TECHKNOW: Net heads

TECHKNOW: Net heads - NAME Tom Laidlaw

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

NAME Tom Laidlaw

POSITION Head of programming and production, Capital Interactive


PC users have long been able to listen to their favourite radio stations online as well as by more conventional means. But what's on offer has been the same either way - until now.

According to Tom Laidlaw, former AOL producer and now head of programming for Capital Radio's online arm, the future of radio (for music, at least) lies in unicasting - a technology that uses intelligent software to learn your listening habits and play only the tunes that it knows you like to hear.

When did you become interested in the internet?

When I founded my own web-hosting company in the mid-90s. That led to my getting the call to join AOL as an entertainment producer. I'd never be offered that job today, but five and a half years ago there weren't many people with internet knowledge.

How much time do you spend surfing each day?

I have my web browser open all day - it's my job. When I'm not e-mailing or looking at our own sites, I'm looking at competitors' sites. Basically, I don't do anything else.

Which sites do you use each week?

I'm a huge fan of, the best web radio site in the world. I use all the news and search functions on Excite and Yahoo! and I buy a lot of music from Amazon.

Amazon is a great example of a one-click site - everything you want is only a click away. But I like to have a rest from the net at weekends.

Who are your advisers?

We used PA Consulting to help produce business plans and draw up the agreements with record companies that we needed. And we have used IT consultants on an ad hoc basis for technology advice. But most of the radio know-how has come from within the group.

What is your company's web strategy?

Unicasting is our ultimate goal. While we perfect the technology to do this properly, our strategy is based on an intermediate stage called narrowcasting - broadcasting to a narrow, well-defined set of people. So we recently launched Diva, a site specifically for 24 to 30-year-olds, and we're looking to do the same thing for other target groups. Going for audience type rather than music genre is deliberate. Nobody listens only to country music, or only to R&B, and doing it that way wouldn't attract the advertising we need. Diva and all our other launches will be marketed through a new internet brand, Kikido, to avoid polluting our current brand and to provide us with the freedom to distribute music to appropriate branded partners.

So, soon users of, for example, could be listening to music provided by us specially for them.

What's your biggest gripe about the internet?

Traditional companies that still see it as a threat rather than an opportunity. We need to sign up all the major record companies for our internet radio stations to work. Universal, Chrysalis, EMI and Virgin have all signed up to us but Warner and Sony haven't.

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