Yesterday, over in my day job at the children’s radio station Fun Kids, we launched two new initiatives. The first was eight new spin-off radio stations for Fun Kids and the second was our new lockdown-related feature, Activity Quest Daily.
Launching spin-offs, or brand extensions, for radio stations has been all the rage in the UK for the past few years. It was re-born by Clive Dickens who was running Absolute Radio, when he pushed live Absolute 80s. Like all good (re)inventions it was somewhat driven by a combination of opportunity and necessity.
Of course radio had been doing extra channels since the Radio Authority told stations they would have to split the output on their AM and FM frequencies. What ended up being termed ‘use it or lose it’. Capital led the way on the branding front with Capital FM and Capital Gold - with many other ILRs choosing to follow their lead.
Meanwhile. for Clive the re-brand of Virgin Radio had gone relatively well, but audience figures had dropped and were refusing to budge up, somewhat putting a strain on the business model. At the same time, the financial crisis and some Global-wobbling had meant that Digital One (the national DAB multiplex) was pretty much empty, with just a few stations left.
I expect Clive got quite a good carriage deal and he launched Absolute 80s across the UK. I imagine it was quite a gamble, but one that definitely paid off.
In the chart below, the decline in 2008 is after the Virgin to Absolute re-brand, but the 80s launch not only grew hours, the strategy to launch a suite of services, actually helped the main channel grow too.
For RAJAR-listed stations, that hours increase is directly monetisable as the networks often sell all listeners to brands together. By the time Absolute had been sold to Bauer they had more than doubled their listening hours from the Virgin Radio days, and their spin-offs were a huge part of that story.
Spin-off channels can now be seen for Kiss, Capital, Heart, Radio 1, Smooth, (the new) Virgin Radio and many more. All trying to repeat the same trick.
Some of these stations end up being broadcast channels (like Absolute 80s was) and others are web-only spin offs (Kiss Jams, Radio 1 Dance etc).
The eight new Fun Kids channels are of that variety too, so why bother?
Our aims with Fun Kids are to grow the number of people that consume it, increase the amount of time they spend with it, whilst growing (and broadening) the places we generate revenue.
We’re very focused on creating habit-forming activities with our listeners - both the parents and the kids.
Radio’s always been good at that. Benchmark features like doing the competition at the same time each day really work. It connects stations to the rhythm of their listeners’ lives, so they associate one with the other.
I’m also a big fan of the ‘tap’ theory of modern media. Consumers now are self schedulers, they want media that suits their needs. They want to ‘turn on the tap’ to get what they want.
Fun Kids is now ten radio stations - Fun Kids and Fun Kids Junior, plus the eight new stations. We want to chime in listeners’ minds that we’re the music/entertainment button for their families - and that there’s always something for them and their mood. Party songs, film soundtracks, naps - it’s all there. Plus it’s in the digital places where they get our product - our website, the app, but also on smart speakers etc. If we teach them that the content’s there, we have to make it easy for them to consume.
It’s the same for our other main audio product - the podcasts. We’ve built a suite of weekly speech shows around topics - science, reading, stories, comedy, news, activities and interviews. The regularity is important, we don’t just want people tuning in, we want them coming back too.
Again, these shows appear in our products - the website and app as well as in other places and of course smart speakers too. Our aim is to make it easy to hear about content, sample it, and keep coming back. We’re trying to insert ourselves into our listeners’ lives.
In a world where there is infinite choice, it’s essential that we stake out a position that consumers remember and keep coming back too. There is way too much noise nowadays to assume that just floating on the airwaves will be enough to build a brand.
The radio speaker for our main channel, as well as a product in itself, is also a great place to build awareness of the wider offer - to sell the mothership - and all the things on it, but on it’s own it would be a slow trajectory.
Marketing is essential to the growth of any new brand, and using only your own platforms will not necessarily help you expand your reach.
When we were thinking about the new Fun Kids channels we talked a lot about concepts that would enhance the experience for current listeners and ideas that would bring new people into the fold.
Classical music isn’t something that Fun Kids does at the moment and launching a channel around it, was always going to attract attention, and a different audience. As we were developing it, we spoke to our friends at Universal Music to talk about repertoire, but also artists. They got in touch with Lang Lang’s team about getting involved, who then really gave a lift to that channel’s creation and launch. Having a piece on Page 5 of The Times yesterday morning was a great way to communicate to new audiences what we’re doing - and looking at the streaming numbers - it had an appreciable affect too. It also gave us the hook to talk more about Fun Kids as a whole and bring the brand to more people.
Like many new media brands, we don’t have a big amount of cash to spend on telly ads and billboards, so it’s essential to keep coming up with ideas that can earn us media coverage.
Our core aim is to ensure that Fun Kids is the number one place for children’s audio in both music and speech. The new channels (alongside the podcasts) helps us make an attractive product that will hopefully keep parents and kids coming back to us again and again.
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