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In Israel - the FM+ Conference on receiving the future

The Israeli radio market has three main players - and, I discover, a lot of passion

Israel isn't a place I'd been to before: and after thirty minutes of interrogation in Heathrow Airport by the kindly folk of El Al security (actually, people from the Israeli army wearing El Al uniforms, I discover later), it was a place I was doubtful I'd ever see. Luckily, their suspicion eventually faded, and I was able to jump on a five hour flight in a decidedly second-hand Boeing 777 (complete with the Singapore Airlines 'silver kris' bird etched onto a cup-holder in the loo) to Tel Aviv, to talk at the FM+ Conference run by the IDC.

The Israeli Radio Market
In Israel, the public service broadcaster IBA runs a bunch of services collectively known as Kol Yisrael ('the voice of Israel') - they have a 37.7% share. 'The Second Authority' - roughly, the old Radio Authority and ITC combined - regulates 14 regional commercial radio stations, which currently have a 32.9% share. And then something we don't have in the UK: large-scale stations run by the army, Galei Tzahal and Galagalatz, which are even larger - with a 43.1% share. (2011 TGI Survey)

There are also Educational Radio Stations here, not monitored by TGI: and it was at one of them, IDC Radio 106.2, that the FM+ Conference was. The IDC, roughly speaking, is a really hip University of Middlesex, if the University of Middlesex had an amazing media school and accepted loads of foreign students. It's to the north of the big city in a relatively rural, leafy area and a large campus; but its FM signal reaches right into Tel Aviv.

I was taken round IDC Radio by some of their suspiciously young senior staff. The building's five years old, but the studios, above, don't look it - they are beautiful: lots of glass, with remote-control TV cameras and voice booths and one studio that doubles up as a lecture hall. Outside the studios is a radio museum - crammed full of old microphones and recording equipment.

The FM+ Conference
Subtitled "Receiving the Future", this was a conference with a message - that the future was coming, and radio was going to be part of it. The Dean of the IDC stood up and said that within a couple of years, radio would all be delivered by 3G and 4G, and all be totally personalised. You have to give him full marks for his enthusiasm about the future; even if I doubt this'll happen in my lifetime (or is even desirable).

Then, I spoke for a bit: talking about platforms, and content, and communities, and user interfaces, and working together, and measurement: all vital things for the future of radio. I got a few laughs at the right places, which was nice. I had more compliments afterwards for the content of my presentation that I have ever had - so either I said all the right things, or everyone is very polite here, or they normally have really dull presentations. The latter is unlikely, given Clive Dickens and Edison's Larry Rosin both spoke here last year.

Then a debate about news, which I missed, because I was being interviewed for a tech magazine about the future of radio. Luckily, the interviewer had heard my speech, and didn't ask about turning off broadcast radio in favour of something delivered over a mobile phone. There was a bit of debate about "what is radio", though, which was fun.

After a coffee break - what other conference have you been to where they've had a proper coffee barista in front of a proper coffee machine, making lattes and macchiatos on order? - I settled down to a debate, in Hebrew, about whether advertising is working on the radio. As I tweeted at the time: "Imagine Global Radio, UTV, the BBC, Ofcom and Maple Street Studios in a panel at the Radio Festival ALL SHOUTING AT EACH OTHER". It was brilliant. Passionate debate at its very best. I don't normally like panel sessions, but this one was great. Advertising creative Yoram Levi started this session by telling us that 90% of all radio advertising was people shouting at us, which was absolutely right. The amount of ads you can broadcast in each hour should be, according to the regulator, "regulated by the audience", which seems a good, refreshing attitude to take.

Lunch came and went; then a presentation of some statistics that were conducted by the Second Authority for this conference. I've copied my English translation of the press release lower down; but of note, 29% of adults say they listen to radio through a mobile phone, but less than 7% say it's their main platform; and only 11% of internet listeners tune in to foreign radio stations. That internet revolution still seems a way off.

Another panel, this time on ethics. Most people in the audience (71%, if you're wondering) felt that public service broadcasting should have a different ethical code than commercial broadcasters. One speaker said that "personal opinion is a staple of democracy" - indeed, much Israeli radio is people arguing (with each other or with callers) often dissolving into shouting matches. They've been working on a new code of ethics for quite some time here, and all this hard work has just been rejected according to the papers (here, in Hebrew).

Then a great thing, presented by Barak and Ayelet from IDC Radio - "the best radio you've never heard", where they shared great radio programmes from across the world. The excellent Radiolab, and Soma FM, both got a mention: Radiolab even got a quick excerpt played, from the episode where they hired a large choir to demonstrate how animals see the rainbow.

The day finished with programme directors from all the large stations, all listening to some IDC Radio students promoting their ideas for new shows, and giving a Strictly-style vote. A shouty and 'racy' double-act got bottom marks; their show sounded like a breakfast show with poor swearing in it, but their off-air marketing was by far the best of the bunch. The winner was a quiet documentary maker, who quietly smiled to himself on winning, before, I'm guessing, quietly walking off to enjoy a quiet lemonade on his own in quiet contemplation. One aspiring presenter led heavily with the success of his podcast, which was getting tens of thousands of downloads. "If you are so successful on a podcast, why do you need a show on an FM station", was the response from one PD. He had a point.

A fascinating glimpse into another radio world. Some familiar - like the public griping about the IBA's comfortable funding, and the complaint from one audience member about "that really annoying advert for Kia that I keep hearing"; but lots of unfamilar areas, too. I can't say I was entirely looking forward to three nights away from home for this conference; but I'm delighted I came.

Oh, and the local beer isn't bad either. Goldstar (a "dark lager beer") actually tastes of something.

- Here's the research unveiled at the FM+ Conference, incidentally, in case it's useful. I've slightly subbed the text here from the original translation I was provided with, to put it into British English and use UK terms:

The Radio Survey by the Second Authority for Television and Radio: 85% of the public are in favour of limitations of offensive content in the radio

At next week's FM+ Radio Conference (March 5th) at the IDC, a survey will be presented that was conducted on behalf of the Second Authority for Television and Radio, by Midgam Consulting & Research in February 2013.

The survey found that:

- Most listeners (72%) listen to the radio in their car and for 42%, the car is their main receiver in which they listen to the radio.

- 55% listen through the Internet, but only 14% said it’s their main platform for listening to the radio. 51% listen through the TV, but only 14% said it’s their main platform for listening to the radio. 29% are listening through their mobile phone, but less than 7% said it’s their main platform.

- 75% of the internet or mobile phones listeners answered that they listen to websites of Israeli radio stations, 32% said that they listen through an application. 28% listen to personalised music and 11% to foreign radio stations.

- About 80% listen to radio in the middle of the week, 58% listen on the weekends, 83% listen to the radio every day or almost every day.
- 77% listen to radio in the morning. At noon the listening percentage drops to 42% and a similar percentage between 16:00-19:00. In the evening it drops to 22% and at night, 12%.

- About half (50.9%) answered that newscasts every whole hour are a main or common reason to tune in to the radio.

- 52% said that music is their favourite content, 25% favoured current affairs and news, 10% favoured sport. However, in the three favourite topics for shows, alongside 77% that favour Music, 65% that favour News and Current Affairs, there are 46% that favour Comedy, out of their three top places among the content that was examined (Music, Sports, Consulting, Comedy, News and Current Affairs, Opinions, Enriching and Educational).

- 54% said that they would prefer to listen to more music than what is played today, 28% would prefer local content and 26% enriching and educational content.

- About 20% claim to have been exposed to offensive content on the radio. 4% mentioned coarse language, 2% incitement against religious and ultra-orthodox Jews, 2% mentioned racism. 63% of the public is in favour of limitation of offensive content throughout the day and 22% are in favour of limitation in children’s listening hours. 15% think that there shouldn’t be any limitation.

- 54% of the listeners think that a broadcaster shouldn’t advertise a product or an event during his show at the radio, opposed to 36% that said it doesn’t disturb them at all.

The survey included 502 interviewees, members of the online panel ‘IPanel’ that are a representative sample of the Hebrew speaking population above the age of 18. The maximum sampling error is 4.5%, with confidence level of 95%.

James Cridland is the Managing Director of Media UK, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business.
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