Ed Vaizey puts in the hours for radio and adland

Culture minister Ed Vaizey addresses more than 350 media and advertising execs at Absolute Radio's 'Redefining Radio' event

We’re off, 2012 is up and running, and among the fastest out the blocks has been culture minister Ed Vaizey, or as IPA’s president Nicola Mendelsohn prefers to think of him, ‘My Minister’ (batting eyelashes optional).

On Thursday, the minister for culture, communications and the creative industries chose to forgo breakfast to provide a rousing speech to more than 350 advertising and media delegates at Absolute Radio’s stellar Redefining Radio event.

Recognised as the ‘most met minister’ last time anyone counted, Vaziey shows no sign of letting up in 2012, with back to back industry appearances and commitments the norm.

Opening Absolute’s event he resisted the siren call of all-things-shiny-and-new, and chose instead to celebrate the enduring strengths of the UK’s traditional media.

“One of my themes of 2012 is the future is not going to arrive as quickly as people think it is,” he said. “What I mean by that is that the future is not going to be what people think it is.

“People who think about the future in a lazy way think that everything’s going to change, we’re all going to somehow be completely different people and do things very differently. But actually I was struck by a statistic over Christmas that showed that linear television viewing has increased by something like 8% in the last two years, so people who predicted the death of television are wrong…”

Vaziey, a former speech writer for Tory leader Michael Howard, went on to identify how the impact of social media, and in particular Twitter, has helped maintain linear TV’s popularity, despite doommongers predicting its demise.

What this demonstrates for me, apart from the fact that Tess and co over at Thinkbox can infiltrate even a specialist radio event, is a good dose of realism so often overlooked at many digitally-dominated events today; much in traditional media still works.

Vaizey did go on to ‘talk radio’, believing it too had stood the test of time and was now well positioned to prosper from the digital revolution.

“Video has not killed the radio star, and technology is not going to kill the radio star,” he said. “Video technology is actually going to enhance the radio star… that’s why I’m a passionate fan about digital radio.”

To recap, Vaizey is now leading the Government’s ambitions to secure a digital future for radio by 2015 through a controversial switchover initiative instigated by the previous Labour Government. Despite the 2015 date being softened to a “target”, as opposed to a deadline, Vaizey’s commitment to a digital future for radio is clear.

He called digital radio “a massive opportunity” for the commercial radio sector, and added that the marriage of radio and technology is “going to be transformative”. He went on to hail emerging opportunities to tailor advertising to listeners as an “absolute game-changer”.

It set the stage nicely for a demo of Absolute’s upcoming in-stream targeting capabilities, by head of digital sales, James Wigley. The broadcaster’s registered online users can soon be served fewer, more bespoke ads, based on their demographic information. The mantra was “broadcast one to many, advertise one to one”.

According to Wigley: “In the same way as pre-roll advertising has not cannibalised linear TV spot ads, we don’t see in-stream replacing linear radio ads, but complementing them.” [Maisie McCabe reveals more, including its February launch date here].

Transforming nature of digital content & broadcast

Absolute’s chief operating officer, Clive Dickens, meanwhile, had more transcendental matters on his mind. He declared a “fundamental belief” that radio has the potential to redefine itself by getting a better understanding of the way in which the internet is redefining human interaction and content consumption.

To some extent, consumers have already redefined what radio means to them, with more than 44% of listeners already not using AM or FM at some point in the week to listen to their stations. However, the economic realities urge against complacency – despite commercial radio revenue rising in 2011, it still lags behind figures enjoyed in 2007.

Dickens cited voice-activated innovations, like iPhone’s Siri beta and Xbox’s Connect, as evidence that the next digital leap will bring the “natural human interactions of speak, listen and gesture to the internet”. Absolute Radio’s leader expects mass adoption of these services to do nothing less than “transform our relationship with digital content and broadcast forever”.

Extending an earlier observation of Vaizey’s that one of radio’s key strengths is that people can do almost anything else whilst listening to it, Dickens said: “Radio has always been the medium that’s been most commonly consumed whilst doing something else – [whether that's] driving, cooking, relaxing, washing… and in the digital economy that something else is ‘being online’.

“The internet is helping to redefine radio, and one of the reasons for that is because you can’t close your ears.”

…Some 11 hours later, Vaizey was providing yet another keynote address, this time to the IPA’s packed-to-the rafters President’s Reception. In a tub-thumping speech to the UK’s “creative pioneers” the Government minister offered his full backing to the IPA’s new hunt to find the next generation of leading lights, through its Creative Pioneers Challenge.

Elsewhere, the 43-year-old MP has also been promoting the importance of digital literacy and is chalked to make more industry podium appearances over the next week.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State minister is starting to build the rather unusual reputation of being both passionate and engaged in what he’s actually talking about.