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New World, New Radio

Saturday, February 13 is World Radio Day. After more than 110 years of evolution, innovation and connection, we’re taking a look at how the radio industry is changing with the rise of on-demand audio.

World Radio Day 2021

It’s easy to think of radio as an old-fashioned medium, especially if you’re hooked on podcasts and Netflix. While on-demand digital content is definitely here to stay, that doesn’t mean radio is going anywhere. UNESCO’s 10th annual World Radio Day celebrates the continued power of radio to bring together humanity in all its diversity under the theme: New World, New Radio — Evolution, Innovation, Connection. The commemorative day aims to highlight the resilience, sustainability, accessibility and capacity of radio to disseminate information.

Did podcasting kill the radio star?

Despite what The Buggles declared in 1979, video never did end up killing radio. Even in the age of continuous digital media consumption and the ever-rising prevalence of video content, according to UNESCO radio is still the most widely consumed medium in the world. Although one-third of Australians listen to podcasts, Commercial Radio Australia reports radio’s cumulative audience hit a record high in 2020, reaching 77% of all Australians.

The problem with assuming that on-demand audio (like podcasts) is replacing radio, is the idea that the two formats are mutually exclusive. As a medium with more than a century of history, radio is known for evolving, innovating and adapting as the world changes, and the global shift to digital is no exception.

The concept of audioblogging has been around since the 1980s, but the format we know today as podcasting took off in the early 2000s, with the term first used in a 2004 article in The Guardian. “Online radio is booming thanks to iPods, cheap audio software and weblogs, reports Ben Hammersley”, it began.

Many radio networks were releasing their shows on iTunes within a year of Apple adding formal support for podcasts. Now, radio shows are the most popular podcast category in Australia, accounting for 101.3 million downloads in 2020 out of a total 420.8 million, according to the Australian Podcast Ranker.

Known for servicing society at times of crisis, it’s no surprise that the world continued to tune in to radio throughout a year like 2020. During last summer’s devastating bushfires, ABC local radio was a crucial source of information for affected areas, before the majority of Australians kicked up their listening habits and embraced on-demand radio to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Digital listenership has increased across broadcast and streaming platforms. People aren’t just listening to radio in their cars, they’re tuning in from home on tablets, smart phones, smart speakers, voiceless tech and other connected devices. Whether it’s an independent podcast, a catch-up of a popular commercial breakfast show or community radio, people are listening to more audio across more devices than ever before.

Inextricably linked, the podcast movement is forcing radio to adapt to a new format and has introduced infinite competition for a listener’s attention, with previously unheard voices producing content on any topic imaginable. In return, radio industry heavyweights bring experience, funding and established audiences to the digital audio space.

Radio continues to help brands grow

We know that visual media consumption is continuing to climb year after year, with more and more businesses embracing video as a marketing tool. Part of the resilience of audio in the face of video popularity is the fact that it’s a hands-free, eyes-free medium. Audio is the kind of media you can consume while you’re doing something else or when your eyes need a break from a screen. Radio and podcasts keep us connected when we’re in the car, out for a walk or cleaning the house. That’s difficult to resist for a media-addicted generation.

Research shows that radio — whether it’s the traditional broadcast method, digital live streaming or a podcast — continues to be an effective tool for brands and advertisers. In Australia, digital audio is the fastest growing advertising platform; in 2020, Southern Cross Austereo reported its unique live radio streaming audience has jumped by 58% year on year.

Radio continues to see high levels of engagement, bringing communities together and developing relationships between presenters and listeners. Without visual clutter, audio advertisers can benefit from engaging consumers in an intimate and personal setting.

For years, brands have seen great results from audio advertising, with radio’s mood-enhancing effect helping listeners develop positive associations with advertisers and integrated campaigns experiencing increased efficiency and brand recall through the use of radio. No matter what is happening in the world, audio offers creative, effective solutions at an affordable production cost, with audiences considering radio a trusted source of information in difficult times.

Despite this, in a year that saw Australia’s radio audience grow by 2%, advertising revenue for commercial radio dropped by more than 20% in the 2019/20 financial year, as brands played it safe during the pandemic. This might be explained by new research suggesting a gap “between marketers’ perceptions of media attributes and their actual effectiveness”. Evidence shows radio ranks in the top spot for targeting the right people in the right place at the right time, but advertisers perceive audio as being ineffective in comparison to all other mediums.

Digital audio advertising will only get better

While radio advertising revenue is decreasing, industry players are confident digital audio, including radio, will grow as a marketing tool in 2021 and beyond, as ad dollars follow audiences into multiple audio platforms. New audio formats are constantly being improved to deliver greater purchase intent. As technology evolves and the industry grows, we can expect more integration across platforms, more accessible and comprehensive data on audio, precision targeting and hopefully standardisation across the sector.

Understandings of consumer behaviour and the power of audio are improving all the time, thanks to initiatives like ARN Neuro Lab, which is taking a neuroscientific approach to finding practical ways to maximise the impact of audio. Meanwhile, it’s now easier for Australian media buyers to plan and purchase radio advertising, following the launch of an industry-wide media briefing platform, with a proposals module expected this year.

When industry data analytics and purchasing processes improve, we should see audio’s role in the digital marketing mix grow. Brands that haven’t yet, should be looking to develop audio-on-demand strategies and consider the potential audio offers beyond traditional ad spots — like branded audio content through owned channels.

“It won’t be enough in future to be a specialist in any single audio platform,” says Nova Entertainment’s Peter Charlton, quoted in AdNews. “We need to be masters of all audio formats, both their individual strengths and how they complement each other.”

ARN’s Lauren Joyce expects brands to become audio ready this year, “expanding their brand guidelines to include sonic identities and having a suite of base assets to trigger momentarily”. Seems like the right idea in such a rapidly changing world, after everyone learnt the true meaning of the word ‘pivot’ in 2020.

So, what’s the takeaway? As with most things these days, the answer isn’t simple and who knows what will happen tomorrow. We can’t say that on-demand audio is bringing an end to radio, but the industry is definitely doing what it has done for decades and adapting in response to rapid technology changes.

This year, consider implementing a specialised audio strategy, investing in audio advertising and keeping an eye on what radio does next. And if you need support with audio content creation, we’re here to help.

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