Friday, 25 May 2012

Radio and Virtual Media - Biju Mathew

Fourth International Radio Forum, May 16 -17, 2012 – Zibakenar, Iran
16th MAY 9.00 a.m.
Session -  Radio in the Age of Digital Media
Opening Speech of the 4th IRF 2012

Radio and Virtual Media
Biju Mathew, All India Radio, India

Dignitaries on and off the dais; radio professionals from around the world; colleagues and dear brothers and sisters of Iran.  Good morning to you all -   sobh be’kheyr
I am indeed happy to be here at the Fourth International Radio Forum organised by ABU and IRIB.  The topic of discussion in this morning session is Radio in the age of Digital media and I will be sharing some views with you on Radio and Virtual Media.
The traditional radio medium has seen significant changes in recent years with the current global shift toward multimedia content, with both digital and FM making momentous use of new technologies, including mobile communications and the Internet. I would like to focus on the important role these new technologies play—and will play as radio continues to evolve.
The Gutenberg era is over. A new digital communications technology has emerged. An electronic superhighway is beginning to girdle the globe; as voice, video and data- converge, bringing in their wake a new basket of digital, multimedia and interactive communication technologies.
But it is not just the technologies that concern us. It is the social change that accompanies the technologies that must be our prime concern. The new technologies are doing much more. They are changing the way we live-the way we work, relax, manage our money, trade and communicate with each other. The new technologies are changing the way we perceive people, cultures, countries and our expectations of them and also our expectations of ourselves.
With blurring of geographical boundaries, thanks to the distance insensitive Internet, majority of business and individual are becoming part of a high-speed networking fabric which will enable secure digital communication of voice, data, and video to or from anyone, anywhere and anytime.
Till recently, it would have sounded like science fiction;  fortunately, the technology now exists to deliver it. Customers now want to pick and chose from narrowcast and broadcast. In other words, this means the availability of multiple technology choices to fulfil the customer's desire for anytime access to people, information, and entertainment.
But convergence does not necessarily sound the death knell of age-old-technologies. In fact, it leaves enough room for many technologies to co-exist and one will not replace the other outright. This is because no one technology can meet all the requirements of the market-place. Hence, each technology will find its niche and redefine new and old classes of service and user terminals. In this context one can safely assume that there will be a rash of new user terminals that will let us communicate in ways we dream. 'Convergence ' has become a cliche of the information age.
I am coming from a country which is considered as an emerging nation - India.  All India Radio is the national broadcaster with a rich tradition and a vast network of stations covering 97 percent of the country geographically and catering to 99 percent of the country’s population.
FM radio listener ship in India has grown over four times in the last three years. A study conducted by ORG-MARG’s Indian Listener ship Track (ILT) reveals that FM radio listener ship in Mumbai and Delhi reached 34 per cent each from 8 and 19 per cent, respectively, in 2000. Another research by comScore says that India has the world's youngest internet population with 75 per cent of all users under the age of 35 years.
Let us look at the latest trend; that is smart phones. Studies say that Indian smart phone users are way smarter than their Western counterparts. And they are heavier users of social networking sites too.
Fifty-six per cent of Indian smart phone users go online multiple times a day (more than thrice) compared to 53% in the west. In fact, 94% of Indians connect to the Internet at least once a day compared to 88 per cent elsewhere. The survey had a few surprises in store revealing that the usage of smart phone in the age group of 18- 29 is the highest. Further, a third of India's total online population is between 15 to 24 years.
In comparison to India, the world's average of under 35-year users stood at 52 per cent and 55 per cent in Asia Pacific region. This shows that the case with most nations is similar. The reality is that young people today live their lives online and on digital platforms. These platforms represent powerful avenues for us to connect with our audience, inform them, amplifying their voices and empower them.
Thus I must say that a Radio 2 movement is the need of the hour. By this I mean the convergence of radio and virtual media.
Culturally, even beyond the well-educated, mainstream people are technology curious and device savvy. We believe that the Internet, like telephony did, is making the leap from wired internet to mobile, and hundreds of millions of youngsters will go online on their mobile devices.
There lies the catch - as most of them depend on the FM service available on their mobiles for entertainment too. So if we converges our traditional medium with the modern technology we can develop our listener base considerably, thus bringing the medium the most sought after one. Thus I say a RADIO 2 movement is the need of the hour.
 Gadget makers are also coming up with radio integrated ideas. Soon Zune owners will be able to download a new version of the software that will allow users to tag songs heard on the device’s FM tuner for purchase in the Zune store. Such facilities are coming up just because they could smell the possibility of Radio 2. We should also take advantage of this milieu to upgrade and deliver the needed.
Apple has offered a similar feature through HD radios, allowing users to tag songs from bookshelf systems like the Polk Audio I- Sonic Entertainment System 2.  Apple most recently announced the addition of an FM receiver in the fifth generation of the iPod nano. In response to this announcement, Emmis Communications CEO Jeff Smulyan stated, "Apple clearly recognizes that Radio is the number one source for new music acquisition and has made it simpler and easier for today's listeners to access the audio entertainment they value so highly.” The ability to bring a live listening experience together with digitally stored music will have a dramatic impact on listener involvement.  
Another example of is the success of Radioplayer. The BBC worked closely with commercial radio to develop the technology that enables audiences to access content from hundreds of UK radio stations in a single player. And they succeeded in that venture. As a next step  BBC Online, is trying to develop a Radio and Music Product that will improve their prominence on all digital devices. It will bring all BBC Radio together in one place, available on all mobile, tablets, desktop computers, digital radio and digital TV. This can definitely be taken as a model for all broadcasting networks.
The impact of digital technology on radio is becoming clearer. Radio is thriving in the digital world because it offers unique and unmatched content and works hard to take advantage of digital opportunities.  I firmly believe that Radio 2 should make this medium an agent of change.
The radio industry finds itself in a familiar yet uncertain position today — traditional revenues are sustainable enough to continue with decent returns, but to strive forward and win more listeners and revenue, virtual media convergence is essential. The result is that the emerging trends will not be revolutionary as much as evolutionary, and the key will be finding those points where traditional methodologies and digital extensions converge most effectively. 
As you all know, Radio these days is not just in your vehicle or in your room. More than ever before, radio is available everywhere, whether it be on your cell phone or online. So Radio stations are also adapting to the times by renovating their facilities and providing much of their content through different mediums.
As such a Radio 2.0 is the need of the hour. It is heartening to note that such a movement continues to gain momentum around the world with a number of inspiring people, projects & ideas rising to prominence over the last year or so.
Radio programmes should converge with social media networking platforms and provide speedy, trendy and innovative options before their listeners. People in the radio industry always lament of youth moving away from radio. By making our radio trendy and techno savvy, by making it accessible to more young listeners through their handhelds and internet, by converging it with popular SNPs (Social networking platforms), the so called divide can be bridged.
Many radio stations have already established their presence on internet with live streaming and archived podcasts. I feel that all stations should follow suit. Stations should be regular bloggers. Their pages on the social media networks should be packed with posts of latest information about their programmes. The interactive pages on SNPs should serve as an active feedback forum.
For all these, the world’s most popular and useful SNPs can be used. We can integrate with platforms like SeeClikFix, Ushahidi, etc with other similar interactive social media networks.
We all know that in times of crisis radio is the most dependable medium. At such situations crowd mapping sites can be integrated with radio programmes. Ushahidi crowd mapping site has proved to be radio friendly when BBC successfully used it in 2010 during the tube strike and also when ABC used it successfully during the 2011 January Queensland Floods.
Broadcast organisations can take up community services integrated with virtual media as part of their social responsibility. A good example for this is Singapore based Mediacorp’s  ilovebooks initiative. Here, visiting their exclusive ilovebooks site you can download ebooks  and ebook reading apps. Kalyani project of India is also doing wonders in the field of rural health development. In fact we can compare this with seeClickFix initiative.
The question still hovers around. Does radio have a future in today’s society? The answer is yes. Radio has reinvented itself before and it will do it again, it certainly has a future. This time converging with the state of the art technology, catching the attention of young listeners.

Thank you, Khoda hafez

Biju Mathew, All India Radio, India.


  1. Well done, dear Biju Mathew Sir. I have just shared this on my face book.