SPEECH published on 01 Apr 2019

Noel Curran: Radio Days Europe Speech

Noel Curran address to Radio Days Europe 2019

Intro: Overall Trust Figures

I’m here this morning to talk about trust and our relationship with our audience. We’ve all heard the same narrative so many times – trust in media has collapsed. We’ve lost the public. We are irrelevant.

And yet you may be surprised to hear that I’m not here to talk about how trust in some of our media, particularly radio, needs to be won back but instead how it needs to be maintained.

The EBU’s Media Intelligence Service has done extensive research on Trust in Media and I want to show you today the very latest figures that we will publish later this month.

What they clearly show is that trust is continuing to fall – in the internet and social media.

But trust in radio isn’t falling. In fact, radio’s still by far the most trusted medium in Europe. 85% of Europeans trust it 

Of all five media we looked at – that’s radio, TV, newspapers, internet, and social media – radio has the highest trust index 

And for radio, that level of trust has been pretty much exactly the same over the last five years. TV’s score has also barely changed. While the internet and social media started low and have sunk deeper each year 

Regional variations – and the importance of independence

When you see a map of where radio’s trusted, you see that trust is pretty high throughout the continent, apart from regions where there is evident political interference 

You could say that trust in radio is the default.

I think it’s particularly telling that one of the countries where trust in radio has increased most in recent years is the UK. With Brexit making the country more politically divided than it’s been in generations, people are still turning to radio as their most trusted source of information and debate.

How to support radio?

So, what can we do to support this medium where trust is the default? How do we maintain what is a deep-rooted connection with our audience?

With technology changing so rapidly, how can we keep the original electronic medium fresh and engaging?

Well, I’m really proud of all the work the EBU and its Members are doing to make that happen. Our Members are all public-service broadcasters. But we’re collaborating closely with commercial companies– because in the longer term our interests are the same. When people trust radio and when audiences truly engage with it, it’s good for all of us.

So let me just tell you about a couple of things we’re working on at the moment to help keep that connection with our audience – things I’m sure you’ll hear about in more depth from other speakers.

Joint lobbying for digital radio in cars

You might have seen the Audi outside. It has a brand-new Hybrid radio. It’s very visual, incredibly easy to find your station, and, no matter where in the world you drive, it’ll automatically select the best way to listen to that station – broadcast where it is available, and internet streaming where it is not. It can also blend a rich source of information from the internet, like the station’s branding, or artwork for the song you’re listening to.

Thanks to lobbying by the EBU and its partners, a lot more people will have the chance to listen to radios like that. From the end of next year, every new car in the EU will be equipped with a digital radio – by law. They won’t all be top-of-the-range Hybrid radios, but it will keep radio in cars. Right now, a majority of drivers (eg 71% in UK) listen while they’re on the road, and it’s really important to keep the connection with those listeners.

That lobbying has made a big contribution to protecting radio and I’m very grateful to the European Digital Radio Alliance – which we formed here at Radiodays in 2016 – for their support.

The car outside, the car of the future, is also important for us because it uses RadioDNS, which we at the EBU are big supporters of.

RadioDNS is a RAPIDLY DEVELOPING innovation because it promotes hybrid radio based on open standards, so any device is free to use it. Having been more widely adopted in the US in the past year – it’s now spreading around the world.

At the EBU we’ve also been looking at how radio is delivered through smart speakers. There still aren’t nearly as many smart speakers as there are radio sets, but their popularity is growing fast. They’re evolving very quickly, and people are doing some really innovative things with them – like interactive dramas, and children’s programmes.

But smart speakers are also used for a lot of live radio listening, which is better done through existing broadcast networks. So, at the EBU, we collaborated on a project with the National Association of Broadcasters, our US equivalent, to create a prototype of a device where you can ask for any radio station. It uses RadioDNS to find the best way to connect you - which could be over the internet but could also be over FM or Digital Radio.

All these innovations, and the countless other ones you are all working on, are crucial for the future of radio.

We maintain our trust levels if we continue to invest in our programming and our journalism but also if we maintain our connection with our audience by being available to them where and when and how they need us.

That means innovating - but also choosing the right partners. And that is a really critical debate at the moment that I’m sure you will be having.

The BBC’s decision last Friday to remove their podcasts from Google may seem like a straightforward call to support BBC Sound, but it also mirrors a much bigger debate that I find myself discussing more and more with the media companies I visit around Europe. How should media organisations engage with social platforms and the giant new entrants to the media market?

It’s a debate that permeates all media, not just radio and there is no single view emerging yet. In France, like in other countries, the national public service media company France Televisions are taking a very cautious approach to any partnering with Youtube or even with Netflix. And yet recent surveys the EBU has done with our Members show half of those surveyed have already signed co-production or distribution deals with the US giant.

With Global monthly podcast listener figures forecast to grow to 1.8 billion by 2023, and with Spotify’s purchases of Parcast and Gimlet, the partnership approach we take to this exploding market will need to be strategic and far-sighted. There is no single view emerging in radio either but it is a critical question that we must all face in the months and years ahead.

Conclusion – what can we do about declining trust in media?

And yet despite all this disruption I feel very positive about the future of radio and it’s connection with its audience.

We have had to navigate such complex waters many times before.

We have had seen innovative technological developments and used them to our advantage.

And most importantly, radio has faced the biggest crisis in audience trust in media history and is still coming out on top.

That’s an extraordinarily hard won privilege and one that we all need to work hard to maintain.

Thank you.