Radio must adapt to young Britain – or face death

BBC Radio 1 Controller Ben Cooper considers the future of radio in the age of iPads

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When you were growing up, the only bit of technology in your bedroom that connected you to the outside world was a radio. Now it’s a phone or an iPad.

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We are living with the HD generation – that’s the heads-down generation, who spend all their time looking at a small screen. And here are some scary facts for those of us who listened with Mother, or under the duvet to John Peel: today, one in three children has an iPad, while one in seven has a radio; and compared to ten years ago, radio has lost more than 50 per cent of 10- to 14-year-old listeners.

So, is radio about to fall off a cliff? Is radio dead?

Over the past five years, Radio 1 has changed what it means to be a radio station. We reach more than ten million young people a week, but the number of hours that they spend with us across seven days has dropped dramatically in the past decade from 10.3 to six hours. Most of those hours are being lost in the home. The kitchen and bedroom radio sets are not being replaced, as you can connect to the internet cheaply and easily in your house. Listening in the car remains strong, but wait till our vehicles become iPads on wheels – then try fighting with your teenagers for control of what you have on when you drive.

The good news is that we foresaw that our audiences would like to watch the best bits of our output and share their favourite moments. The strategy of “listen, watch, share” has allowed us to ask what success looks like for a station in 2016, because while hours spent listening are dropping, time spent with Radio 1 is growing in new ways. We have become the biggest radio station in the world on YouTube, with more than 3.1 million subscribers and an average of 1.3 million views a day. And we have a “digital footprint” on social-media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter comprising eight million followers.

Reports of radio’s death have always been greatly exaggerated over the years – the Sony Walkman and the iPod were both supposed to bump us off, and don’t forget that the first video played on MTV featured Buggles claiming Video Killed the Radio Star.

In fact, the opposite is happening. Apple and Spotify streaming services are trying to emulate radio with Beats 1, and providing more content between their streamed lists of music. And look at the success of NPR’s Serial podcast. So, what you have is radio stations trying to distribute in new ways, and tech companies trying to create radio in new ways. This converging evolution means that the mobile phone is the battleground for people’s time. That’s why you have to be unique and useful. You have to stand for something.

Radio 1 represents young Britain by providing a national conversation and soundtrack for teenagers. We inform audiences about new British music, we educate with distinctive news and outreach work, and our diverse set of presenters entertains.

Young audiences are key to the future of the broadcasting industry and if we don’t adapt, we will die. What happens at Radio 1 today will happen for the rest of the BBC tomorrow. So there is a job to be done to ensure that the teenagers of tomorrow are under their duvets listening, watching and sharing the BBC on their phones and iPads.

Long live radio – everyone is watching.

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This article was first published on 29th June 2016