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Jazz FM in the digital age: Jazz FM CEO discusses his station's online strategy

Commercial radio, like every other media platform, has been hit hard during the current recession, as advertising figures fell through the floor, and while the rise of digital now means that more there are more listeners out there than ever before, there is still a question as to whether radio can still return to the days of high profit. Richard Wheatly, CEO of Jazz FM discusses the successes of his own station's digital strategy in recent years.

If the April 2008 to October 2009 recession wasn’t damaging enough to commercial radio, talk of a double-dip means the industry needs to keep on its toes. Indeed, the last few years saw a number of stations on the Digital One multiplex close as falling advertising revenues, a slower than hoped public uptake of DAB radio sets and high carriage costs forced many to question the commercial viability of the DAB platform. But Jazz FM has been fortunate because in that time. Not only have we grown as a business - in March 2011 we went national on DAB - we also expanded our marketing output.

So how did we buck the trend? We knew we had to future proof our business and this is something you could argue others haven't. Jazz FM may be just a station to the average man on the street, but as the industry knows, it’s far from it. We have developed a jazz music product aimed specifically at a digital audience. This is a jazz music business. It helps that we haven’t approached things as a hybrid, which is what most other DAB and digital broadcasters have done. They’ve had one foot in one camp and one foot in the other camp.

Our strategy from day one was to be on all digital platforms – DAB, satellite and then on mobile platforms like the iPhone and iPad. The result of this is that we have attracted an international audience. The fact that over 50% of our listeners come from outside the UK, is testament to that. We have significant pockets resting in the US and Japan, where lots of listening is done through iPads. The result, of course, is that instead of just basing our business on broadcasting revenue, the route to market we have opened up means we can market other goods and services to this growing audience. It’s our chance to reinforce the core proposition that we have the best jazz station in the world bar none. In addition, we have benefited from tie-ups with some of the biggest labels, namely Universal and EMI, to issue compilations through their back catalogues. An example of this is our hit compilation, Peppermint Candy, which we have marketed through the station.

Then there is live music. In 2010 alone we put on over 200 individual events. Communicating the nature of these events, building new revenue streams and using the station as a revenue driver is how we continue to grow.

* Q3 Rajar figures, released week, show Jazz FM is still the No 1. DAB only commercial station in London.

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