The Evo­lu­tion of Le­banon’s For­eign-speak­ing FM Ra­dio in the Dig­i­tal Era

Many peo­ple feared that the ad­vent of stream­ing ser­vices and mu­sic cu­ra­tion plat­forms would make it hard for ra­dio to sur­vive in the dig­i­tal era. Mean­while, in­dus­try ex­perts are con­fi­dent that tra­di­tional FM ra­dio can ride the on­line wave by adapt­ing its

ArabAd - - COVER STORY - By Christina Fakhry


To put things into per­spec­tive, we first asked the rep­re­sen­ta­tives from each sta­tion to tell us more about their re­spec­tive au­di­ences and whether their au­di­ence met­rics have changed amid the rise of dig­i­tal mu­sic ser­vices.

Blast­ing good mu­sic since 1989, Light FM built a loyal cir­cle of fans over the years. “Our sta­tion at­tracts a wide lis­tener base, with an age bracket be­tween 25 and 55…and given that there has al­ways been a per­sonal al­ter­na­tive to lis­ten­ing to the ra­dio (cas­sette, CD, ipod…), we haven’t felt a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on our lis­ten­er­ship with the rise of on­line/stream­ing ser­vices,” Light FM Man­ag­ing Part­ner Karim Man­sour noted.

Launched in 2013, Vir­gin Ra­dio was ini­tially geared pri­mar­ily to­wards youth but has grown to at­tract older age co­horts, with its core target be­ing 18 to 28-year-olds. “It is dif­fi­cult to rely on sur­veys in Le­banon given that they are usu­ally small scale and would gen­er­ally be more rep­re­sen­ta­tive in coun­tries with one main lan­guage as op­posed to a trilin­gual coun­try

like ours,” Gen­eral Man­ager Najy Cher­abieh ob­served. “So we base our num­ber es­ti­mates on how many peo­ple we reach from our core pro­file with a con­cen­tra­tion in Beirut and Mount Le­banon, and this num­ber cur­rently ranges be­tween 350,000 and 400,000 English-speak­ing lis­ten­ers.”

For the last 10 years or so, ra­dio has been lis­tened to in the car af­ter be­ing a home com­pan­ion at home in the age of stereo [which no longer re­ally ex­ists]. By 2020, 75% of new cars are ex­pected to be “con­nected” to dig­i­tal ser­vices, break­ing ra­dio’s mo­nop­oly on the car dash­board and rel­e­gat­ing AM/FM to just one of a se­ries of au­dio op­tions be­hind the wheel. “Dig­i­tal mu­sic ser­vices have ac­tu­ally re­placed what used to be the cas­sette/cd back in the day [i.e.] to­day’s USB and Blue­tooth as op­posed to ra­dio,” he elu­ci­dated.

“We have two kinds of psy­cholo­gies: peo­ple who want to choose their mu­sic --which my gen­er­a­tion used to do via cas­sette/ CD-- and peo­ple who do not want to know what song is next but are rather seek­ing to be en­ter­tained on a lo­cal level/want to hear lo­cal anec­dotes that re­late to them, and this is the FM lis­tener that has not changed and will not change in the fu­ture, as long FM is still free and tech­nol­ogy hasn’t sig­nif­i­cantly evolved.”

Speak­ing on be­half on NRJ [broad­cast­ing hit mu­sic only since 1979] and Nostal­gie [home to the best of the 60s, 70s and 80s since 1988], COO of Mu­sic or Me­dia Hold­ing Claude Kawas laid out the dif­fer­ences be­tween the two. NRJ Le­banon chiefly tar­gets a young au­di­ence in the 15-24 age range, that is both trendy and up-to-date in mu­sic. “Our au­di­ence is ris­ing year af­ter year de­spite the rise of on­line stream­ing ser­vices,” he ex­plained. “Nostal­gie is in the 35+ age range, the au­di­ence is also in­creas­ing be­cause we are play­ing less 60s/70s songs and fo­cus­ing more on the 80s era.”


While the target au­di­ence may vary from one sta­tion to the other, all of them rely pre­dom­i­nantly on ad­ver­tis­ing to gen­er­ate rev­enue. Ac­tu­ally, AM/FM ra­dio had been able to wait out the dig­i­tal dis­rup­tion that has al­ready af­fected ev­ery other form of me­dia. Now ra­dio is the lat­est in­dus­try fac­ing mas­sive dis­rup­tion from the dig­i­tal age. To sur­vive, ra­dio must in­no­vate, learn from other me­dia and take con­trol of its path to main­tain its unique po­si­tion with ad­ver­tis­ers, au­di­ences and other stake­hold­ers into the third decade of this cen­tury and beyond.

“For years, Light FM’S (al­most) only rev­enue stream was ad­ver­tis­ing. How­ever, given the re­cent drop in ad­ver­tis­ing ex­pen­di­tures, we’ve had to cre­ate new rev­enue streams, through the pro­duc­tion of events and the creation of dig­i­tal con­tent,” Man­sour said. “We’ve also grown our mu­sic con­sul­tancy and cu­ra­tion busi­ness, and have part­nered with Sound­track Busi­ness, a Spo­tify-backed mu­sic so­lu­tion, to help us man­age mu­sic in any kind of re­tail space.”

He be­lieves ra­dio sta­tions will al­ways be mon­e­tized by sell­ing ex­po­sure to brands. “His­tor­i­cally, this in­volved only the FM band­width, but in the dig­i­tal age, it’s in­volv­ing all the touch­points of the ra­dio sta­tion, in­clud­ing its stream, web­site, app,

Fak­e­ness no longer sells; a pro ra­dio host will hardly work with to­day’s young au­di­ence. - Najy Cher­abieh, Gen­eral Man­ager, Vir­gin Ra­dio

You can lis­ten to tons of new mu­sic on­line, but the best of new hits is al­ways on ra­dio… - Claude Kawas, COO of Mu­sic or Me­dia Hold­ing

so­cial me­dia pages and Youtube chan­nel,” he ex­plained. “We’ll soon see more and more cam­paigns that uti­lize a me­dia mix that smartly en­com­passes tra­di­tional and dig­i­tal me­dia.”

NRJ and Nostal­gie’s rev­enue bulk also comes from ad­ver­tis­ing, but each of them has its own ap­proach. While the first is us­ing its so­cial me­dia plat­forms to com­bine cam­paigns be­tween on air and on­line through dig­i­tal pack­ages, the sec­ond is sig­nif­i­cantly less ac­tive, solely fea­tur­ing con­tent that redi­rects au­di­ences back to ra­dio.

Vir­gin Ra­dio, on the other hand, dif­fers in the sense that it re­lied on heavy so­cial me­dia pres­ence since the very be­gin­ning and cur­rently boasts 1.2 mil­lion In­sta­gram fol­low­ers and over 13.6 mil­lion page likes on Face­book. “So­cial me­dia was at the core of our launch strat­egy from day one, our on­line com­mu­nity is even big­ger than our lis­tener base and these huge num­bers are what dif­fer­en­ti­ates as we are able to cre­ate a vi­ral ef­fect that helps us of­fer clients more than just Ra­dio,” Cher­abieh noted.

“Cre­ative ad­ver­tis­ing is boom­ing: the client to­day is no longer look­ing for a 30-sec­ond spot but needs ideas that can go vi­ral on­line and off­line/ some­thing fun and en­gag­ing as this is the lan­guage that youth speak. Clients are start­ing un­der­stand that youth to­day have a strong pur­chas­ing power.”

He also cap­i­tal­ized on the im­por­tance of sim­plic­ity and au­then­tic­ity in ra­dio. “Cre­ate a prod­uct that clients wants to be as­so­ci­ated with. Traf­fic num­bers no longer work with clients, if you want a client to ad­ver­tise with you, cre­ate a fun/down to earth prod­uct that they want to be part of,” he ad­vised. “Be­fore launch­ing, we did a mar­ket study based on peo­ple’s habits and found that they feel dis­so­ci­ated from ra­dio when it feels su­pe­rior, hence the im­por­tance of pick­ing a ra­dio host from the peo­ple who speaks their lan­guage.”

EYE­ING THE FU­TURE In spite of ev­ery­thing, ra­dio con­tin­ues to be the pri­mary way lis­ten­ers dis­cover mu­sic to­day ac­cord­ing to Nielsen’s Mu­sic 360 Re­port. “You can lis­ten to tons of new mu­sic on­line, but the best of new hits is al­ways on ra­dio,” Kawas re­as­sured. This be­ing said, ra­dio sta­tions still need to in­te­grate dig­i­tal in the core of their con­tent strat­egy in or­der to adapt to change and bet­ter con­nect with per­pet­u­ally wired lis­ten­ers.

“Ra­dio tech­nol­ogy will not sig­nif­i­cantly change in the next five years, but with so­cial me­dia, the dif­fer­ence is that your life in­side the ra­dio sta­tion is felt by the lis­tener,” Cher­abieh as­serted, em­pha­siz­ing Vir­gin Ra­dio’s open-stu­dios pol­icy. “Lis­ten­ers are your num­ber one as­set. Don’t be con­de­scend­ing or delete neg­a­tive com­ments, take crit­i­cism and im­prove.”

He went on to ex­plain that mod­ern lis­ten­ers want to feel that the host is one of them/hav­ing fun and not al­ways pam­pered and per­fect­look­ing. “Fak­e­ness no longer sells; a pro ra­dio host will hardly work with to­day’s young au­di­ence,” he ex­plained, us­ing all four Vir­gin Ra­dio hosts, none of whom had ra­dio ex­pe­ri­ence prior to work­ing with the sta­tion, as a stark ex­am­ple of its suc­cess­ful ‘from the peo­ple to the peo­ple’ ap­proach.

“Ra­dio sta­tions do not need to adapt to tech­nol­ogy but rather to peo­ple’s habits, in­clud­ing so­cial me­dia trends and the psy­chol­ogy of youth. Some are still stuck in the pre-so­cial phase where you couldn’t see the lis­tener but to­day there are no walls be­tween you and the lis­tener, hence the need to criss­cross.”

Con­tent also re­mains king. “To sur­vive, a ra­dio sta­tion needs to have a clear iden­tity and ed­i­to­rial line, and make sure that it’s ex­pressed clearly and con­sis­tently ev­ery­where and in ev­ery­thing,” Man­sour con­cluded. “Ul­ti­mately, no mat­ter what me­dia we’re talk­ing about, it’s al­ways about con­tent. And given that peo­ple will still be stuck in traf­fic in their cars, ra­dios still have many good years ahead.”

Given that peo­ple will still be stuck LQ WUDIÀF LQ WKHLU cars, ra­dios still have many good years ahead. - Karim Man­sour, Man­ag­ing Part­ner of Light FM

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