Matthew Sansom, Head of Station at Abu Dhabi Classic FM describes the UAE as a unique market for radio. He talks to Vibhuti Arora about his stations strategy to establish radio as a commercially viable medium in the region When did you join Abu Dhabi Radio and what changes have you brought about since […]
Matthew Sansom, Head of Station at Abu Dhabi Classic FM describes the UAE as a unique market for radio. He talks to Vibhuti Arora about his stations strategy to establish radio as a commercially viable medium in the region
When did you join Abu Dhabi Radio and what changes have you brought about since then?
I joined Abu Dhabi Media four years ago. In Dec 2011, I was appointed Head of Programming of Abu Dhabi Classic FM and I took over the job of running the station in June 2012.
I strongly feel that a classical music radio station can become a commercially successful one if you have listeners, which in turn, is ensured if you provide them with the right content. Good content goes hand in hand with presenter talent. When I came on board, I reworked the two main pillars of our station breakfast and drive. They were stocked with recognisable, upbeat classical music that played for not more than five minutes in one go.
The kind of music that we play is very diverse. In addition to classical music, we also play pieces from the movies, musicals, and operettas.
News is another recent addition to the stations programming. We do news on the hour and sports bulletins that run throughout the day.
I initiated the idea of building a studio in Dubai to establish a wider base. In May this year, a live link between the Abu Dhabi and Dubai studios was established via an ISDN line using VoIP codec.
The Dubai studio is a standalone facility used by Abu Dhabi Medias radio channels. Having a studio in Abu Dhabi as well as in Dubai places us in a unique position, which none of our counterparts enjoy. We have daily live shows from Dubai so we dont miss a beat when it comes to featuring the latest cultural happenings around the UAE.
Can you share some statistics with us on ratings, viewership, and the most popular slots on your channel?
Were the number one English language radio station listened to by Westerners in the UAE. Thats according to the IPSOS Radio Waves Survey the official audience measurement in the country.
Weve been growing consistently since launch, and have been the number one in the past three surveys something were very proud of especially when were up against other high-ranked and well-established stations.
Our two most popular shows are Breakfast Classics with Damian Watson and the Classic Drive with Rory Higgins.
The stations share of reach across the UAE population has grown by 34% since 2011, while its closest English language competitor has grown by just 2.8%.
The latest figures show that in the stations core market of western expats, Abu Dhabi Classic FM now has the third highest level of listener penetration, and is the third most listened to radio station in the UAE for this group.
The data also reveals that Abu Dhabi Classic FM is the number one ranked station in its core market for the 45+ age group, and third ranked for 35-44 year olds.
What are the basic differences between making television and making radio?
Making TV is great fun and very rewarding. TV requires a seemingly endless cast of people to make a programme, and a producer or presenter would never, for example, know the person who sold the advert half way through their show. A radio station, on the other hand, is more of a cottage industry with a one big family feel. You have daily interaction with presenters, producers, sales people, clients, those doing your marketing, the engineers who make the whole thing run smoothly, not to mention the most important people the listeners.
Did you have any apprehensions when you joined the station considering that you had never worked in radio before?
I have grown up listening to the radio but I must confess, I did not have a great understanding of what happens behind-the-scenes in the radio industry. It has been a steep learning curve but proportionally a fast one for me. I am happy to be here. I joined the station with a completely new set of eyes, which helped introduce fresh ideas.
What is unique about the UAE market?
The UAE is a very fragmented radio market. The challenge is to address such a diverse strain of demographics here. Whats remarkable about the UAE is how car-based listenership is driving the radio industry. So many people drive to work, listening to the radio for at least 45 minutes to an hour on an average. We have a huge FM listenership, predominantly car-based, which is not so in any other market.
What are the main challenges of working in a regulated market like the UAE?
You play the game within the rules of the game. The station began in 2010 and we got to our current position without any real advertising, purely by word of mouth.
Our target audience is more discerning but we have a loyal following. At the moment, our objective is to increase
this and reach out to more people by adding more varied content within the classic genre.
Classical music is about mood, and it is as much about selecting content as it is about selecting content to play in a certain time slot during the day. You cant play the Opera early in the morning but you can definitely play a piano piece.
Technologically, we have a very strong position too. No other network has transmitters in Al Ain, Jebel Ali and Abu Dhabi, which gives us excellent reception and coverage.
Can you shed some light on the technology deployed at your station?
Abu Dhabi Radio has been digital since 1998. In terms of software, we use Myriad, a computer-based automation system made by PSquared, with applications that serve all the facets of broadcasting scheduling, live and full automation. We mainly use Studer studio kit.
Abu Dhabi Radio Network has undertaken a three-year archiving project. All our archives, which predate the formation of the UAE, are being digitised. All current broadcasting is logged these will be available online in the near future. We run SAN (Storage Area Network) technology over fibre. The storage capacity in Phase 1 is 90 TB. Its a modular system that can be expanded into petabytes.
Do you encounter frequency issues?
We have numerous antennae going deep into the desert to ensure all UAE nationals and residents can hear our programming. Most of these are unmanned stations using Rohde & Schwartz technology. In the event of a problem, they simply switch to an alternative frequency.
Whats the outlook for radio? Will we see more internet radio and visual radio in the coming years?
Radio is undergoing a renaissance at the moment. It wont be wrong to say that the average amount of time spent listening to the radio is going up.
Listenership is most certainly coming back. FM is here to stay. The UK market has been trying to bring in digital radio but it has not completely taken off.
Radio to this day remains financially a very competitive way of reaching a mass audience and targeted markets. One sees a great deal of innovation in radio.
Personally, Im a huge fan of internet radio. We have listeners from places as diverse as Mexico and Australia who pick us up online. In this region and around the world, internet radio is the hottest trend.
In future, I would like to see more of internet radio. With bandwidth issues behind us, consumers will demand internet radio, on their phones, mobile devices and in their cars.
It is a crucial part of the renaissance of radio. Its leading to people listening to more radio as a whole especially through smartphones with aggregators such as TuneIn. At some stage, car manufacturers will provide internet radio receivers in cars.
In my opinion, visual radio adds the experience for some listeners, especially when providing information about the station and programme in question. It has clear commercial advantages too, of course, but at the risk of sounding like a boring old man, I believe that radio is an aural medium and many listeners enjoy the radio whilst engaging in other activities.
I find live web cam broadcasts of radio shows rather dull. Radio lovers feel they have a far closer relationship with the voice coming out of the speaker than TV viewers feel they have with the person on screen. The art of good radio presentation is to create that bond.