When radio was born, no one had a clue how to make money with it. The early radio station operators made radio sets. They knew if they wanted to sell radio sets, they had to provide something for those radio sets to pickup and for the people who owned those radio sets, something entertaining to listen to.
It was AT&T, that didn’t make radio sets, that was the first radio operator to try selling the first radio commercial over their radio station WEAF. AT&T was in the phone business and the selling of phone lines to carry network radio programming. It put on-the-air a radio station merely to understand the business better. Not wishing for it to be an expense, they went looking for a way to make their radio station pay for itself, if not make a profit.
Many ways of making money with radio stations were tried, but by the late 1920s, the selling of advertising reached the tipping point for this business model going forward. Radio had conditioned people to expect, that if they bought a piece of hardware – a radio set – the content would be provided for free; albeit supported by advertising.
When the Internet came along, people expected to buy the hardware – a computer, modem and connection to the World Wide Web – but they expected that the content would be free, and it was; again supported by advertising.
Newspapers and magazines grew up with no hardware to buy, just the content that was printed on paper. The subscription cost was relatively low and advertising would pick up the rest of the expense along with providing the owners a nice profit.
The problem today is newspapers and magazines have joined radio and television in the new distribution channel of the Net. Two of these mediums should be adept at marketing their content in this manner and the other two, well, are finding it challenging.
Cable TV’s HBOs and SHOs, on the other hand, charged for their content from the get-go. And when Netflix came along, it also created the pay-for-content habit which it easily converted from the mail to the Net. They also provided their content commercial free. This created an expectation that when you pay for content, you don’t have to have your content interrupted by ads.
The pay walls that have been tried by newspapers and magazines include advertising, but that’s only part of the problem. You see the print consumer was never really paying for the entire cost of printing and distribution. They merely made a contribution to that cost. The rest of the cost was picked up by the publisher, who gladly subsidized the whole thing because of the tremendous profits they realized via the sale of advertising. The other is a case of supply vs. demand. The supply of content has never been greater and the demand, so fragmented. This post is just one example of the free content anyone can get off of LinkedIn with a free account or via my blog (DickTaylorBlog.com).
The bucket of cold water reality is that marketers are more willing to pay to reach consumers with their message than consumers are willing to pay for content they want to consume.
So why are radio and television spinning their wheels while others (BuzzFeed, Vice Media, etc.) are walking away with the mother lode? To paraphrase the famous line from the movie “Cool Hand Luke”: What we have here is a failure to innovate.
Radio and TV merely want to put their content on the Net and count the money. To compare it to sports, these two legacy mediums are good at baseball (over-the-air) and now when they move to the Net, where the game is football, they want to continue playing baseball.
In radio, FM finally came into its own when young broadcasters were given the chance to innovate. We are living during a communications revolution. Revolutions are periods of huge disruption to what was, as what will be gets created. The new opportunities are being seized by those not clinging to their old business models. The bad news is the “good old days” aren’t coming back. The good news is, what will replace them will be just as good, if not better.