Friday, 22 February 2008

Mobile's the future

I spent four days in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress last week (11-14 February). It was an eye-opener for me on my first major foray into the world of mobile telephony.

My impressions: lots of people making lots of money from the mobile industry; a confidence that they're getting it right; a move towards content being made available on mobile devices, with devices equipped with DVB-H rolling out.

So where does the media fit in all this? It's up to content owners to start courting the mobile operators and handset manufacturers to ensure that their material is available to handset users in markets all over the world. And then it's a question of mobile operators pricing access to the content at sensible, affordable prices to avoid "bill shock".

Reactions to shortwave closures

There's been a fair bit of reaction to the stories published in the NYT, IHT and Guardian newspapers (and of course their online versions) about the cessation of the BBC World Service's shortwave broadcasts to Europe.

I was quoted in all three papers as saying that no-one listens to shortwave in the developed world anymore and of course that's set off alarm bells left, right and centre among those who do! Perhaps I should have been a little less forthright and suggested that "most people in the developed world no longer listen to shortwave".

I know that there are people who still listen on shortwave - I fire up a set every now and again to see what's on - but I'm afraid that they are most definitely in the minority. If you ask 50 people walking on a street in central London, Budapest, Paris, Warsaw, Berlin, Toronto, Rome, New York or Los Angeles if they listen to shortwave radio, you'll be extraordinarily lucky to find one who answers yes.

So what does this mean? Broadcasters who target international audiences have to look at the way in which people consume media in their homes and on the move and make sure that the way in which they reach those audiences actually makes sense. It's absolutely no good spending tens of thousands of dollars in using a transmission system that only a handful of people use to access content. It's much more sensible to spend the money on delivering programmes on the same platforms that people use to listen to local content - which is what, inevitably, they will consume most of. So if it's FM, then you need to find local FM partners or apply for an FM licence. If it's medium wave (AM) then find medium wave outlets that reach your target. If it's listening to radio via television, get on that platform. It's simple common sense.

It's a shame that a delivery method that has given access to content is coming to the end of its life, but the very fact that I'm writing this blog and you're reading it means that times have changed. People are using the web to access content - look at YouTube as just one example - and they have FM radios in the mobile phones.

If international radio broadcasting is to survive, it needs to make sure it's reaching people. End of story.