Why global v local holds the key to radio's future

2015 is going to be a big year for Virgin Radio, having recently made two announcements with regards to possibly launching new Virgin Radio stations in major territories. The first in the UK and the second in Canada…

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Starting in the UK, Virgin Radio International have reached an agreement with Sound Digital, which is a consortium made up of leading UK Radio operator UTV (TalkSport), Bauer - operators of Magic and Kiss in London - and Arqiva - one of the world’s leading infrastructure and media services company. This consortium has submitted a bid to run the second national commercial digital radio multiplex in the UK. Following Ofcom, the communications regulator in the UK, inviting interested parties to bid for this national commercial digital radio multiplex.

Virgin Radio International is delighted to have been invited by UTV to partner with Sound Digital, the joint venture company who have mounted the bid, to once more bring Virgin Radio back to the UK. In the 90s and up to 2008 Virgin Radio was widely acknowledged as an iconic leader in the UK radio landscape, however, the brand disappeared when the station was rebranded, by its then new owner Times of India Group. The station has since been acquired by Bauer.

Image from Virgin.com

"It’s been a long held wish of mine to see Virgin Radio re-launch in the UK after the success we had with Virgin Radio UK in the 1990s," explained Richard Branson. "The team at Virgin Radio International has worked tirelessly to accomplish this and I’m delighted that UTV Media invited us to join their exciting plans for digital radio in the UK. We wish UTV Media and its consortium success in its application to Ofcom."

This would be a tremendous addition to the already existing Virgin radio portfolio and to the brand in general. It would reinforce the original Virgin history and heritage around music and popular culture.

The second announcement, made somewhat less publicly, is the fact that Bell Media in Canada have set a date in March to launch Virgin Radio in Vancouver. Originally, Virgin Radio (via Astral Media) were broadcasting in Vancouver, however, at the time of the Bell Media takeover,  the Canadian regulator insisted upon Bell Media divesting of some properties…and the original Virgin Radio in that city was taken off the air.

Whilst there is no denying the increased take up of streaming services, at this stage they do not appear to be taking listeners from radio.

In a very brave and confident strategy, Bell Media who have now been given permission to relaunch a Virgin Radio in Vancouver and are in fact planning to relaunch and rebrand the number one station in that city, currently broadcasting as Beat FM. This is a tremendous endorsement of the brand, considering the station to be rebranded is already very successful, this will increase the number of Virgin Radio stations, operated by Bell Media across Canada to even.

Aside from these two current projects, we are actively pursuing opportunities at present in Jakarta, Mexico, North America and in discussions with another operator  in the Middle East, where Virgin Radio already dominate the radio landscape in Dubai and in Lebanon.

Whilst there is no denying the increased take up of streaming services, at this stage they do not appear to be taking listeners from radio. The reason is that the streaming services can certainly offer customised music formats to each and every listener, irrespective of where they may be tuning in. However, the secret to success in radio runs far deeper.

Image from Virgin.com

The internet and mobile telephony certainly further enables the listener access to radio, however, the need for compelling content will not diminish and as many varied and new delivery platforms appear the need for compelling content will only increase. 

The next frontier will continue to be the ever increasing array of delivery platforms, however, whilst people have claimed the demise of radio is imminent - due to the technology advancement in the delivery of music, news and entertainment etc - this has not been and will not be the case.

The motor vehicle is somewhat the key to the ongoing success of radio, portability is the key to its success, however, streaming services are unable to provide what could be considered ‘compelling local content’. Whilst they may provide a myriad of musical alternatives, they remain cold and clinical, devoid of personality, soul, spirit and local community involvement - all the attributes that make up Virgin.

Global is music, social media, information and news. However local is by far the most important component to the success of radio.  It is the presenters and the personalities that largely reflect community attitudes and taste. 

Successful commercial radio stations combine the global attraction of music, with the local attraction of presenters, community activities, local news, promotions and events.

Radio stations create their own community, a radio station is in fact ‘a family’ and the listener is invited to become involved with the activities of this family, on a daily basis. Not just by way of becoming a passive listener, in the case of successful and vibrant breakfast programs the listener is invited to become part of the program, part of the station and the community that it has created.

Participation and involvement is why we listen to radio and whilst streaming and technological platforms may continue to evolve, the relationship between the listener and the radio station remains at the heart of why radio will continue to capture large audiences around the world.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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