Single website for all UK radio stations by early next year

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The Independent Online

A single website which offers users the choice of the entire output of the British radio industry with potentially up to 500 different networks could be available to internet users within months.

Leading figures from the BBC and the commercial sector are in negotiation to develop a prototype system will be ready for testing before Christmas with the site being available to the public in the first half of next year. It is anticipated that a site that will build on the popularity of the BBC’s Radioplayer service, which currently offers users the 10 BBC UK-wide networks, plus the World Service and 46 regional stations.

Andrew Harrison, chief executive of the RadioCentre, which represents the commercial sector of the industry, said: “I think it’s going to be quite a breakthrough project. The (commercial) sector wants it to happen and we are working in a cross-industry team. I’d hope we would have something ready to test shortly, before Christmas.”

There is a sense of urgency to the project because of the pace of technological change. The senior most figure in British radio has told The Independent that British radio “faces a real threat” of being “left behind” in a future media world where consumers obtain their music from free and legal websites.

Tim Davie, director of audio and music at the BBC, warned that the rapid advances of broadband-enabled mobile phones meant that the radio industry had a small window of opportunity in which to position itself as one of the key functions of such devices. “I think that is essential to the future of radio,” he said. “Radio is just too important to get left behind.”

Davie said that with the growing popularity of legal music downloading sites, such as Spotify and We 7, the radio industry needed to act collectively to ensure that all stations could be accessed from a single website. “I would argue that currently we are somewhat underpowered in terms of a radio offer online, and that’s where radio faces a real threat…as people can go to other services and get their music globally.”

He sits on the newly-formed industry body the Radio Council, which includes the chief executives of Britain’s three largest commercial radio organisations, Global, Bauer and GMG, as well as the RadioCentre, which also represents the smaller privately-run networks.

The plans to build a single radio website will need approval from the BBC Trust, the corporation’s governing body, and the RadioCentre board. The BBC Trust last week ruled against opening up the BBC’s online television site iPlayer to public service commercial broadcasters ITV, Channel 4 and Five, claiming that such a project was too “complicated” and would not deliver value to licence fee payers.

But Harrison said he believed the radio project would be successful because it was genuinely an industry-wide service. He said the radio industry needed to ensure that its proposition was simple to use and easy for manufacturers of mobile technology to offer. “If you are going to get radio on all these devices you have got to have an application or an interface or an electronic programme guide that is easy for manufacturers to embed and which has all of the radio offer,” he said. “When someone goes online you need to have a portal where all that the UK has to offer is seamlessly available. We need to design the interface to make it a really good user experience.”

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