In-depth: Simon Kilby – Commercial Director, Absolute Radio

by Jessica Ramesh

Absolute Radio’s Commercial Director Simon Kilby spoke at the Figaro Digital Marketing Conference on 29 November. Here he describes how the station is finding new ways to reach listeners, discusses the opportunities for brands and looks to the future of digital radio

Figaro Digital: tell us about the work Absolute Radio are doing to create a more connected listening experience

Simon Kilby: There are two areas here. First you need a strategy for getting on to more connected platforms. Then you have to incentivise your consumers to listen through a connected device. We’ve had a strategy in place for four or five years now focusing on apps. We have straightforward listening apps and, as we broadcast Premiere League matches on Saturday afternoon, we also have the Live Scores app. That brings in data from the Premiere League so you can catch up on how your team is doing, and it has a listening option as well. More recently though, we’ve been extending that strategy. It’s about putting yourself in the places where people want to listen, so we’ve just gone live on the Xbox with an app. In a world of convergence, there are just more opportunities for other devices to be a radio.

What do you find is driving the most usage?

The listening and the Live Score apps have had 3.5 million downloads, though of course a lot of people download apps and then don’t actually use them. Three hundred and fifty thousand of our users are regularly using those apps to listen each month, so that’s what’s driving the real usage. The idea is to try things, get on new platforms and see how those apps work, which is why Xbox is something really interesting for us.

Tell us more about the sorts of incentives and content you offer to connected users – are you trying to create something richer than the traditional listening experience?

Yes. This is the second thing that’s very important for us. You need to give people incentives and reasons to listen. We launched the Absolute Radio account in June last year. With that you go to our website and you leave some fairly basic data: your name, address, your exact age. Then, if you listen on a connected device while you’re logged in, you get benefits including higher quality audio, more music and less advertising, and the advertising you do hear is more relevant. 

We’re the first radio station in the country to launch this service, which is called InStream. Effectively, we use the data people have given us to create more targeted, relevant advertising. In commercial radio, standard airtime is three breaks an hour of three minutes each. If you listen to a connected device and you’re logged in to your Absolute Radio account you’ll hear only two adverts per break. That means there’s two minutes extra where you’ll hear an extra song or we can serve you some branded content specific to you and your demographic. That’s the second part of the strategy and we think it benefits consumers because they’re hearing less adverting but it’s more relevant to them, and they hear more music through a higher quality stream.

Talk us through the benefits for advertisers.

For brands there’s enhanced airtime advertising which is targeted. That’s something I believe radio needs increasingly to move towards. We’re also moving into an area now where we can work much more closely with brands in terms of co-creating content. As an example, when the Rolling Stones announced their O2 gigs recently, Mick Jagger came in and did an interview with one of our DJs. We could then serve those clips to our logged-in listeners. That content was obviously given to us by the Stones’ label, and it was an opportunity, as a brand, to create something that was really valuable to our listeners and it also drove the product they were trying to sell. 

Tell us a bit more about how you go about collecting that personal data from users.

Initially we ask people to provide a fairly limited amount of data: name, address and exact age. Moving on from there it’s a question of what people are prepared to provide in order to get an enhanced service. The other thing we’re playing with at the moment is trying to push people to listen while they’re actually logged in. That’s about encouraging people to register. We’ve been trialling putting a kind of wall round certain bits of content, so people have to be logged in while listening, though that’s not something we’ve actually done yet. Then there are other things like giving people registration pages, encouraging them to log in and reminding them of the benefits. It’s a process where we’re learning as go along.

How do you see the future of radio over the next three to five years? Do services like Spotify represent competition?

Regarding Spotify – we don’t really see that as competition. What we feel we’re doing in terms of commercial radio is pretty pioneering, though we are looking at the Spotify model to see what we can learn.

What’s interesting is if you look at Spotify and Pandora in the States, the stats for the second quarter of 2012 are something like 75 per cent of total listening hours taking place on mobiles and other connected devices. It’s clear that mobile is going to become more and more important and there are other things that will drive that: 4G; the relaxation of data plans and people being able to use more data; wi-fi on the tube. All these things open up huge possibilities for radio stations to be consumed on a mobile platform. That for me is the huge change we’re looking at over the next few years: the increasing importance of mobile.

Interview by Jon Fortgang