PDFs of the articles, in alphabetical order, that I wrote for Third Sector magazine over the last couple of years.
Government targets for digital inclusion should make charities sit up and listen, says Damian Radcliffe
The Government recently published an interim report on the Digital Britain initiative, its project “to secure the UK’s place at the forefront of innovation, investment and quality in the digital and communications industries”.
Digital Britain is based on the belief that the digital economy can outperform the rest of the market in terms of providing jobs, developing skills and generating income. The report contains more than 20 recommendations, including eye-catching proposals for “universal broadband connectivity” – getting every household online and using broadband by 2012. There are hurdles to overcome to realise this ambition, not least those of supply (some areas currently can’t get broadband at the 2Mbps speed the report recommends in order to upload and download information efficiently) and demand (only 59 per cent of households currently have broadband).
However, the Government clearly feels these obstacles are surmountable, so charities need to consider what this might mean for them. The year 2012 is not that far away. In its simplest sense, the challenge can be broken into three areas: content, visibility and digital literacy skills.
If 100 per cent of homes have broadband, old media consumption will continue to decline. A strong online presence will therefore become even more important than it already is.
It’s no use having great content if nobody knows who you are, so make sure people can find you through internet search engines and that your site is easy to navigate. Good branding, design and a recognisable online profile matter if you want your organisation to stand out.
Charities should also ensure that their staff and, in many cases, beneficiaries have the skills and knowledge to benefit from a fully digital Britain. No doubt the BBC, government, schools and others will all play a role in developing these skills, but many people will inevitably be self-taught. Charities should therefore encourage their staff to follow them on a digital journey so that the whole organisation is in a position to understand and benefit from the potential of universal broadband. Those who don’t risk being left behind.
George W Bush once asked: “Will the highways on the internet become more few?” That’s a difficult one to answer, but the direction of traffic is clear. Where we’re going we don’t need roads, but it looks like we’re all going to need broadband. So buckle up and get ready for the ride.
- Damian Radcliffe is the manager for English regions at Ofcom and writes in a personal capacity
Get your message across with a fast-growing medium, says Ofcom’s Damian Radcliffe
Many news outlets – whether commercial radio, TV or the local press – are suffering declining advertising income and increased competition. But community radio is growing quickly.
Since the first permanent station was licensed in November 2005, Ofcom has granted new licences to 187 different groups, all of them not-for-profit and driven by demonstrable social purposes with business plans that ensure their
audiences help to run them.
These stations are run by the people for the people. In some cases they offer a small, geographically focused service, such as Forest of Dean Radio; in others, one aimed at a specific minority, such as Glasgow’s Asian station, Awaz FM.
For charities, community radio stations offer a number of benefits. The most obvious is that they have small but dedicated audiences. If you need to target a group that mainstream media overlook or cater for only in moderation, stations such as Gaydio – aimed at the gay and lesbian community in Manchester – can bridge the gap.
These stations have as much airtime to fill – but fewer resources to draw on – as their commercial or BBC counterparts; so your interview will probably last longer than it would elsewhere, giving you more time to promote yourself and the chance to explore issues in more depth.
Because community stations broadcast to small target audiences, they are also an ideal training ground for junior spokespeople or staff who’ve just completed media training courses and need to put their skills into action. This isn’t to belittle community radio audiences, but nobody wants to be thrown onto the Today programme without getting a bit of experience first.
Finally, community radio stations’ smaller transmission areas make them perfect for local charities – groups that
might not want to broadcast on a larger regional or national service. If you’re a small community group working in the Wirral, for example, you won’t necessarily want to go on BBC Radio Merseyside, and you might find you’re geographically too niche for Auntie – but you would be perfect for 7 Waves Community Radio.
No media outlet grants you a god-given right to broadcast coverage, so if you have a community radio station in your area, the usual rules apply. Listen to the station first and tailor your approach so that you offer something that works
for both parties. If you can do that, it could be the start of a long and fruitful relationship.
Outside my flat there is a large billboard encouraging customers to sign up for “the mother of all broadbands”.
It offers speeds of up to 20 megabits per second and the possibility of 50mbps in the near future – much faster than current connections, which typically operate at about 8mbps. BT recently announced plans to give 10 million homes and businesses speeds of up to 40mbps – five times faster than the current average – and some owners of newly built homes could get up to 100mbps. For the third sector, this presents real opportunities, but also throws up some challenges.
At a time when people are feeling the credit crunch and trying to reduce their carbon footprints, next-generation access could facilitate more home working and improve video conferencing with colleagues. By reducing travel costs, NGA could make flexible working a reality for more people.
I can see the business and consumer benefits of faster broadband connections (for example, multiplayer online gaming and faster downloads for music or TV programmes), but the social applications of this technology remain relatively untried and untested.
A consultation by Ofcom in 2006 recognised this when it said “the majority of the applications and services generally proposed for next-generation access are entertainment services that may result in limited incremental social benefit”. The Broadband Stakeholder Group, a UK industry and government forum that looks at broadband-related strategies, echoed this recently when it said that “so far, there is limited evidence of significant social welfare being derived from next-generation access networks or services”.
I’d like to see charities give some serious thought to how they can use NGA to innovate. It could be used to facilitate remote health monitoring and consultations, mentoring and befriending schemes, home and community security initiatives, life-long learning programmes and much more.
Because of the high investment costs required to build a UK-wide NGA network, roll-out is likely to happen in phases. Charities therefore need to think about how they could use this technology. They also need effectively to state the case for why they need these higher bandwidths, or whether services can be delivered by improving the reliability and consistency of today’s broadband.
If the sector doesn’t do this, there’s a risk that businesses and certain consumer types will be at the front of the queue, with charities lingering near the back. I’m sure the sector doesn’t want to see that happen.
The most controversial TV advert of the year so far must be Heinz’s Deli Mayo ad, which received acres of press coverage after it caused more than 200 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority.
The commercial showed a typical family scene, with a wife distributing packed lunches to children and husband. The creative twist was that both husband and wife were played by men, and the advert ended with the working man giving his ‘wife’ a kiss goodbye. It was this kiss that provoked the ire of audiences and some newspapers, despite the fact that the whole thing was light-hearted. As a result of the complaints, Heinz withdrew the advert one week into its scheduled five-week run.
What lessons can charities learn from this? Oscar Wilde famously said that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about – and this advert certainly got people talking. Whatever the merits or flaws of the advert itself, there’s no doubt that it has taken the Heinz brand to a wider audience than TV alone could have.
This extra publicity was generated simply by being able to shock, or stir into action, a very small audience; something the NSPCC and Shelter have also managed to do successfully in recent years, thus taking their campaigns to a wider audience.
Of course, expensive, high-quality TV adverts are something that many charities can’t afford. But the Heinz case has shown that you don’t need to buy TV advertising space to reach a large audience. Online, the most watched version of the advert on video-sharing website YouTube has had 250,000 views, with many other versions having been seen more than 100,000 times each. None of this online distribution cost Heinz a penny – it wasn’t even responsible for it.
Charities can also use the web to distribute creative content beyond – or even instead of – the broadcast. Leonard Cheshire Disability did this successfully with its Creature Discomforts advertising campaign, which featured a series of animated characters designed by the company behind Wallace & Gromit.
By using the web rather than expensive TV slots to reach audiences, charities can spend more of their budgets – whatever size they may be – on making the best possible ads, and a lot less money on getting them to eyeballs. It’s a fairly new model, but it’s one that we’re only going to see more of.
When I joined the BBC’s digital radio team in 1999, everyone expected it to be the next big thing. Nearly a decade on, however, DAB digital radio still feels like it’s up and coming.
The technology offers better sound, more stations, ease of tuning and the opportunity to transmit text and other data, but it’s also suffered from poor marketing, expensive kit, variable reception and strong unpredicted competition from both digital TV and the internet as a means for listening to audio.
DAB has always had admirers and detractors in equal measure, and the recent mixed headlines it has attracted should be viewed in this context.
On the one hand, you have the news that DAB now accounts for 10 per cent of the UK’s radio listening. On the other comes the announcement that commercial radio company GCAP Media is closing two of its digital stations because, it says, DAB is not “economically viable”.
What is the sector to make of this? I can’t help but feel that it’s a technology worth sticking with, and one that the sector should get more involved in.
For all the doomsayers calling DAB the new Betamax, there’s the fact that there are now 6.5 million sets in the UK. A million have been bought in the past three months. Add to that the continued public commitment of both the BBC and Channel 4 to working in partnership with manufacturers to develop new ways of using the technology.
DAB broadcasts in the future could involve receivers displaying images, charity logos, phone numbers and key campaign facts, while the voice of your spokesperson comes out of the speakers at the same time.
Moreover, a report looking at the future of radio – and backed by commercial trade body the Radio Centre – commented that “as listeners migrate to digital platforms, new advertising revenue streams are opening up”.
That’s good news for commercial companies and for us, because it recognises that DAB can be a new way to reach consumers.
Third sector groups should take advantage of this new market so that we’re already established with the major players, if and when the technology really takes off.
Even if it doesn’t grow in the way many people hope, there’s certainly nothing to be lost from seeking to develop further relationships with big players such as the BBC and Channel 4, and 6.5 million DAB-using households is a not insubstantial audience.
A big part of me feels there’s nothing to lose.
- Damian Radcliffe is head of broadcasting for volunteering charity CSV
Ofcom’s predictable decision to auction off the spectrum freed up by the switch from analogue to digital TV broadcasting at the end of last year did not make a good Christmas present for the sector.
The decision to follow a purely market-led approach will clearly favour big broadcasters such as mobile phone companies and dotcom giants. Many of these businesses are owned and funded by foreign investors and have the financial resources to buy up valuable spectrum – resources that sector agencies simply do not have.
Moreover, in order to recoup the huge costs associated with buying spectrum, providers will inevitably follow subscription or pay-per-view models. This will further reinforce the digital divide by leaving millions unable to afford the new services on offer.
Earlier in 2007, CSV and representatives of other volunteering organisations, including TimeBank and umbrella body the NCVO, argued against such an approach, proposing instead that social value needed to be part of the auction mix as well as hard cash.
We felt that some of the spectrum should be used by service providers to encourage social inclusion, community relations, employability and crime reduction as well as to create a platform for contributions to the arts, culture and heritage. It should not be used simply as a cash cow for publicly listed companies.
This argument has largely fallen on deaf ears so far. By deciding not to ring-fence spectrum for services such as local television channels, which have strong public service, community and social action agendas, the regulator is making it very hard for charities and community groups to enter the auction process.
The challenge now facing the sector is to accept that the auction process is happening, but to try to influence the nature of it. If we don’t, then we may be unable to benefit from the new spectrum and the new ways to reach our target audiences that this will bring.
One way around this problem is to encourage Ofcom to use an auction model in which licence awards are made not only on the basis of money but with public purposes and social benefits taken into account.
Such an approach could encourage commercial providers to explore partnerships with charities that would otherwise not be able to benefit from the newly released spectrum. The fact is that services motivating people to tackle crime, improve their health or reduce their carbon footprint will not only create social capital, but they could also save the Treasury more money in the long term.
Damian Radcliffe is head of broadcasting at volunteering organisation CSV
By Damian Radcliffe, Third Sector, 14 November 2007
Now that the dust is settling at the BBC after last month’s announcement of substantial cuts to jobs and programming at the corporation, it’s a good time to look at how the proposals could affect the sector.
Although Auntie could always do more, she has historically been a good friend to us. Children in Need, the weekly charity appeal on Radio 4, the monthly Lifeline charity appeal on BBC One, the corporation’s continuing support for the Community Channel and the Media Trust, its 30-year partnership with CSV…. There’s no doubt that a healthy BBC can play a crucial role in creating an equally healthy and thriving third sector.
However, after a scandal-ridden summer and a lower than anticipated licence fee settlement, is the BBC still in good health, or is it tired and past its peak?
Despite the doomsayers, I would argue it’s still in pretty rude health and still capable of being a good friend to the sector. The proposed MyLocalNow initiative (let’s hope it’s a working title) – an online, broadband, multimedia, interactive service that would build on the popularity of the BBC’s existing local services – will, if it goes ahead, provide local content. This is good news for small community groups that might not want, or be able to get, regional or national coverage for their work.
To get approval from the BBC Trust – the corporation’s governing body – and broadcasting regulator Ofcom, MyLocalNow will probably need to make a decent commitment to user-generated content and citizen journalism (that’s content made by licence fee payers). This, too, is welcome news for media-literate parts of the sector, or those with clientele and staff who have the means to make decent films and blogs or use their webcams as 21st-century soapboxes.
The cuts in middle-brow or, as I prefer to call it, light, factual programming and network news are not so good for the sector. Getting your story or your organisation featured in these slots has always been harder than obtaining coverage on smaller scale local services, but they have typically brought with them a cachet, a profile and a national audience that local services can seldom compete with.
So it really is a mixed bag, with potentially more opportunities for the sector at a truly local, grass-roots level – although we’ll need to ensure that we have the skills to capitalise on them – but with national coverage becoming even harder to secure. Whether the sector will ultimately be better off as a result of these changes, only time will tell.
- Damian Radcliffe is head of broadcasting at CSV
From this weeks Third Sector… I don’t think I’ll ever get used to being subbed, but I’d rather be subbed than snubbed….
Expert view: Australia ain’t what it used to be
By Damian Radcliffe, Third Sector, 19 September 2007
I remember the Summer of ’97 as if it were yesterday. I’d just helped to launch the UK’s first ever volunteer-led commercial radio station, Oxygen 107.9.
In theory, Oxygen could be heard by 180,000 people; in practice, its audience was probably a lot smaller. It was the glory days of Britpop: Blur, Oasis and Pulp were in their prime.
In commercial radio, Australian-influenced formats and production ideas were increasingly dominant, and many felt that commercial radio down under was the best in the world. So when I recently visited the country I was excited to see whether the sector still had a lot to learn from the Aussies.
Sadly, I don’t think it has – certainly not in terms of how charity issues are covered. In a country where the Salvation Army has been Aussified to the point that it is known as the ‘Salvos’, I expected a more down-to-earth approach to promoting the sector. Instead, the only time I came across the Australian voluntary sector on television or radio was in the context of rather old-fashioned public service announcements.
Presenting issues such as volunteering or cancer in this way immediately makes the content seem too dull and worthy. It is a turn-off.
The contrast with the UK could not be starker. Partnerships such as those between CSV and BBC local radio ensure that voluntary sector content is considered to be mainstream – it sits alongside other output. In doing this, we seek to avoid ‘otherness’; we normalise voluntary sector issues, making them part of audiences’ everyday lives.
Capital Radio’s coverage of its Help a London Child charity does the same thing. It is both high-profile and mainstream, which gives the issues importance. The heart disease infomercial I heard on an Aussie station did the opposite when it was billed at the outset as a public service announcement. It was the equivalent of going up to someone in the street and saying: “I’m sorry to bother you, but …”
The lack of pride or conviction in the material I came across in Australia simply reinforced traditional views of worthiness. The communications failed to grab me by the scruff of the neck.
That’s what good charity campaigns and good broadcasters do, and that’s what I found sadly missing down under.
So next time you find yourself despairing that the British media doesn’t ‘get’ you – which, granted, it sometimes doesn’t – then consider this: you’re still probably better off than some of our southern hemisphere counterparts – even if they do get better weather.
- Damian Radcliffe is Head of Broadcasting for volunteering charity CSV