Ten Years Of The Radio App: What We've Learnt So Far
March 10, 2015
The world's first radio app for a mobile phone
Ten years ago, on March 7th 2005, I launched "The Virgin Radio 3G tuner" - the world's first streaming mobile app for a radio station - with a Singaporean mobile company called Sydus.
It ran on two different types of phones: a few new Nokia candybar phones and the Sony Ericsson P910 - a relatively futuristic touch controlled phone. Since neither had what we'd call an "App Store" these days, it was relatively complicated to install it, involving a set of complicated USB cables and some Windows software.
Neither of these phones had WiFi access - the mobile operators were still blocking WiFi inside phones (remember that?) - so you had to use the app on 3G. Actually, most of the phones that the software was available on didn't actually have 3G either, so we had to make a special stream that could work on GPRS, the data system that most people used at the time, and had a maximum throughput of 9kbps. It sounded rather worse than AM.
Even at that bitrate, the price of data was pretty expensive at the time. If you were on some of the best data price plans, you'd get an hour of Virgin Radio for US$15 (AUD 19, SGD 20, 180 ZAR) in today's money - which would probably quickly become more expensive than just buying a few CDs!
But - now we're in a world with thousands, and thousands, and thousands, of radio apps. I've watched this area for some time, and worked with a bunch of mobile app companies - so here's part of what we know:
Most people don't use radio apps when mobile. The vast majority of radio listening via apps is when connected to WiFi. People are using mobile phones as a device to listen to the radio when there isn't a radio within arm's reach. So: make sure you have a good quality, high bitrate stream as well as one that works well on mobile.
People tend to install the app for their preference-1 station, and an aggregator for the rest. The benefit of having a little radio station logo on your phone's homescreen shouldn't be underestimated: it reminds people you exist every time they look at their phone. But you should also take the aggregators, like TuneIn, seriously: they have the possibility of driving significant trial. People who install Radioplayer in the UK, a UK aggregator app, listen to more radio stations as a result.
People install apps in the evenings and weekends. So, your afternoon drive show and weekend programming should be where you promote them.
People use the apps more when you push an update. Be sensible with this, but if you schedule an update to your app once a month or so - with more new features, of course - then that does have the effect of getting them to use it.
People don't use them very much. Typical average usage is less than fifteen minutes. Typical usage, for active users, is once a week or even less. Why bother? Because this might be the only contact a listener has with you all week. And the app's presence on their mobile phone might be the thing that reminds them to turn the radio on.
People want them to be more than a live stream. Where a radio app offers more than just a live stream, people do use those additional features: and you need to make your app a better and more interesting user experience than TuneIn. There's loads of things you can plug into your app to add community, functionality and more. Your podcasts and additional channels should be there too.
I've done a bunch of research into mobile apps. There's lots to discover about them, and I do believe they're part of radio's future. There's probably more here than meets the eye, though.