Creative Loop Student Media Festival 2014: When Programmes Became Content

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March 20, 2014 by Colin Kelly

When Programmes Became Content – live from the Creative Loop Student Media Festival

Day 2 of this year’s festival and I chaired the opening session this morning about ‘Content’.

The panelists were Colin Paterson – Editor BBC Radio Scotland, Brian Paige – Content Controller (Central Belt) Bauer Radio, and Gary Muircroft – Content Controller (Regions) Bauer Radio.

Between them, these guys are responsible for well over 80% of what you hear on radio stations around Scotland, and although now in management roles, all of them began their careers as presenters.

Brian is based at Clyde 1 in Glasgow, Gary at Northsound 1 in Aberdeen and both gained new job titles in the last year when the role of ‘Programme Director’ was replaced with ‘Content Controller’.

Everyday, someone in the media utters the phrase ‘Content Is King’ and we’re all aware of multi platform, social media and the need to keep attracting young listeners and talent to radio.

But in this climate, what does ‘Content’ actually mean and what impact does the focus on it have on those who want to start a career in the industry, or to build on what they already have?

Colin Paterson feels there’s too much of a rush towards social media channels like Twitter and Facebook for the sake of it. ‘Where’s the return?’, ‘What works?’, ‘How does it actually help?’, he asked, and stressed that much of what BBC Radio Scotland currently does in that space is experimental and, so far, he hasn’t been convinced of its value, although everything is being carefully measured and analysed. ‘The material that takes off and gains big views tends to be the silly stuff, it’s not really what we want to be known for’, he said.

The commercial music broadcasters, Brian and Gary, were, as you might expect, more in favour of multi platform and social media and seemed more convinced of its benefits. Gary highlighted one recent example, where following Aberdeen FC’s league cup win at the weekend, the original version of a song the supporters sing has managed to climb into the higher reaches of the national chart. Northsound 1 has parodied it and released a ringtone for fans to download. Gary said while commercial considerations are always important, the station has to be careful around what it monetises and had chosen not to in this case.

I suggested the multi platform activity was being treated as an extension of the station’s marketing but Brian and Gary argued it was more about deepening the engagement with the listeners, living their life, going through the day with them, and yes, achieving more awareness and getting a tick in a RAJAR diary. But it seems relationship and companionship and reflecting what’s going on in the local area are still the key drivers.

All the panelists agreed first and foremost their priority was what worked on radio and only after that, would they look at how things might be extended online.

Colin Paterson explained that one area where BBC Radio Scotland was seeing value in social media was in using Facebook and Twitter channels to find real people with stories, contributors for programming and reaction to morning phone in subjects.

What shone through was how much these guys love radio and good content, and it was refreshing to spend time with people not carried away or obsessed with these new channels but focussed on what their audience needs.

That said, I do wonder if they grasp the speed of change in terms of people’s media consumption and behaviour and the multitude of media outlets they’re now competing against, all of whom chase a similar audience and serving them with similar content.

I guess you’d expect us to have different emphasis given that so much of my work revolves around a small online audience and their focus on traditional, mass audience through an FM transmitter.

The stations Brian and Gary run are very clear on who they’re for, what they do and their ‘brand values’.

BBC Radio Scotland, according to Colin, is perhaps less so with more internal debate and dialogue over its role and remit. This, of course, is the nature of public service broadcasting and it’ll likely never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

My concern is that a split emerges where people, like today’s students, grow tired of waiting for the ‘gatekeepers’ to give them access and cultivate their own channels and following and never turn to the mainstream radio stations.

Current research suggests this isn’t happening yet, with radio in great health and enjoyed by a huge percentage of the population. However, some research from George Ergatoudis of BBC Radio1, who delivered a presentation immediately after our session, suggests this may start to change and I’ll look at what he said, in the next post.

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