Mark Summerton, managing director at the Radio Times website, writes for Press Gazette about the website’s growth as it reaches its 25-year milestone – and what’s next for the iconic TV and entertainment brand online.
Twenty-five years is a lifetime in television. Rewind to 1997 and you will find a fledgling Channel 5 having just joined “the big four” on broadcast television supported at launch by the all-conquering Spice Girls, with the likes of Cold Feet and the Teletubbies also making their debut. My TV world at this time focused squarely on finally being “old enough” to join my Dad for a weekly episode of the X-Files. In truth I was terrified after each show but loved the experience of watching it together so much that I never let on. TV can, and probably has, created those moments for us all. Its power to do so remains today even in a much more fragmented market. It is a privilege leading the digital arm of such an iconic brand in the industry to help facilitate these moments.
At launch, RadioTimes.com was primarily a TV listings service, the industry gold standard I might add, which it remains to this day. In the last year the listings has had an updated design, with a product extension to include our new streaming guidance and enhancements to provide a more personalised experience. The response has been really satisfying for the team that put in the hard yards for the users and they have been rewarded by increased engagement across some of our key KPIs such as pages/session, pages/user and recirculation. To echo one of our values – “We never settle” – the team are already working on the next set of enhancements for our listings with driving deeper engagement being the key objective.
‘Diverse’ editorial adds to listings and recommendations
Today we complement our much-valued scheduling data and recommendations with a diverse editorial product covering every genre of the industry from drama, entertainment and sport to soaps, film and sci-fi. More recently this has been extended to include technology and gaming with the latter becoming one of the most popular sections of the site in the last six months helping to grow our audience further. This extensive operation is powered by an editorial team of 20 who are then supported by a plethora of experts and teams in disciplines including marketing, advertising, commerce, audience development, data, product, and technology.
Working in a matrix structure such as this is relatively new for the business and has not been without its challenges. However, we are moving through a model of team development at pace now underpinned by a shared strategy and objectives which are repeated over and over to ensure adoption and understanding. The structure allows the team to guarantee we are creating the most relevant and timely content to enhance our audience’s entertainment experience whilst supporting our commercial partners in achieving their objectives.
Off site, our audience continues to interact with the brand through our social presence in their hundreds and thousands across channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube (where we’ve racked up over 60 million views).
Alongside our award-winning print magazine, we collaborate on ever-popular events, including the biggest public television festival in the UK The BFI & Radio Times Television Festival, which provides our audience with an unrivalled experience and insight into the industry.
That was then and this is now, but what of the future?
‘Conscious focus on quality not quantity of traffic’
I firmly believe there has never been a more necessary period for providing our audience with the exceptional guidance we do to help them navigate the conundrums of “what should I watch?”, “how can I watch it?”, “why should I watch it?” and, crucially, “how can I be a part of the conversation?”
For RadioTimes.com this means a renewed focus on our audience and engagement, specifically the communities that exist within the 16 million monthly users of the site. There is a very conscious focus on quality and not quantity of traffic. Personally, I would rather we had an audience of 20 million that we really mean something to and fulfil a need in their life, than an audience of 50 million that we have no direct relationship with, and that are simply passing through.
Not only will we continue to set the agenda, but we want to facilitate the conversation through our diverse communities, providing them the platform to interact and have a voice which we reflect back to the industry, and hopefully contribute to shaping its future.
We must be a data-led business and use data to create new experiences on and off site. Curation will be king as nobody has the time to consume all the content we create, and our challenge is presenting the most timely, relevant content to the user to fulfil their needs as they progress through their entertainment experience.
I am very excited about the new products we are considering and how they will further deepen our relationship with our users and expose the brand to new audiences.
RadioTimes.com has come a long way in the last 25 years and has never been more successful, achieving a record 50 million users and over 200 million pageviews in Q1 of this year.
I’ve no doubt that the next 25 years will be equally as transformative for the industry as the last and we will be right there to guide our audience through it.
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