There are lots of cool job titles, but none has more authority than “commissioner.” Maybe that's why all the sports leagues are ruled by their respective commissioners. Then there's Batman's Jim Gordon who carries that job description, heading up law enforcement in Gotham City. But perhaps all are subordinate to Tony Scali (AKA Michael Chiklis) who ruled the TV airwaves in the '90s as “The Commish.”
So, I was especially excited when news started pouring out of Austria from the Radiodays Europe conference. Among the many highlights was a passionate speech by the BBC's Director of Radio and Music, Bob Shennan, covered by Radio Today.
Podcasting was one of the key topics of Shennan's charge to his radio colleagues. Noting how “podcasts are booming,” he explained how the BBC is taking steps to ensure its already robust on-demand programming thrives in the coming years.
In Shennan's words, youth in the UK are moving to other platforms – streams, podcasts, video, and customizable content. According to this BBC executive, “Radio is under attack.” Thus, the need for an honest, candid assessment of an industry facing change – followed by a bit of reboot.
And that will be spearheaded by the appointment of a new position for the BBC – Podcast Commissioner. This person will be charged with content development over and above station brands.
It will not only include access to the BBC's vast archives, but programming dedicated to children. Not Millennials, but adolescents growing up without traditional radios, but who the BBC values as future consumers.
As Shennan told the RadioDays audience, this on-demand activity is “not just desirable for the BBC, it's absolutely essential if we are to reinvent what we do.”
And therein lies the vision in Shennan's speech that went well beyond podcasting, and covered more existential, wide-ranging issues – like the growing digital ecosphere, and the corresponding need for the great medium known as radio to not only survive, but work together to achieve common goals and purposes.
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“The Internet, let's face it, is both a lively enemy, but also a considerable friend for traditional broadcastes like the BBC.”
Rather than treat the digital arena as a competitive, complicated, and unwieldy minefield, Shennan envisions a “hybrid future” for radio, but not one that coldly mines data from consumers. Instead, he sees a medium that provides a rich, honest, and shared experience for audiences in a new media world.
Acknowledging the boom in audio taking place worldwide – via headphones, smart speakers, dashboards, and Bluetooth technology – Shennan admitted the obvious:
“The world is listening; it's just not always listening to radio.”
Finally, Shennan pointed out a truth that those of us in American radio tend to ignore – that as an industry, a medium, and a societal force, radio stands a better chance in an environment that exudes cooperation and the greater good, rather than a cutthroat, competitive, slash and burn mindset that often permeates the industry here in the U.S.
“For many years, in spaces like this, we have gathered as allies and rivals. Public radio versus commercial; commercial versus commercial. But today it’s really time for all of us in radio to come together as one united industry to secure our future. We should go faster and further in identifying our shared goals. We should safeguard radio as a force for good – and defend choice for our audiences by reinventing radio for the next century. The world is listening.”
At a time when U.S. radio is consumed by issues like pirates, repacks, and managed bankruptcies, they're taking a more thoughtful view of their industry across the pond. In under 10 minutes, Shennan stitched together a vision for radio in the UK that would be mostly applicable here in America. These are the words we'd hope to hear at American radio's big gathering next month in Las Vegas.
And this Shennan quote tops it off:
“Great radio is about truth telling.”
And as the Radiodays crowd heard loud and clear, so is great radio leadership.
Shennan's mission statement for the BBC is must listening for every broadcast executive here in the States. And it will make radio's rank and file working away at commercial and public stations in the U.S. wondering why we cannot acknowledge and accomplish the same thing as or European cousins.
In fact, it would make a great podcast.
Thanks to Don Anthony for the heads up.
And we're presenting two days of content at this summer's Podcast Movement conferrene in Philly on July 23-26 – “Broadcasters Meet Podcasters.” Info and registration available here.