Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” — Henry Ford
If there was a formula for success then failure would only occur by choice. In this project I set out to discover if a collaboration of radio and its listeners will annotate an archive of media. Along the way I have made some discoveries, some I wasn’t even looking for.
Will radio join forces with its audience and work with its listeners? Not on the evidence I have collected. Here are some of the issues that prevent that happening.
- Archive isn’t so important that is warrants new ways of collaborating
- Annotating archive takes time and time is tight
- Audience are oblivious to possibilities of navigable audio
- Qued.tv is not mobile ready or easy to use.
- Radio is not willing to invest extra time in metadata on audio for no return
Working with audience
As part of my research I set up a Facebook group to gather people together with an interest in audio archive. It is easy to set up a Facebook group and easy to get people to join it. What is far less easy is to lead these people to work as a collective for a common good. While I was able to assemble a group of people interested in radio archives quickly with a small post about archiving cassettes from and old shoe box.
It was impossible to get any of the group members to volunteer to annotate some audio. Group members were invited to take part in some training to be able to chapter audio using the Qued.tv tool but there were no takers.
“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” ― Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
In the beginning of my research a big city radio station were on board to take part in the experiments but later pulled out citing legal difficulties. There was little resistance to signing up 4 smaller stations to take part in the research and work began with 4 programmes from the 4 stations.
The number of listens per episode the smaller stations had was between 10 and 90 during the first 7 days after upload. The process of annotating the audio across multiple devices added more listens than the chapter would attract on test. This inbuilt distortion needed to be reflected in the listener growth numbers. When an episode has 15 listens and 5 more come form annotating it then it is a significant distortion.
To answer the question ‘does chapter of podcasts increase listening?’ the answer would have to be no. No evidence was seen that would indicate that media that is chaptered is more likely to engage listeners. But like most research this research would suggest that further research needs to be done where there is a significantly sized audience and some split testing is done between different audio players with and without chapter points.
The most interesting findings were that advertising of media had little or no impact on media listens. Targeted advertising led to a listener acquisition cost of €1 to €2.50. The content being advertised had already received up to 90 listens, had taken a couple of hours to produce but advertising across Twitter and Facebook brought in new listens at a cost that would be unsustainable for any media producer.
Media is easy to make and propagate. The 4 radio stations that were involved in the research would not have existed 20 years ago in their current form. They exist because it is easy to create and share content online. This means it is easy for competitors also.
20 years ago 3 of the 4 stations key personnel ran pirate radio or community radio stations on the airwaves of Dublin. The 4th station is too young to have existed. These radio stations of the 90s were on the FM band where the physical maximum accommodates 60 radio stations. Typically is a large city the FM band is at maximum with 40 stations as adjacent cities have spill over of signal.
Each radio station would have a defined genre and would have little or no competition within genre for audience among the competing 40 stations. In some cases there might be 2 or 3 stations overlapping in genre or demographic that would see stations compete. But competition was rare and audience had little difficulty accessing the station on any available radio.
Today these online stations have competition from everywhere. Other online stations worldwide. Competition from other podcasts. From social media. While there are still only 168 hours in a week and we sleep one third of that time, time is limited. TV time and radio time is online time now. Ease of access is a gift on the supply side of radio but a burden on the demand side. Everyone has too much choice, and small providers are troubled by getting no traction in ever decreasing markets.
While the research was focused on chapter points in media it throws up answers that are fundamental to the future of media. Advertising won’t help. And media can not be sustained on micro audiences.
Media needs to expand its horizons geographically while narrowing its genre to a niche it can cover well.
Here perhaps lies the solution for Qued.tv. If chaptering is more suited to education (chaptering of video lessons) or utility radio (chaptering of recorded emergency broadcasts for playback in court or training), finding a niche that is suited to the tool where traction is possible. Perhaps there is a particular series of video or audio that needs to chaptered more that broadcast radio or podcasts need to be chaptered.
Opening the source of the code and allowing both import and export or SRT files can liberate the dependence on using Qued.tv domain as the platform.
To build a collaboration between parties (Radio & Listeners) there needs to be a willingness to share the load and a common purpose. It is difficult to lead without much common ground, but large volunteering numbers within community radio and modest volunteering numbers in commercial radio show that building archives with listener involvement is not beyond the relationship between radio and listener.
Three things that may have turned the research along its path. The loss of a big station to sample with on the radio station side. And also on the radio side, the lack of national / regional radio stations filling in the survey. Lastly the unwillingness of self identified audience with archiving interest to step forward and get involved in annotating the archive.
Finally while the research failed to confirm a need for a link between radio and audience in archiving I still believe that radio needs to enhance its relationship with its audience. The current relationship is listeners get entertained and endure advertising. With quality entertainment available in many locations, and just a click away, radio with its transmitter mentality must use the megaphone that a transmitter is to finally build a partnership with audience that will outlive the transmitter.