Five ways to tell if your streamed music service is radio …or why Google’s All Access ISN’T “Radio without rules”!

The news this morning is that Google is launching a music streaming subscription service called Google Play Music All Access to compete with the likes of Spotify and Microsoft’s Xbox Music. Initially to launch in the US, the Android based service will soon be rolled out in the UK and other countries.

It has been reported that Google have described All Access as “Radio without rules”.

Being an inquisitive sort, I visited the Google Official Blog to try to find out why they felt able to make this claim. The only reference to radio I found was within a description of the service: “You can create a radio station from any song or artist you love…” – which suggests that listening to radio is the equivalent of listening to a playlist on iTunes or, in old money, sticking an album on the turntable.

Given that I work in radio and I’m proud of its uniqueness, I feel I have a right to be defensive when other media infer that they possess the same qualities purely because their offering is based around audio. This sort of lazy thinking – particularly common in the tech world – demonstrates a lack of understanding about what radio is and how it works for listeners.

So please allow me to clarify: Google’s All Access – like Pandora, Spotify, or any other streamed music service – is NOT radio, and it never will be.

Now I’m sure this is all just a simple misunderstanding, so to help tech companies developing similar services in the future, here’s my simple five point checklist to see if you qualify to use the term ‘radio’:

1. Is your service a real-time linear stream of content edited by professionals?
2. Do you serve content other than just music (e.g. travel, traffic, weather)?
3. Are the different content elements linked by a human presenter?
4. Do your listeners ever get to hear from other listeners within the content stream?
5. Can the listener access all of this content with a single flick of a switch?

If you answered yes to the majority of these – well, congratulations on being a radio content provider. From a commercial perspective, you also have the added advantage over streamed music services that your audience is more receptive to commercial messages as a natural component of the real-time linear flow.

If you answered ‘no’ to three or more of these, then I’m afraid you’re just a plain old streamed music service – so please don’t pretend to be anything else!

Disclaimer: this check list is based purely on my personal experience and doesn’t pretend to be comprehensive – if there are any other points you’d like to add I’d love to hear them. Similarly, if you think I’m being unfair on streamed services, please let me know why.

  • Paul Keers

    You might find this piece on the Content Marketing Association website raises the same issue – why DO new media cling to old media terminology?

  • Steve Riley

    Aren’t you being unusually literal? We know it’s not *actually* radio, it’s a slogan, the service is clearly different. I don’t know if I’ll be signing up, but if I do I’m entirely sure I’ll still have a radio addiction (the real radio that is). I expect there’s room for both.

  • Grant Goddard

    Instead of repeatedly arguing that online audio is not ‘radio’, the Radio Advertising Bureau should embrace the online medium and the businesses that are pioneering it. In 2013, pretending that the internet is a fad and will eventually go away is not a viable strategy. If consumers/listeners are thinking of Spotify, and Pandora as ‘radio’, then advertisers, agencies and media buyers will have to think of them as ‘radio’ too. Adapt or die. The article’s check list is particularly laughable when a major commercial station such as Heart adds less than 5 minutes per hour of editorial content to the music in some weekday daytime hours. We can all listen to back-to-back music online, so why are some broadcast stations so keen to imitate that online experience? So so sad to see the once mighty RAB reduced to head-in-the sand diatribes like this.

  • Mark Barber

    Hi Grant.
    Thanks for your comments. Here’s my response:
    1. I do not think nor claim that the Internet is a fad. Neither do I suggest that online music services don’t have a role to play in the field of audio entertainment. My point is that streamed music services are not radio and that they are (perhaps unintentionally) misleading consumers, advertisers and agencies by claiming to be so.
    2. I have yet to see the proof that consumers refer to such services as radio – despite attempts by the service providers to claim this territory
    3. Despite your strong opinions about the level of additional content provided by radio stations it clearly has value for consumers. According to RAJAR/Midas only 2.5% of total “radio” listening is non linear broadcast (which includes online streaming services)

  • Axel Lariat

    A tad defensive Mark, but to be fair you do acknowledge it!

    I’m not sure why a streamed music service WOULD want to compare itself to, and call itself ‘radio’. To be honest, it puts me off, rather than attracting me.

    Your list of bullet points highlight precisely why I prefer Spotify to radio eg the annoying presenters, the constant interruptions for news and travel (which are so widely accessible these days that we do not rely on updates from the radio).

    Personally, and I do appreciate it’s a personal thing, if I’m listening to music, I just want the music. If I’m listening to News and Talk (Radio 4) then I just want that. Commercial Radio is a jack of all trades and master of none.

    • Mark Barber

      Thanks for your comments Axel. You are, of course, fully entitled to your personal opinions about Commercial Radio. Thankfully, the audience stats suggest that you are the exception rather than the rule – 33 million people who tune in to commercial radio every week can’t all be wrong! (I can’t give you directly comparable stats for Spotify because they don’t release them – although a recent YouGov study suggested that around 4% of the online population use Spotify every 3 months)

      I think it’s important in this context to understand that radio and on-demand services play a very different role in people’s lives: radio is all about forging a human connection with the outside world and discovery of new music and information (qualitative research regularly reveals that listeners think of radio ‘as a friend in the room’); on-demand services seem to be more about creating a personal space through recovery of favourite tunes. Hence why people in ‘radio listening mode’ appreciate the stuff between the tunes!

      Commercial radio is unashamedly populist but in an era of ever-decreasing circulations that is something that should be celebrated, not denigrated. This blog explains why: