Virgin Radio will be the first UK station to take advantage of new Nokia mobile phone handsets that incorporate 'visual radio' capability. Similar to the existing 'red button' on digital television services, the two new Nokia handsets allow radio stations to send information to mobile phone screens, such as a photo of the artist whose song is playing, and the listener can be asked to rate the song with the click of a button. Stations will also be able to sell listeners a ringtone version of the song, a CD, a DVD or a concert ticket, all of which can generate additional earnings. Listening to radio over mobile phones has been available in North America for several years and 15% of handsets sold worldwide incorporate an embedded radio tuner. According to Virgin Radio’s market research, the addition of visual content can make radio advertising 50% more effective. Virgin already streams text and pictures within its DAB and internet radio services. James Cridland, managing editor of Virgin Radio new media, says that advertisers are enthusiastic about the potential benefits. "Radio is a great medium for emotion and immediacy," Cridland told the press, "but if you can make it more permanent – keeping a telephone number on a mobile screen, for example – it can be much more powerful." Radio advertisers will now be able to gauge the immediate impact of their campaigns. "For the first time, radio advertising can become measurable," said Reidar Wasenius of Nokia. "This is a potential disruptor to the music industry business model. Rather than radio stations being paid rates based on the estimated number of listeners, they could pay stations based on how many copies of a song they sold. Radio stations could become more like retailers." Nokia’s research has shown that mobile phone users would pay an additional £3.50 to £4.20 per month to access interactive phone services on the GPRS system and it hopes the service will help speed up the adoption rate for high speed mobile data services. Nokia is giving radio stations the software free of charge that enables them to incorporate the additional visual content. Nokia predicts it will sell 100m handsets worldwide in the next two years with visual radio capability, making it an important part of the 300m new subscribers it plans to sign up by 2007. At the moment, Nokia is the only handset manufacturer that has announced it is introducing interactive radio facilities. Last year, DAB multiplex owner Digital One announced a partnership with BT Wholesale to develop multimedia content for portable devices such as personal digital assistants, mobile phones and DAB portable radios.

[First published in 'The Radio Magazine' as 'Radio Comes To Mobiles', #667, 22 January 2005]

Grant Goddard is a media analyst / radio specialist / radio consultant with thirty years of experience in the broadcasting industry, having held senior management and consultancy roles within the commercial media sector in the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia. Details at

News: 'Virgin Radio' Launches Visual Radio On Nokia Mobiles ©2005 Grant Goddard

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