This article originally appeared in Campaign Live
Magazine content – especially online – has seen increased engagement over lockdown. What is it about magazine content that consumers will always identify with?
Tom: Having the nation locked up at home with nothing but television for company was clearly a bonus for a brand that offers the definitive guide to the best TV. And with so much on offer, someone has to tell them what’s good – and what’s on. Having Radio Times delivered to your door became obvious to many more readers during lockdown and we now have as many subscribers as we have newsstand sales.
Shem: Radio Times readers are incredibly loyal, even without a global pandemic. When coronavirus arrived, they went the extra mile to secure a copy, so when people were fighting for that last packet of loo roll, they were also popping a copy of RT into their basket.
How have events of 2020 impacted your editorial direction?
Tom: Television is at the heart of national culture – the debates developing in the wider world are reflected and reported on radio and television, and naturally in our pages and on our website. We’re not pretending to blaze a trail here, but we can only reflect the world we find ourselves in.
Diversity – both in front and behind the camera – has long been an issue in television. Stars have talked about it before in our pages – and never more so than this year.
Shem: RadioTimes.com pivoted to reflect the change in our audience’s lifestyle, offering new initiatives like watchalongs, film clubs, Celebrity TV picks, social media takeovers, interactive quizzes and podcasts. An exclusive live fan Q&A with the cast and crew of Netflix hit The Last Kingdom was a huge success reaching an audience of over 120,000 with more than 48,000 engagements and 4,000 comments and questions. We also secured exclusive live chats and screenings with Ricky Gervais, Michelle Keegan, Maisie Williams and Danny Mays. All helped us reach record audiences, with almost 20m monthly visitors.
We know ads are more effective when in positive, relevant and high-attention media spaces – like yours. Which advertisers turned to Radio Times during the pandemic?
Shem: Like many media brands, we saw categories completely pull away from advertising, such as travel, which hit our reader commerce department pretty hard. We moved quickly and filled up the slack with radio and technology. In display ads, we saw other categories grow, such as charities, particularly in the direct response area of inserts.
Tom: Core partners such as Sky continued to promote their offering and content.We ran a fantastic partnership across print and digital with Disney + promoting their offering during the kids’ summer holidays, including fun interactive surveys which generated press coverage for both brands. Overall, the campaign had a reach of almost 2m. Other streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have been brought into our orbit by the huge reach of our website.
What can consumers and advertisers look forward to from Radio Times in 2021?
Tom: The television landscape is changing fast. It’s where you’ll find the biggest stars, largest budgets and the freshest, most creative minds. Our challenge is to help readers find the good stuff. You need more than a magazine: you need a website, you need events (we shall look to take our festival online) and you need to add even more value to a rapidly expanding pool of subscribers.
Shem: Advertisers can still trust RT as a solid and safe place for reach and context. We’re looking at new ways of extending the brand and revenue streams – and don’t forget RadioTimes.com’s traffic numbers are continually growing. In 2021 we’ll be building on this and increasing personalisation.
Give us the inside track on what we’ll all be doing by Christmas 2021?
Shem: More streaming, more podcasts, more watching brand-new cinema releases on our smart TVs. By this time next year people will be hopefully looking forward to a Coronavirus-free traditional, family Christmas. And Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the legendary Radio Times double issue!
Tom: The way we watch television will continue to change fast. Lockdown has helped readers shift from terrestrial-only, to exploring the world of choice beyond. But our readers still hold the BBC very dear. They consider themselves not just licence-fee payers but as candid friends of the Corporation. They’ll tell the BBC where it goes wrong, but they’ll go a long way to defend it.
What’s one new lockdown habit you don’t want to give up?
Tom: I used to hate Zoom/Teams/FaceTime. Now it is the only way we can get the magazine out every week, from 47 different kitchen tables. Beyond the “office”, I’ve lost myself in my garden. It is a lovingly neglected wilderness, so it’s been easy to do.
Shem: The fact I don’t sit on the Piccadilly line for two hours a day has made life much more enjoyable – over 35 years in publishing, I’ve wasted 650 solid days sitting on a tube train! Professionally, “working from home” press day has been a revelation. One hot summer’s day I got to co-edit and proof read the issue in the garden, with the Test Match on the radio. It doesn’t get better than that.