Beats 1. How does it measure up? The Verdict! What does it mean for radio?


Apple have finally launched Beats 1, the first worldwide radio station. To hear it you need to get the new Apple Music App included in iOS 8.4. Beats 1 is a component of Apple Music, Apple’s first on demand, subscription based music service for which they charge $11.99 a month (after a 3 month trial), however after the free trial Beats 1 can still be accessed free.

Unlike music streamers such as Pandora, Spotify and Rdio, Beats 1 is much closer to what we know as ‘traditional’ radio.

It’s the newest, biggest radio station in the world that promises to “unite the world through music”.

It’s cleverly positioned as ‘Always on’. So does it live up to the hype?

Beats 1 is truly international and they promote that heavily with sweepers promoting that they are broadcasting from LA, NY and London. They also promote that they can be heard in over 100 countries, which is not of any great benefit to the listener, but it’s good for Apple!

There’s no breakfast show, so it works for listeners who just want to wake up to music. Beats does have Zane Lowe (from BBC) and they’ve signed up other ‘talent’ for music shows.

There’s also no news or traffic, which listeners rely on ‘local’ radio for.

Beats 1 has been launched with an impressive array of sponsors like Amex, McDonalds and Beats by Dre, as you would expect.

It will not only compete with music platforms but also traditional radio like national broadcaster triple j and younger demo radio stations like Nova , Hit, 2day etc, given its main appeal will be Under 30’s.

Offerings like Beats 1 make breakfast and drive shows and localism even more important for radio.

Beats 1 is interactive, you can buy the music you hear, so you can ‘shift’ music from ‘radio’ to your own playlist, which is clever and useful.

It’s really the first to market an ‘international station’, which will give it enormous profile and it should succeed simply because of its worldwide scale, critical mass audience and the very significant backing of Apple.

Of course in countries like Australia data cost will remain an issue for listening outside of home/work or Wi-Fi areas.

Here’s what a few key industry experts had to say about the launch of Beats 1!

Dave Cameron Hit / Today Network Content Director said of Beats 1: It’s a brilliant proposition for music lovers and purchasers. It still does nothing to cater for the majority of radio’s audience also craving domestic entertainment and relevance outside of a global playlist. When it starts offering local breakfast and drive shows I’ll be a little more concerned. Right now it’s just another fantastic human-curated music jukebox in the palm of your hand. But frankly, so is radio….just with all the local relevant entertainment included”.

Duncan Campbell, ARN’s Group Content Director said: “I don’t see Beats 1 competing with local radio in any way. A global radio station is a nice idea and will have an audience but it won’t have a local playlist that plays music loved by any specific market and it won’t have personalities that are loved by any specific market either. By being global in many ways it needs to be generic and therefore offers nothing unique enough to compete with local radio. As we know radio is more than just the music these days and the power of the personality cannot be underestimate in driving listening and loyalty to a specific radio brand”.

Greg Smith, a former Austereo Group PD said: “I tend to agree with most of the points made by both Dave Cameron & Duncan Campbell. Beats 1 does however demonstrate how laid back our Top 40 stations have become which I think is a mistake”.

Scott Muller, Director of MBOS said: “I agree with Greg’s point that the launch of Beats 1 further highlights how laid back CHR (contemporary hit radio) has become – a big mistake – and I also agree with much of Dave’s and Duncan’s comments.  A common theme in many comments is that a significant competitive disadvantage of Beats 1 is its global platform – versus radio’s localism and/or domestic content.  That is a fair enough observation to make if, outside of the obligatory ‘local breakfast show’, your station is playing the ‘local’ competitive advantage to its full potential.  Outside of breakfast, very, very few are.  And outside of breakfast is where stations are most vulnerable – particularly in day-parts like evenings.  The vast majority of stations, the ones that are not playing the ‘local’ advantage to its full potential, are likely to see audience erosion over time in those vulnerable day-parts like evenings and weekends – not only to the likes of Beats 1, but also to their existing radio competitors who become increasingly ‘locally focused’ beyond just the breakfast show.”

Dan Bradley, Executive Director of Kaizen Media said: “It’s extremely impressive, and the curation on the format channels sounds great on initial listen. There’s no question it will find a market, and the Spotify, Guvera, Pandora’s etc are unlikely to be happy about the service launching. However from a radio perspective, the core differentiation is local connection, and local content. Content that reflects the local news, entertainment, language, music cycle etc rather than a more homogenous (by necessity) global approach. That’s not to say it won’t be successful, I think it will be, but well crafted, relevant, exciting local radio stations will comfortably co-exist”.

Eriks Celmins, Managing Director of Third Wave Media said:  “As always with Apple the build-up marketing hype has been excellent, and I always love seeing new creative approaches to radio. Whatever the actual execution, and how local stations might be affected, this is exciting, because it’s trying to freshen radio – as well as sell Apple products of course!. New digital media options are not usually a total replacement, but exist in a complementary space to incumbents. It’s up to local players to remember how radio is all about theatre of the mind, painting big mental pictures, and being passionate about your format’s music. This will only be a threat if you ignore these principles, and allow Beats 1 to own them.”

Apple’s Snr Vice President Eddy Cue said: “The truth is internet radio isn’t really radio. It’s just a playlist of songs. We wanted to do something really big: a worldwide radio station broadcasting around the globe”.

Beats 1 is exciting no question, another brilliant move from Apple. There’s probably room for one or two global radio stations. Beats 1 is a great promotional platform for Apple and for global advertiser brands. It will attract a lot of interest and a big following.

There are lessons to be learned from Beats 1 for Programmers of CHR radio here. Local radio stations will compete by remaining local and offering strong entertaining talent based shows. At the end of the day listeners will decide, but Beats 1 now already has a place amongst listeners ever expanding choice of radio and music options.

Brad March is a Director of Radio Today and a former Group Managing Director and Group Program Director of Austereo. He is Director of Marchmedia. 

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