Radio 2.0 – why it’s not too late to save the broadcasting business

20 Mar 2009

A combination of music downloads and audience engagement via social media platforms such as Twitter, MySpace, Bebo and Facebook could restore profitability to the radio business and, eventually, TV broadcasters too.

That’s if proven Irish technology entrepreneur John Shiel has his way.

A 17-year software industry veteran, Shiel is a co-investor in venture-capital company Executive Venture Partners. He came to prominence on the back of the success of his e-learning firm Advanced Education Systems (AES), which is now used in 132 countries.

Along with seasoned veterans of firms like Barclays, Smart Force and the Telecoms Software and Systems Group (TSSG) at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) he is the driving force behind a new technology firm called Catch, which he claims has developed a platform that will enable radio stations to better monetise their web channel and, in turn, capitalise on the digital-media revolution.

The company last week went live with RTE 2FM’s new €230,000 website, which will give the state broadcaster a new business model for radio that could allow listeners to not only listen back to content, but also to ads, and to download favourite songs via their mobile phone.

Other prominent Irish stations such as Spin 103.8 and Cork’s Red FM have rolled out Catch’s technology, and Shiel said the intention is to export the technology overseas.

Citing a report by UK media powerhouse Bauer Media, Shiel explained that radio sits in the middle of a massive opportunity whereby social media-literate listeners can adapt the platform to express themselves and, in turn, drive advertising and music sales opportunities for stations.

One of the key sweet spots for radio’s future is the background listener. These individuals make up 40pc of the 16-45-year-old listening public in the UK. They believe songs are more important than albums and mainly listen to music at home or in the car.

“We’ve built a web platform that will allow radio stations and large media groups to express their brand on air and map their audience to the web. What’s unique about Catch is it allows radio stations to enable its listeners to link the content to social-media sites such as Bebo and MySpace to share favourite moments and even ads.

“The key is to create an environment where listeners feel comfortable using the station as their source. For example, listeners will use 2FM as a potential way of exploring and discovering music via the radio station.

“You could be anywhere, in your car or on the train, and the technology provides the user with a playback function that allows them to listen to the show or song again, and provides a mechanism to buy that song. There’s only one other radio station in the world today doing anything remotely like what we do, which is the BBC with its iPlayer.”

Shiel described Radio 2.0 as the convergence of radio with mobile phones and the internet, which provides a vital new business model for broadcasters.

“We strongly believe that radio stations and the record labels need to move to a stronger partnership. People are interested in music and radio. They just didn’t have the toolset to make use of that passionate interest, until now.”

Using their mobile phones, Shiel said listeners who like a particular radio song can text ‘Catch’ to the 51552 SMS number while the song is on and the song is sent to their personalised locker on the internet from where it can be downloaded.

The company is currently developing its Catch application for download on Apple’s iTunes Apps Store.

“The one thing that makes money for radio is advertising, and the technology provides the stations with the ability to allow listeners to catch ads in the same way as they would catch a song. They can do the research and decide if ‘this is the product for me’ at their own pace and in their own time.”

Beyond songs and advertising, the one thing radio and TV viewers are doing plenty of right now is writing their reactions to events on their Twitter accounts and on blogs or in Facebook status updates.

Another forthcoming application from Catch is ‘Throw’, which allows listeners to grab a show segment where something funny or controversial is happening and share it over the internet with friends on Bebo.

“We built this company to be international from day one and, in particular, we built it to be scaleable for media organisationsm” Shiel explains.

“We are actively engaged with media groups in the UK and we hope, in the coming months, to announce deals. We see this as a global application that provides radio stations, which might be limited in terms of resources, the ability to map their on-air audience onto the web and also bring the web to the airwaves.

“It is a set of applications that will grab the attention of media companies, but most importantly, their audience,” Shiel concluded.

By John Kennedy