Brand Extensions in a WiFi & Wi-Max future

By Art Grainger
Posted 17 December 2014, 4.42pm est

With more and more buses trains in Scotland (and other parts of the UK) providing WiFi, plus the prospect of BT buying EE and further extending their WiFi network into just about every public space you can think of, I thought I would reflect on something that I posted in the old place.

Having access to WiFi on my daily commute now means that I need only use 3G when I’m outdoors or in the office (with the latter probably changing once Glasgow City Council provides Wi-Max across the city centre), which also means that my Spotify is even more stable (it struggled to buffer songs if I was out of range of 3G for a long period), plus the fact that I can now stream radio and video much more reliably.

So here’s the situation. I have WiFi access for most for most of my day. I have a smartphone, I have PC’s, laptops, tablets, wi-fi radios and I also have Android-for-TV dongles that give me full internet access via my TV’s in almost every room in the house. I have never been so connected.

While we now have big radio companies in the UK streamlining their brands, with a greater possibility that some of those commercial brands are going to offer a distinctive style of music or music that is better aimed at particular demographics within their brands using sub-brands, I still can’t help but notice that the overlap between many of them is quite broad as far as music goes, which still means that more discerning listeners get left out. James Cridland has written about “brand extensions” in the past. However, if you compare what’s going on in the UK to what his happening in Germany, the Netherlands and even in Ireland, then the UK’s efforts of extending brands and offering more unique content for the listener have been a bit weak.

Granted, we are now getting the likes of Heart Extra and Smooth Extra owned by Global and the various 1, 2 and 3 Place/City brands owned by Bauer for their stations in the North of England, which are catching up with stations in Scotland that have been doing that for the past 25 years. However, between them we still have more of the same but with a slightly different slant to appeal to certain age groups. The only exceptions, so far, appear to be Absolute providing a bouquet of decades stations, Free Radio playing 80’s, Capital Extra playing urban music, and Kiss providing Kisstory and Kiss Fresh as fairly distinctive brand extensions.

If we look to our neighbouring countries, things are a wee bit different.

Take for example Radio 6 in the Netherlands. Their main service is a soul and jazz station, with presenters, news, views, entertainment and so on. If you look deeper into their app or website, you will find that they also offer more eclectic non-stop automated music streaming services which drop in news bulletins at the top of the hour, play the occasional advert and are not heavy on ID’s. The secondary services that compliment the soul and jazz played on their main service include a blues channel, a “jazz long” channel, a grooves channel (contemporary soul), a world music channel, an old-school soul channel and an easy listening channel.

Meanwhile the oldies services "Gold" Radio 10 (Gold) also offers specific 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 80’s and disco classics channels.

Radio 538 also offers dance, party, Top 40, contemporary hits, Ibiza, and comedy channels, as well as a channel called NL which plays nothing else but Dutch Europop and Eurodance.

Other dutch stations also offer complimentary secondary services for their more discerning listeners.

Meanwhile, Germany’s Sunshine Live offers just about every make, colour and breed of dance and electronica I could possibly want with their bouquet of secondary channels.

Ireland’s Radio Nova has secondary streaming channels playing rock of the various decades and a Rock Chill channel playing rock ballads.

Is the UK getting a bit left behind?

So, since it’s being done abroad, I have suggestions of complimentary secondary services that stations could put out as part of their apps and websites, for the growing number of mobile and internet listeners. These would be automated services, dropping in news (perhaps), playing a small number of adverts and idents and maybe providing the occasional VT’ed program if there was new music to be promoted or perhaps an interview or specialist program. The main services on FM and DAB could promote the secondary services and even have the occasional 2 or 3 hour show at off-peak times in their own schedule (as they seem to do just now) to give a flavour of what is available 24/7 on the secondary service.

At the moment Kiss has Kiss Fresh and Kisstory but it could also have a rap/hip-hop channel, a dedicated RnB channel, a dance/trance/electronica/house channel, an EDM channel, a nu-soul (Hed Kandi) channel, a reggae channel, a dubstep channel, a drum’n‘bass channel, a funky house channel and so on.

Heart could have other secondary channels, such as an 80’s channel, a 90’s channel, a 00’s channel, a love songs channel, a party classics channel.

Capital could have a dance channel, a d’n‘b channel, a house channel.

Smooth could bring back the popular 70’s channel, have a smooth 80’s channel, a 90’s channel, an easy listening channel, a soul channel and so on.

Absolute would probably keep their decades channels as online only services, though Classic Rock could probably close to allow for Planet Rock to be further pushed as a brand.

Planet Rock could offer various types of rock.

X-FM could offer an indie disco channel, an indie-electro channel, an American modern rock channel, a Hip-Hop channel, an old-school indie and modern rock channel, a (hard) rock channel, a comedy channel and so on.

Magic could also provide a mellow magic channel and soul channel.

Jazz FM could provide as many of its niche services as it wanted.

I can also imagine the Baeur Place stations also provide secondary services, such as Uncut, Old School Dance, In Demand, decades channels and so on.

We know secondary services do work in the UK, it certainly helped Absolute Radio boost their brand and RAJARs, even though some of their services are not available to the whole of the UK on DAB and are confined to satellite, cable and the internet. Even Free Radio are having some success with their 80’s channel (on medium wave as well).


5 years, 5 months ago

This is an interesting post, Art. Yes, all these stations could do additional brand extensions; but the music rights costs in the UK make it prohibitively expensive to do online-only. That's, I suspect, why we're seeing Absolute Radio 60s stick on digital radio in Inverness - to essentially make it an online-only service with one DAB output, thus keeping the broadcasters' music licences.

To add to your list - NRJ in France has hundreds of web channels. Kronehit also has additional channels in Austria, and their own music service too; as does Karnaval, the large Turkish broadcaster.

5 years, 5 months ago

Aye - but we do still have empty multiplexes that the big broadcasting groups actually own. There is also the possibility of D2 and even DAB+ services on existing and new MUX's to be the home of other secondary services.

As for Inverness becoming the home of some secondary services, even if it is to reduce the costs of online PRS/PPL/MCPS licences, in a way, having it on that particular MUX is philanthropic as well as sound business sense. One of a few places inthe UK where DAB coverage will be much better than 4G/3G or even superfast broadband is the Inverness area. Away from large settlements and trunk roads, by the time you get into the hills and into remote places, mobile phone coverage is almost non-existent (patchy at best) and broadband (if it exists) is as good as it will ever get. Superfast broadband is something that those communities and settlements will hear about on the news but they will never have, whilst DAB and maybe FM (much less so MW) will be the home of much more reliable radio listening, especially in the car.

5 years, 5 months ago

Pedant time - Wimax has little future in Europe - 4G (LTE) is the current technology of choice for operators due to its technical superiority and ecosystem/uptake. In fact in several places around the world they are swapping out their Wimax infrastructure for 4G LTE. Wimax will probably remain for a while in a few niche applications and countries where the regulator does not permit 4G.

Question - I'd have thought trying to listen to radio via WiFi when mobile would be terrible experience as it would be constantly changing between hotspots? Or have you found a way to increase the buffer so there are no interruptions? Personally I find 3G far more reliable and consistent than WiFi, even at home compared to BT Infinity over WiFi.

5 years, 5 months ago

Wifi on trains and buses is fine, yo're connected to the same hub for the length of your journey, so there is the advantage for that. Likewise, if you frequent restaurants, coffee shops, libraries, museums, colleges and shopping malls, not to mention specific stores that provide wi-fi for the sheer hell of it, especially supermarkets, then it is quite possible to spend quite a bit of your day enjoying the experience without being worried about using up precious bandwidth allowance over 3G. Also, across Scotland just now, most of the larger stations have wi-fi with medium and smaller ones to come later in the year. Glasgow Central is capable of providing stable wi-fi up to streaming video levels for 600 commuters at any single time.

As for buffering, I find myself having to do that if I'm on a train with no wi-fi and I have to travel through not-spots. I get around this by buffering the radio station I listen to by 2 minutes over TuneIn. As for changing between hotspots, I've never experienced this because I usually have to go 3G between them, even for a short while, so by buffering Radio 5 for 2 minutes, I find that I can catch up, albeit I might lose a few moments of the program due to the change-over - but it's still a lot better than silence for a few seconds.

As for wi-fi at home - I've not had considerable problems.

5 years, 5 months ago

I've done a little research in this. The real issue is for the walking (and occasionally driving) consumer: like so...

If I walk down my home town's high street, I'll go past Harris + Hoole which has a WiFi hotspot there, which my phone connects to. All internet access then ceases, while the phone waits for me to log in to the WiFi. Its just one button to press, but until I press it, no WiFi. Just up the street is a McDonald's which offers WiFi with O2, which sometimes connects instantly and sometimes gives me a captive login to display me an advert. There's BT Openzone all over the place, which I have an app to connect me to, except that takes around fifteen seconds to connect and log in. And then there is The Cloud, which does similar all over again. I have WiFi everywhere: but I also have WiFi that effectively makes my phone a useless brick until I log in or accept the terms.

If you sit in the window of the Pret a Manger at the top of Great Portland Street, which uses The Cloud, you'll happily log in only to discover one minute later that you are still connected to The Cloud, but that it wants you to log in again: this time with branding from Pizza Express over the road. That is also a Cloud customer, and uses the same SSID, and your computer connects to the strongest signal with the same SSID automatically (much like FM's RDS AF function). Log in to the Pizza Express signal, and you'll get a burst of data, then a taxi will drive past (attenuating the WiFi signal), and your computer silently flicks back to the Pret service. But you logged on to another Cloud hotspot, so you've been logged off. Repeat.

This can also significantly mess up your experience while driving as well, if you do so at relatively slow speeds in shopping areas.

Oh, and if you like BBC radio, then while you can stream it in Pret, you can't stream it in Caffé Nero, another Cloud customer, because Caffé Nero blocks all iPlayer assets, presumably to avoid you sitting at a table for longer than required.

Its why my phone has very few WiFi networks marked as "auto-connect".

(As an addendum: the new version of Android, 5.0 ("Lollipop"), is supposed to have some clever network software that recognises captive portals like I've described above, and continues to route your data through the cellular network until you have logged in. I've not tested this properly yet.)

5 years, 5 months ago

This is a huge issue, which I come across quite a lot as I use Radioplayer in the car nearly all the time. The main culprit is if you're stuck in traffic outside, or in the vicinity of, a place whose WiFi network is "remembered" by your phone. Agree with you about the switching of The Cloud WiFi networks too, which drives me mad.

What we really also need is an Internet Radio which basically has RadioPlayer as its' main interface. I can't imagine it would be that hard to do - get a radio-sized box with decent speakers on it that runs Android, and RadioPlayer sits atop of that, with TuneIn or similar as an option if you wanted to listen to International or non-RadioPlayer stations.

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