The BBC has managed temporarily to silence its longtime critics (including News Corp newspapers) by playing a strong role as the UK’s public service broadcaster during the virus outbreak. But it is only a few months since The Times of London was giving voice to the critics of the BBC’s dominant broadcasting and online network and the archaic “TV licence” which funds it.
You can, therefore, expect some sharp-tongued observations when News Corp launches Times Radio this summer. The new national station may provide a challenge for the BBC’s Radio 4 speech network. But it might also provide a road map for daily newspapers seeking to become truly multi-media brands.
The channel launches as digital broadcast radio, online streaming, and on smart speakers. It has recruited high-profile presenters Aasmah Mir, Luke Jones, Cathy Newman, Jenny Kleeman and John Pienaar, variously from the BBC and Channel 4 TV. The programme director is Stig Abell, former managing editor of The Sun and, latterly, editor-in-chief of the Times Literary Supplement.
Times Radio is described as a partnership between The Times, The Sunday Times and Wireless Group (the Virgin, TalkSport and TalkRadio broadcaster acquired by News UK in 2016). Described by The Times itself as “a direct rival to BBC Radio 4… news, discussion and commentary with a warm, expert tone”.
The station will run without commercial breaks “although advertisers will be able to sponsor sections of the schedule. It is hoped that listeners who enjoy the station will become Times subscribers.” In effect, Times Radio being considered as marketing spend for the the newspaper. So they say.
The real significance of Times Radio may be that:
- It is a fusion of digital news, podcasts and radio. Is this the start of an era when all talk radio will, overtly, be a collection of podcasts, promoted as a radio channel to some listeners and as a series of podcasts to others? With the New York Times and other newspapers pushing forward with audio versions of their journalism, perhaps The Times of London will become a brand that moves seamlessly between print, online text, audio, and broadcast.
- The major daily newspaper is spreading its brand and subcriptions across print, online and broadcast – a bit like Amazon has done with its Prime services.
- It may prompt all kinds of other media brands (from TV, print, and digital reading) to launch online ‘radio’ services as a logical progression from podcasts and audio. Will specialist and B2B media also see some potential in radio?
- It is a step towards launching a true ‘post-print’ multimedia news brand across video, audio and online text. For a quality news brand, radio and audio services might be more sustainable than the newspaper – and also a route to the effective monetisation of digital news.
Rupert Murdoch may remain tactically in the background for the launch of Times Radio, to minimise the flak about his past attacks on the BBC. But rival publishers will be captivated by his strategy which might soon also include ‘online TV’. It has become known that the former CBS news president David Rhodes (ex Bloomberg and Fox News) is now working in the UK for News Corp on an unexplained project. His high-flying track record and advocacy of “Real News” says it’s a big deal. Times TV next?