The Power of Working Together

Can the podcast and audio sector find common ground?

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I was sad to hear that Siobhan Kenny is stepping down as Chief Executive of Radiocentre. In the UK, Radiocentre is the commercial radio trade body, working for the sector’s interests, managing relationships with Government (important for a regulated industry) and the BBC, as well as participating and leading cross-industry initiatives.

I can’t imagine it’s an easy job. Your board consists of the leaders of the two main commercial radio groups, Bauer and Global, who are fierce competitors, the boss of Communicorp UK, a representative of the smaller radio groups, as well as an independent chair.

At the macro level there’s definitely things that unite them, but at the micro level trying to get agreement amongst all the commercial radio players, is, I imagine, like a chicken herding contest.

But having buy-in from the majority of the sector also means you can do bold things, like new research they announced last week. Their Beyond the Bubble survey looks at how radio consumption has changed over the Coronavirus period and Re-Evaluating Media for Recovery gives some hard data about advertising effectiveness.

Of course, any of Radiocentre’s members could embark upon these things, but doing the day job can get in the way. Especially in the midst of a pandemic.

The value in working together is something the older parts of the audio sector have been pretty good at. In radio, there’s the industry measurement system RAJAR and there’s also Radioplayer which acts more and more like a Europe-wide (and increasingly worldwide) place to manage and distribute radio’s streams and metadata. Giving a single point of contact and harmonised data feeds for Google and Ford gives broadcast radio a better shot at the future than hoping hundreds of individual broadcasters know who to email at the car companies and digital megacorps.

In the production sector, Audio UK, an evolution of the Radio Independents Group, has negotiated terms with the BBC that’s expanded its members’ output. It’s co-creation of the Audio Content Fund (with Radiocentre) has generated a million quid a year of new business for independent production companies. Its growing scale means it can offer inexpensive training for anyone in the sector.

In the podcasting space, there’s a stirring of activity, but the nature, and youth, of the sector means little has happened so far.

The power of great organisations come from the alignment of its members. Trying to do something that can incorporate kitchen-podcasters, independents, broadcasters and publishers, before you even start with tech platforms and ad networks is pretty tough. Finding common ground and shared objectives can be difficult, particularly when so much of the sector’s objectives are (currently, anyway) pretty divergent.

We’re lucky with the Australian and British Podcast Awards as we’ve got a very specific focus - celebrating excellence and helping podcasting grow - something generally all sector participants can agree on.

Where there has been activity, its tended to be on a smaller scale, where individuals (or organisations’) objectives are more firmly aligned. The UK Audio Network is doing a great job for podcast producers, particularly around pay and even working with BECTU to open a podcasting branch of the union.

Union involvement isn’t something that, outside of public broadcasters, has ever really taken hold for audio. But as well as the UKAN initiative here, in the US, Gimlet, Parcast and the Ringer have become union shops too. All of which are involved with discussions with their collective new owner, Spotify.

There are great opportunities for the podcast sector, or parts of it, to work together collectively - research, contracting, audience metrics, commercial and repping agreements, talent and rights and loads more areas too.

It’ll be interesting to see whether, in this period of rapid growth and multi-million dollar deals, competitive groups can work together to help the whole sector grow faster.

And if they’re lucky, they’ll have people like Siobhan to bang their heads together occasionally too.

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