RAI and the future of online audio listening: interview with Andrea Borgnino (RAI)
Andrea Borgnino (RAI): Rai PlaySound is growing rapidly, now also with regional content and versions optimized for mobility. Online, any classic FM listening rule is overturned, as is the case of our Radio3 (culture) network, that is top in the charts. RAI content on 3rd parties aggregators? It’s a very complex issue. Radio 2 Visual is only available on Rai Play, our app is dedicated to audio.
RAI and the Online Audio World
We continue our series of articles “Entertainment and Work in the Car”. After talking with Eng. La Teana from RTL and with Charles Kelly, today it’s RAI’s turn, where Andrea Borgnino (IWOHK) has held the role of editorial head of RaiPlay Sound for about 2 years, the RAI app/aggregator inspired in part by the prestigious BBC Sounds English model.
With Andrea we talked about new content, the profile of podcast listeners compared to linear radio listeners, and the issue of proprietary apps (single broadcaster) vs aggregators.
The full audio of the conversation is available at this address.
A real radio enthusiast, he has made it his job at RAI since 1997. Author of the Radio 1 program Golem, he later dealt with the Radio Techetè channel. For over ten years he has had a weekly slot called Interferences in the Radio 3 Mondo program and since July 2021 he is editorial manager of RaiPlay Sound, the RAI platform dedicated to live, on demand and podcast listening.
Marco Hugo Barsotti: First of all, update us on RaiPlay Sound. We left off in April with 12 Live channels, plus dozens of on-demand and as users you said that in the first four months the numbers were going in the direction you expected….
Andrea Borgnino: _So let’s say the project is growing. The live channels have gone from 12 to 14, there are 2 new regional channels, one in Slovenian and one in German coming from the Trieste headquarters and the Bolzano headquarters.
So a big work of integration of regional contents. In addition to these two more live channels there are also contents from the local newsrooms, Trieste, Sardinia, Sicily and soon we will also bring in Bolzano and Trento.
So: not only content in Italian, but also in Sardinian, Slovenian, German and Ladino, Friulian and Patois.
As for the APP, the big news is that it has been made compatible with the automotive world, meaning Android Auto and Apple Car. For both we developed an optimized interface that allows users to enjoy all the functions of RaiPlay Sound through these two interfaces.
This is a big step forward that I can tell you first, since we haven’t officially announced it yet.
We are also working on a platform for connected TVs, which I think will be available in September.
In terms of editorial content, to date we have over 200 original podcasts – and I point out that we’ve only been online for two years. We also have over 500 radio shows available online and 200 audiobooks.
MHB: Do PlaySound listeners make the same choices as FM listeners? In other words, are the “listening charts” of the various programs the same or different?
AB: Well.. these are not data that RAI releases, but I can give some general information.
The answer is that the RaiPlay Sound audience is very different from what we have in FM, as found in the last TER data.
For example, on PlaySound Radio3 is one of the most listened to live contents.
(Radio3 RAI can be loosly defined as equivalent of BBC Radio3+BBC Radio 4, Ed. note)
Different (but similar) situation for on-demand
Now, we made a tool very similar to Netflix’s top 10, which everyone can find on our site.
At this time (interview recorded on August 4, 2023) the most requested content is Radio3 Mondo,then Prima Pagina and Out Loud: all three contents from Radio 3.
What follows is the audio version of Lucarelli’s TV program Blu Notte, then Wikiradio, then …. let’s say that in on-demand listening, any classic FM listening rule no longer applies: It’s a fragmented listening of more varied content.
And even in linear online listening, FM rules do not apply,
MHB: Let’s talk about aggregators and dedicated apps. Both you and RTL 102.5, to name just two, have a dedicated, very rich app. But by using it you remain confined there, while many listeners quickly switch from one broadcaster’s content to another’s: an aggregator is very more practical from this point of view. But obviously the dedicated content is lost there. Isn’t it conceivable an integration of the two experiences, at least with the aggregators developed in Italy?
AG: The issue is broad; it’s a matter of distribution and system.
As for the video, you can see that the contents are not only on Rai Play, our app for video.
Distribution agreements have been made there. But us… we are still very young, not even two years old yet.
The only export concerns Spotify and it was done because the Italian market is on Spotify. But it wasn’t a transposition: on Spotify we go to put some series that we publish on RaiPlay Sound, but at a later time._
Today, RAI’s choice is clear: to push our own apps RaiPlay and RaiPlay Sound.
I was talking about it a few weeks ago with some colleagues from BBC: they even imagine a single app, a merge of iPlayer and BBC Sounds. A single app for the entire public service.
MHB: … Yes, but… doesn’t it seem to you that from the point of view of listeners it is not the optimal choice? Of course, it is in the interest of the broadcaster, but it is not convenient for those who listen…who could ultimately reject the product and prefer an aggregator where they have total freedom.
AB: Yes, but you have to keep in mind that we, as a public body, have to make clear and transparent agreements for the distribution of our content: it’s not a trivial matter, not at all
MHB: Let’s close with technology. Do you plan to evolve the visual offer of RaiPlay Sound, also with a view to meeting the needs of mobile use? I’m thinking of screens for rear passengers or even for the driver, in future self-driving cars.
AB: At the moment, we don’t have any visual offer projects. As you know, Radio 2 is available in audio and video format, but its video offer is exclusively on RaiPlay, not on our application which is purely dedicated to audio.
If in the future there will be video podcasts things could change, but for now, as I said, we are a pure audio offer. (M.H.B. for FM-World)