Video killed the radio star, but the web revived him

Internet listeners bring new life to old format, creating a platform for apps and advertisers across the UAE.

Steve Smith, the chief operating officer at the Arabian Radio Network. Courtesy Arabian Radio Network
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Video may have killed the radio star, but the internet has brought him back to life again. In a move to boost audience numbers, local radio stations are embracing internet streaming and mobile applications, with one UAE operator reporting a monthly growth in online listeners of 140 per cent.

Steve Smith, the chief operating officer at the Arabian Radio Network (ARN), says there is strong following for its online streaming services.

"It's growing at a rate of 140 per cent a month since September," said Mr Smith. "We've had over 5 million unique listening sessions since September. That's a massive uptake."

ARN, which is owned by the Arab Media Group, operates seven stations including Virgin Radio Dubai, Dubai Eye 103.8 and Dubai 92.

It is selling advertising around its online services, and last year aired a 30-second Qatar Airlines video commercial, which appeared when the radio stream was buffering.

"More and more we're encouraging the clients and agencies to look at multi-platform usage of radio content," said Mr Smith.

ARN also has iPhone applications and says that it is exploring other mobile phone platforms.

"We will consider all of them. You'd be crazy not to," Mr Smith said. "We're not necessarily in radio any more - we're in content creation.

"When we launched the Al Khaleejiya app, 30,000 downloads were done in the first month," he said.

Other UAE radio broadcasters are also embracing web and mobile platforms as they look to reach new audiences.

The Abu Dhabi Radio Network recently launched an iPhone app that enables live streaming of its five radio stations - Abu Dhabi Classic FM, Star FM, Quran Kareem, Emarat FM and Abu Dhabi FM.

Abdulrahman Awadh al Harthi, the director of the Abu Dhabi Radio Network, says there has been a strong support for the new app. The network is part of the Abu Dhabi Media Company, which also owns and publishes The National.

"We got 15,000 downloads of our radio iPhone app since we launched it three weeks ago," said Mr al Harthi. He added it "will take time" before online streaming and apps produced "reliable revenues" for local radio operators.

This point was echoed by Mekki Abdulla, the chief executive of Fujairah Media, which operates several radio stations in the UAE including Coast 103.2 FM and the Arabic broadcast FM 92.6.

"Right now it's just a value-added service," Mr Abdulla said of online radio streaming and mobile apps.

But he said he saw web and mobile as important for radio operators.

"We're looking very much at all the mobile media," he said. "We're developing apps at the moment, but we [already] have online streaming. We see radio as very important online. You can't watch TV at work, but you can listen to the radio."

Fiona Winterburn, the head of programming at Radio 1 and Radio 2, which are part of Gulf News Broadcasting, said that streams and clips of its broadcasts were available online and that it was working on mobile apps.

"Hopefully within the next couple of months, we'll have the apps," she said. "When we put audio on the sites, we're getting thousands of hits."

While terrestrial radio broadcasts are now complemented by web and mobile applications, true digital radio, over the airwaves, is still some way off, said Mr Smith.

"I'm not sure that the critical mass is here for digital radio," he said. "It's very much in our sights, but you've got to watch what the rest of the world is doing right now."