Over the years as I’ve been writing this blog, some of my critics have accused me of being negative on the future of radio broadcasting, comparing me to a “radio chicken little” that each week proclaims the sky is falling.
It’s hard to read something that makes you feel uncomfortable.
I’ve been a fan of Dan Ariely, with his Predictably Irrational books and his column “Ask Ariely,” which was published in the Wall Street Journal for just over ten years. If you don’t know, Dan Ariely is an Israeli-American professor and author, serving as a James B. Duke Professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University.
On September 26, 2022, he announced that he was ending “Ask Ariely”, a weekly column that he has been writing since June 2012.
At that time, the reasons he gave were “our society now confronts some big, important, collective problems. We haven’t yet made up our minds as to how we will treat our planet, confront fake news, cope with a post-COVID workforce or mitigate the effects of inequality, hatred and political fragmentation.”
WOW, it kind of makes anything I write about concerning radio seem trite, doesn’t it?
Then, in December, Dan emailed his subscribers a letter called “End-of-Year Alternative Ask Ariely”, with thoughts that I’ve been mentally marinating.
Stay or Change
In life we are often faced with Stay or Change decisions.
- Stay in our current job or Change to a new one
- Stay married or Change to go our separate ways
- Stay on the couch watching TV or Change to a more active lifestyle
- Stay in the radio format we’ve done for the past 10 years or Change to something new
“In general, when we look at the decisions we make each day, most of them are not an outcome of active deliberation,” says Ariely.
The Future is Digital
One of the tough facts facing the radio industry is the move to an all-digital world. Inside Radio started off the new year with the headline story “Digital Audio Listeners Expected to Top 225 Million This Year.”
The facts they presented in the story were:
- 74% of American internet users listened to digital audio in 2022
- Time spent listening (TSL) to digital audio is increasing by its users
- Digital audio consumption is nearly even with the TSL of broadcast TV daily
- Digital TSL beats streaming video, using social media or playing video games
- Digital adoption remains most common among younger generations
- 91.1% among people aged 16-24
Last year saw the majority of Americans listening to digital audio on their smartphones while at home, and this number is expected to grow to 55.8% of the U.S. population by 2026 according to eMarketer.
eMarketer also points out that more than six in ten digital audio listeners in America were paying for a streaming audio subscription in 2022. (Full disclosure, I pay for two different streaming audio services that began in 2022.)
The latest from Dave Van Dyke at Bridge Ratings research shows that digital media was the big winner in 2022, with 95% of consumers using websites or apps and 88% interacting with social media.
Then there was this headline from Edison Research, “Mobile’s Share of At-Home Audio Listening Leads AM/FM Receivers.” Edison has found that Americans over the age 13 now spend 35% of their daily audio listening time with digital audio via their mobile device while in their home. In contrast, Americans who are still listening on an AM/FM radio receiver is down to 26%. This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the most recent Infinite Dial research found 39% of American households have zero radios.
BBC Without Broadcast
BBC Director-General Tim Davie was recently reported saying: “A switch-off of broadcast will and should happen over time, and we should be active in planning for it.” Davie went on to say: “consumers are awash with choices from traditional broadcast and new streaming services [and that] a change to [the BBC’s] traditional model is necessary.”
The internet has removed
the historical distribution advantage
of broadcast media.
Changing Your Perspective
Most of the people who read this blog, have grown up with broadcast media, but a person born just 10 to 15 years ago is presented with two options for listening to audio content, broadcast or digital. For these young people, these two options have always existed.
Think of it as buying a new car with or without air conditioning. People buying cars in the mid-90s didn’t even consider buying a car without it, as it was offered as standard equipment by virtually all manufacturers on new cars.
Broadcasters weighing whether they should “stay” with what they’ve always done versus “change”, should reframe this question by labeling the choices as “Option A” or “Option B”.
- Option A: Broadcast Media
- Option B: Digital Media
As Dan Ariely explains, when you change the framing of this decision from one that considers “stay” versus “change” to one that considers Option A versus Option B, you put each choice on a more equal footing.
“The problem is that the natural framing of “stay” versus “change” gives an unfair advantage to the “stay” decision because it is simpler, it require less change, less work, and does not make us feel that we are making a decision. It also doesn’t make us think much about what we would risk if we made the wrong decision. Of course, staying might feel like we are not making a decision, but by staying we are making a decision. By reframing the decision as “Option A” versus “Option B”, some of the advantages of the stay options are reduced and it becomes clearer what we really want to do.”
So, what say you? “Option A” or “Option B”?
I’m all ears.
12 responses to “Option A or Option B”
I vote for A and B. Think of the tv broadcaster if you said Option A is broadcast only vs Option B cable distribution. They do both and are agnostic except in engineering departments about the merits and in the CFO’s office about the transmitter tower and electric costs. One year the BBC direction will come to a head. Any sane person, even a radio zealot like me must acknowledge its inevitable. But the TV side is really instructive. The networks maintain their broadcast signals because it is the entry point to their real business which is negotiating retransmission rights through the cable and satellite companies. That is worth billions to their bottomlines. Soon our apps will become the equivalent to our transmitters – the distribution channel we totally control. I submit we need legislation that would prohibit Tune-in and other aggregators from rebroadcasting our content without negotiated consent. Anybody else as infuriated as I am that Tune In runs not one but two big name advertisers as a preroll to listening to our station? They are monetizing our content right where the inflection point is coming. We need and should demand through Congress a broadcast performance right that will make retransmission without negotiated consent illegal. This is nothing short of pivotal to our industry. Doing prerolls for Xfinity or Directv when you tune your local broadcast channel is impermissible. And must be for our radio stations too. Where is NAB and NPR on this? They jointly held off lpfms for over a decade negotiating restrictions to insure little competitive harm could come. Here the clock and our futures are ticking. Lets not whistle past the graveyard.
Thank You for all you wrote Michael.
In the early days of TV, it was the money generated by AM radio that helped to fund this new medium. I’m sure many felt that the future was doing both, and for many decades it was.
The internet has removed the historical distribution advantage of broadcast media. Spend any time around young people today and they are all about their smartphones, iPads, computers and smart speakers.
A grandson that I spend the most time with watches YouTube videos the majority of the time he’s allowed to watch anything. It’s his go-to channel.
When I ask my other grand kids where they find the new music they listen to, they all respond with the same one word answer: “Spotify.”
In a world where 39% of households have zero radios, I’ve lost count on the number of radios I own. I have at least one radio in every room of my house and many more in storage.
These days, I feed all of them via my own Whole House FM Transmitter which gets its audio sourced from a smart speaker.
I can listen to virtually any audio source in the world on all of my radios using this arrangement.
When I’m in the car, again, my iPhone feeds a bluetooth enabled receiver that automatically connects to my phone and I have the same worldwide access when on the road.
The quality and stability of any signal is superior to over-the-air.
Areas without great cell service are fast shrinking.
I paid a one time fee for TuneIn Pro and I get none of those pre-roll ads you speak of or any interruptions to the audio content I’m listening to with additional dropped in ads. I forget the FREE version has those.
Here’s more for you on that: https://help.tunein.com/what-is-the-difference-between-pro-premium-and-free-r1xeqA9uwM
Broadcasters WANT to be on these Apps and they understand that the trade-off is TuneIn making a buck.
The internet truly has given the world an “Infinite Dial” of choices.
I have subscribed and watching the You Tube channel called “Mister Radio” for a few years now. He is in California and he refurbishes old radios from the 30’s – 70’s. One of his trade marks that he does to almost all of his work is to include an input plug so people can plug in their own digital devices.
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Interesting. I’ll have to check it out.
Just before I read your article, I read this one.
What Should Radio do? Or, is the better question, What “Could” Radio do.
I found the article very interesting.
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That’s an excellent way to reframe this classic question.
I love Daniel Pink’s books too.
Thank You for sharing it.
Those critics who claim you are now writing about the demise of radio have not been around long (grin). Your first years of writings were weighed on the reinvention of radio leading to its best years to come. If memory serves me, I was your earliest critic to say that the glory days of radio were over and they were never coming back. I saw the potential of digital podcasts in 2003, when I worked in a network.
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Yes Victor, I remember those days and your early position on where things were headed.
Sadly, radio – the love of our ol’ lives – has used up its usefulness.
It’s the electronic version of the public pay phone that once was on every street corner. Then, along came cell phones and suddenly, “buh bye now.” The same can be said for the daily newspaper – a life’s staple that we could never imagine NOT starting out our day with – along with a cup o’ coffee.
But, back to the medium formerly known as, “Theater of the Mind.” Let’s face it, in almost every market, the ratings leader was usually, “All news.” It was a must driving to work. It provided news, sports, weather, traffic – all those things we depended upon each weekday. And, for the convenience of listeners, most stations even had a set time for each of those features to be aired.
But, in one fell swoop, your cell phone gave you all of that “on-demand!” And that, essentially, made radio a gelding, by supplanting its much-needed “services” and rendering its “ace-in-the-hole” pretty much to extraneous status.
As for music stations, well…..why would anyone – in this digital age – where you can instantaneously hear ANY song of your choosing (in the highest quality) – need to listen to a bunch of spots and mindless prattle (that most stations offer-up as “entertainment?)
Moreover, when CBS – the granddaddy of radio companies, who had been in the business for nearly 100 years – announced in 2015 that they were offing its radio division, because it was causing a massive drain on its corporate bottom line, I knew the dye was cast.
On a personal level, I have spent most of my entire life loving radio and was fortunate enough to have lived through its halcyon days, and watching what is happening to the Grand Lady hurts like hell! Sadly, radio’s best days are in its rear view mirror. It’s simply outlived its viability. Yes, it’ll hang on for awhile, but, it’s in the ICU now.
The main reason, is that radio is not even on the radar screens of Millennials and Gen Z. And, those of us who grew-up listening to radio are dying off and there’s no one to replace us.
Thus, attrition becomes the enemy.
It was once widely believed, that candles would go the way of high-button shoes, with the advent of the electric light bulb. However, candles somehow managed to stay afloat, finding a way to provide other uses to keep them feasible.
The question is, can radio emulate the candle?
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Thank You Steve for taking the time to share your cogent thoughts.
First the BBC says it. Now the CBC says it too.
This week’s message, beginning with criticizing Dick Taylor for not always sounding like a cheerleader for radio’s status quo, immediately conjured Jack Nicholson’s line, “You can’t handle the truth.” And the truth is that things change. In 1969 I produced a film for IBM – then the leader of the most forward-thinking of industries – titled “The Constance of Change.” In the case of radio, it is sometimes due to external forces, like digital streaming; sometimes due to forces we bring upon ourselves, from person-less and place-less conglomerate automation and voice-tracking to ad clutter. Radio today suffers all these. The radio of my days on-air is gone, along with much of tomorrow’s audience.
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Yes Robin, we listened for the personalities behind the mic.
They could be a simple as a warm, confortable, constant companion that we could always depend on being there to spend part of our day with us.
Ron Lundy (WABC/CBS-FM) was like that for me. Any time I got close to his signal, I dialed him up and he always made me feel good and put a spring in my step.
The music, could be heard in a myriad of places, but Ron Lundy, could only be heard in one place.