Ralph Bernard and words of wisdom… Not! 

26 November 2007 tbs.pm/26

This one crossed the wires whilst I was at the RMC newsdesk, and once again, it had me shaking my head in pure disbelief at how out of touch with reality outgoing GCap Chief Executive Ralph Bernard really is.

He gave an interview to Marketing Week, and some of the things he has said in that interview just leave me stunned with disbelief.

He says digital radio is facing a crisis. Wrong! There is no crisis in digital radio. Over 5 million sets have been sold, and almost 20% of the country can be counted as living in DAB households. DRM is now being added to the digital radio portfolio and it won’t be long before combined DAB/DRM sets are available.

The Sirius/XM model of satellite radio is coming to Europe, and those broadcasts are digital too. Put simply, digital radio is looking very healthy.

What is truly in crisis right now, is GCap itself. Not all of GCap, though. Classic FM is continuing to be the dominant force in the national commercial radio market, and is the fourth most listened to national radio station, according to the latest RAJARs.

But GCap’s local operations are very definitely in crisis. GCaps’ One network of FM stations is stagnating at best. They tried to sell off 9 stations, including all their interests west of Bristol. No one bought them, and they took them off the market. All their local FMs sound far too samey. A localised “Morning Crew” at breakfast, a midday host and drivetime show, then networked from 7pm. Most others local stations are also guilty of sounding far too samey as well, but there are some exceptions. GCap stations take this to the extreme, with just about everything sounding almost exactly the same, no matter which GCap station you listen to.

Their AM operations, under the brand of “Gold”, are in real crisis. With over 40 stations around the UK, with a TOTAL listenership of under 1.5 million according to the latest RAJARs, Gold is the biggest complete failure in the history of UK broadcasting. The Plymouth operation of Gold is the best example of this. Back in 1999, when it was Plymouth Sound AM, the station had a listenership of 67,000. Not stellar, but fairly stable. The latest RAJARs had Gold Plymouth showing a total listenership to the station of JUST 9,000! A pathetic, paltry 9,000. Around about an 80% DROP! Failing so miserably and completely, that it is no wonder, that Ralph Bernard wants to close analogue radio down, and have only digital radio. But even digital radio isn’t realy a saving grace for GCap.

Digital One, GCap’s national digital radio operation, is looking dangerously fragile. D1 is supposed to air 10 radio stations. Other than the 3 INRs on analogue, the other stations on there are Core, Life, The Jazz, Oneword and Planet Rock. That means there are 2 gaps that need to be filled when the BT mobile TV service ends. And with the added fact that GCap are removing Core and Life from the platform, that will leave 4 massive holes in the Digital One portfolio.

The second national digital radio multiplex is due on air in 2008, and whilst their progress to launch hasn’t been completely smooth sailing, there is every sign that their full portfolio of stations including Sky News Radio will launch on time. This, if it happens as expected, will only serve to further highlight GCap’s total and utter incompetence when it comes to radio. NTL and Telewest used to be the laughing stocks on the media industry. Since becoming Virgin Media though, they seem to have gotten their act together. Right now, GCap in the BIGGEST laughing stock in the history of UK broadcasting, since Lord Haw Haw!

Let us hope, somewhat forlornly, that the NEXT GCap Chief Executive, is a LOT more in touch with the reality of GCap radio than Ralph Bernard.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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Ian Beaumont Contact More by me