wider choice of content types to allow a more specific, tailored experience. The games that you choose, the videos that you choose, are not the same as everyone else. A mobile does not have the limits on content choice that a broadcast device has, so the types of media and types of content are split a number of ways. For radio broadcasters – who tend to be in the mass, non-personalised business – this makes mobile less easily conquerable.

For broadcasters, on-demand and mobile are still a very small part of listeners' consumption, and broadcast has remained reliably resilient. There is still little sign of this particularly changing. It would be quite easy for broadcasters to ignore mobile/on-demand and still be very successful and I'm sure we'll see many operators do just that.

The question for the future is can radio remain aligned with consumers as differentiated format and programming demands continue to increase. Netflix, YouTube and iPlayer are training consumers to pick and choose, self-scheduling content that appeals to them. Radio needs to continue its journey by allowing listeners to pick and mix its product to continue to satisfy these needs.

Products like Capital Xtra's app have already started to do this, allowing listeners to skip tracks from its broadcast streams and replace them with songs and content consumers better like. To achieve this requires shifts in how content is created, stored and distributed. It also means that stations have to re-think the priority that they give to live and the primacy that the linear product has.

For radio, unlike other media, it's not about thinking mobile first – potentially that would be disastrous – as for the foreseeable future that would still represent a small part of its audience. The best approach will be to think about audiences and content first, and then the means of distribution second. What is the piece of content, who is it for, what job does it do, and then how is it distributed and marketed to listeners to encourage consumption? Considering audiences and content first allows any broadcaster to support multiple products for different audiences. This is what’s needed to ensure radio's future multi-platform success.


The views and opinions in these blog posts are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the British Library.


Other blogs in this series:

The future of radio: no. 1 - Charlie Phillips

The future of radio: no. 3 - Paul Bennun

The future of radio: no. 4 - Nicky Birch

Listen to a special British Library podcast discussion of The Future of Radio

 

26 September 2016

The future of radio: no. 1 - Charlie Phillips

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The British Library is working with the UK radio industry to develop a national radio archive and has invited experts from across the radio and music industry to consider what the future of radio might look like. 

Charlie Phillips
Charlie Phillips

Charlie is the Head of Legal and Commercial Affairs for the Association of Independent Music (AIM) in the UK and the Worldwide Independent Network of music companies globally. He was formerly Music Manager for Napster UK and Head of Music for Capital Radio’s DAB stations.

The future of radio from the independent music sector's perspective

Today there’s so much choice for listeners and music fans, both from multiple ways to access music, and from other pulls on our entertainment and leisure time outside of music. Radio listening has declined over the last few years, but overall use of music has grown hugely. So radio has a challenge ahead if it’s to stay relevant.

From the independent sector’s perspective, indie record labels love radio. We are very supportive of all broadcasters, with a particular relationship having developed with the BBC. However there are always concerns over access to playlisting and actually getting music on air. This is becoming more transparent, and AIM has helped develop relationships with the indie sector and the BBC and other broadcasters over several years. But it’s still a crowded place with only so many hours in the day for radio to be able to fill with music. Concerns about the proportion of independent music that makes it onto radio is a permanent agenda point in AIM’s work with its members.

So what does the changing music landscape mean for the future of radio? As the amount of music released increases, the challenge radio faces to ensure the ‘best’ music gets airplay will only get harder. Some radio stations are broadening out their services and launching narrower, more focussed, stations, for example Absolute Radio’s ‘decade’ stations on DAB. But by doing so the audience for each station may decrease, perhaps moving away from flagship stations. Is there a paradox in offering a range of services that risk taking audience away from ‘flagship’ stations?

Indies are concerned that commercial radio is under more pressure than ever to deliver audiences to satisfy ‘mainstream’ corporate advertisers and sponsors. This seems to have narrowed the playlists of many commercial stations (although not all), and has led to access only being available to those with the capacity to support high level plugging and media campaigns for obviously mainstream, ‘commercial’ music.

Access to radio is easier for the larger labels with deeper pockets, who tend to champion more mainstream music. Airplay can be harder to achieve for many indies, and especially those who produce more specialist music. Mainstream music is an expensive and crowded place, with a lot of very large players chasing the next big airplay hit.

Most independent labels are not so focused on the mainstream but more interested in seeing choice and discovery develop, such that traditional radio can happily exist alongside today’s very broad on-demand digital music services. If narrowing of playlists is happening, this means narrowing of choice and discovery for listeners, and this in turn means a less attractive radio offering, and perhaps fewer listeners listening for less time. This can’t be good for radio, audiences or music producers. Add to this the fact that streaming services offer almost the opposite experience (access to millions of tracks whenever you want rather than linear programming) and you have a situation where many indies are thriving on streaming services and have in some cases left ‘traditional’ radio behind.

From a purely commercial perspective, the successes of collective licensing organisations like PPL in the UK and its counterparts overseas in extracting real value from broadcasters’ use of music is very much something to applaud. In fact in most years since 2000, global revenues from performance rights as a whole (including broadcast and public performance together) have seen double-digit growth year on year, according to IFPI figures.

Broadcast usage of music is now a key revenue stream for music companies, and when independent labels do achieve airplay, the financial rewards can be significant. The downside is, as mentioned already, that bigger players are able to deploy significant resources to achieve and sustain airplay of their repertoire, which smaller players are less capable of doing. As a result, the bigger players go on to take the lion’s share of the available licensing revenues.

To ensure future sustainability of audiences, radio will need to work with music companies to manage music selection carefully, in order to prevent stagnation and ‘copy paste’ music programming policies which favour bigger players, and which may risk turning audiences off. Radio needs to remain fresh and exciting, and the independent sector is the home of the freshest and most exciting music around.

Looking ahead to the future, radio will have to deal with a number of challenges. Radio is not set to disappear any time soon, but it will need to change to keep up with a very fast moving digital marketplace. Developing offerings to compete with the breadth of other music and non-music services will be critical. Ensuring music programming is relevant and not too narrowly focused will also be essential, to allow for competitive differentiation as well as a fresh and interesting offerings to serve and maintain audiences, and in turn to enthuse advertisers and sponsors.

Radio needs to recognise that there are commercial drivers on the music industry producing the music they play. This requires radio to be vigilant and attentive to ensure broadcasters are doing all they can to find the best music, rather than favour what is directly offered to them. This is happening, and there’s cause for optimism as the industry develops better relationships with radio, be that through AIM for the indies, or on an individual basis.

The question of ensuring enough independent repertoire makes it onto radio is not set to disappear any time soon. The independent music sector is keen to keep working with the radio industry to develop this, and hope that the future of radio, whatever this looks like, will bring increased opportunities for independent music. This will be the best outcome for listeners, broadcasters and producers of music.


The views and opinions in these blog posts are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the British Library.


Other blogs in this series:

The future of radio: no. 2 - Matt Deegan

The future of radio: no. 3 - Paul Bennun

The future of radio: no. 4 - Nicky Birch

Listen to a special British Library podcast discussion of The Future of Radio