Friday 9 November 2018

That Which We Call a Rose - By Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet

The RAIN summit Europe - held in London this week - was enjoyable, not least because it gave me an excuse to go inside the British Museum, having turned down the infant school invitation in the seventies to see the Tutankhamun exhibition.

The session I was asked to moderate was on on-demand audio and the like, with a very capable international panel.

Walking to the venue, as the rain began to spit, I asked myself that question that bugs many.  Is this podcasting/audio on demand lark ‘radio’ – or not.  And at last, I made my mind up.

It is radio.  It is all radio.

Streaming music with no curation and playing music downloads is not. But all else is.  Whether it’s Radio 4’s Today Programme on demand; Capital live in the morning with the great Ant Payne; or 'Today in Focus' from the Guardian. It's just radio delivered through different means. 

In the session, we spoke of content and how it was delivered and monetised. I don’t think we used the foul word ‘podcast’ much or ever. I think I used the clumsy phrase 'on-demand audio' to set up the session.

How can the Radio 4 PM programme magically become not radio when I dare to listen to it at 11.00 pm? Or Jane Garvey evolve into something other than radio broadcaster when she happens to chatter for Fortunately... rather than for Woman’s Hour? And do I think any differently when I’m writing  around my #radiomoments weekly review 'podcast' than when I’m doing a cue for a live BBC programme? And when a 'podcast' is broadcast on radio – as is The Daily now from the New York Times or Fit and Fearless on 5 Live, what the hell is that?

In commercial terms, when we sell impacts, we are selling ears. Ears that care little how the audio content is delivered.  As an aside, 'on-demand' audio is creating fresh approaches to delivering audio commercial messages powerfully – and prompts, at last, some fresh thought for how we should do it on radio - but that’s a huge topic for another time.

In TV – you watch it live - or you watch it on demand - or you may store shows yourself and watch them later. It doesn’t have different names. You watch Bodyguard and you enjoy it - or you don’t. It’s a TV show. It matters not if it was made for TV or not – nor the genre – you watch it on the TV. And if you watch it on your tablet – you’re still watching TV. Yes, there is YouTube, Netflix and films, but, in general terms the TV umbrella is huge, and we haven't troubled to invent a new vidcast verb.

Are the styles different? Well, yes. 'Podcasts' can be more unwashed than radio - and more targeted. But radio formats and treatment differ too for different audiences. Production values are different - yet the best podcasters still think carefully about them, just as we do on radio.  The passionate experts in their field who do a lively weekly pod soon discover that it really flies when they just get on with it, rather than try to be Ant and Dec for ten minutes at the start.

It's all about just delivering curated audio conveniently. 

OK, I have a vested interest. There is some utterly fascinating stuff in the 'podcasting' world just now, and I’d like to throw radio’s cloak around it.  When people in the pub say they have heard something of interest, wouldn’t it be great  if they said they heard it ‘on radio’.

People love radio – it’s a trusted reliable brand – why invent another?

The BBC Sounds folk have done some good work on the new app – and we know the sound thinking behind it. They want people to explore the wealth of audio Auntie has from today and yesterday without being bothered about whether it was broadcast on 6 Music, Radio 3 or the Home Service. Or indeed whether it’s actually ever been transmitted at all. But what are we expecting people to say at the bus stop?  I heard Sounds? I heard it on Sounds?  If we had all applied the broad term 'radio' to everything – which we didn’t - we could have just called it something to do with BBC Radio.  There isn't a BBC Sights app.

This whole wonderful, rich audio world is simply a dirty great big beautiful radio. The best radio there's ever been.

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,       
Retain that dear perfection which he owes                  
Without that title.

*Photos from Radiocentre - and an excellent idea they are too
** Andi Durrant sort of agrees in part - and he knows what he's doing

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