Tag Archives: digital media

Oh, The Insanity

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) submission to the Federal Communications Commission for the FCC’s 2018 Quadrennial Regulatory Review is eye-opening.  You can read it for yourself HERE. It left me shaking my head.

The NAB told the commission that “’local radio stations’ Over-The-Air (OTA) ad revenues fell 44.9% in nominal terms ($17.6 billion to $9.7 billion) from 2005-2020.” Local 2020 digital advertising revenues by stations only increased the radio industry’s total ad revenues by $0.9 billion bringing them to $10.6 billion.

The NAB’s solution to the problem is for the radio industry to become more consolidated.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over

and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

Say What?

Back in the mid 90s, the radio industry was telling anyone who would listen that the problem with the state of radio broadcasting in America was that the industry was made up of little “ma and pa” radio stations/groups which could not scale and if the ownership caps weren’t lifted the radio industry would perish.

Excuse me, but I’ve already seen this movie and how it ends. So, why would doing more of what didn’t work, result in a different outcome.

The Media World Has Changed

I don’t think anyone would contest that the media world we live in has changed dramatically since 2005. Facebook, the world’s largest social media company with over 1.84 billion daily active users, opened its doors on February of 2004. YouTube began in 2005 and Twitter in 2006.

Google, the dominate search engine on the internet, began in 1998 and internet retailing behemoth, Amazon, began in 1994.

The new internet kids on the block that dominate our day are WhatsApp (2009), Pinterest (2009), Instagram (2010), Messenger (2011), SnapChat (2011) and TikTok (2016).

The Top 10 internet companies at the end of 2020 raked in 78.1% of the digital ad revenue ($109.2 billion).

All Ad Dollars Are Green

While we like to break money spent on advertising into distinct categories like digital media, traditional media etc. the reality is the total number of advertising dollars is a finite number and in the end you can’t tell a dollar from digital from a dollar from analog advertising.

“You can’t handle the truth!”

Colonel Jessup

(played by Jack Nicholson in the 1992 film “A Few Good Men”)

Since 2005, many young entrepreneurs have created a better mousetrap to capture those advertising dollars. No one ever made a regulation or a law that prevented the radio industry from doing what any of those internet companies did. The passenger railroad industry never thought of themselves as being in the transportation business but only the railroad business. That’s why it found itself challenged by other means of people transportation, namely the airlines.

The radio advertising industry was born by entrepreneurs that learned how to create a product that attracted a large listening audience, which in turn enabled them to sell audio advertising to companies wishing to expose their product or service to these consumers.

Unfortunately, we found ourselves challenged by new media competition. Initially, it was television, but transistor portable radios, along with car radios, allowed our business to reinvent its programming and flourish once again.

With the advent of the internet, radio was caught flat-footed.

If that were its only problem.

Radio Stations (2005-2020)

In 2005, America had 18,420 radio signals on the air.

  • 13,660 AM/FM/FM Educational radio stations on the air
  • 3,995 FM translators & boosters
  • 675 Low Power FM stations.

By 2020, those numbers increased to 26,001 radio signals.

  • 15,445 AM/FM/FM Educational radio stations
  • 8,420 FM translators & boosters
  • 2,136 Lower Power FM stations

18,330 vs. 26,001

That’s a 41.8% increase in the number of radio stations.

While radio folks were busy trying to steal radio advertising from the station across the street or consolidating with their former competition, the internet folks were focused on selling more advertising. From 2005 to 2020, the sale of digital advertising grew from $12.5 billion to $139.8 billion. That’s an increase of 118.4%.

But during that same time, radio grew its digital advertising footprint by $0.9 billion.

Quantity vs. Quality

When radio regulation began in America under the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) the decision was made by that regulatory body to focus on the quality of radio programming versus the quantity of radio stations they allowed to broadcast. Only people or companies with the economic capital to operate a radio station in the “public interest, convenience and/or necessity” would be allowed to obtain a radio broadcast license.

I believe you could say that the radio industry’s downfall began when we ceased worrying about quality and went with the more signals we license, the better for radio listeners mantra.

Sydney, Australia

Sydney is a major city in the country of Australia with a population of 5.312 million people. There are 74 radio stations on the air in Sydney.

By comparison, Los Angeles (America’s second largest city) has a population of 3.984 million people and 158 radio stations serving its metro.

In July 2021, radio revenues in Sydney were up 11.3% year-on-year according to Milton Data.

The Benefits of Pruning

Gardeners know that pruning is the act of trimming leaves, branches and other dead matter from plants. It’s by pruning a plant that you improve its overall health.

A beautiful garden is one where the plants have been trained to grow properly, to improve in their health/quality, and even in some cases to restrict their growth. Pruning is a great preventative gardening and lawn care process that protects the environment and increases curb-appeal.

The irony of gardening is, the more fruit and flowers a plant produces, the smaller the yield becomes. Pruning encourages the production of larger fruits and blooms.

Why do I share this with you?

I believe that everything in the world is interconnected. You can’t for a moment think that what makes for a bountiful garden would not also make for a robust radio industry.

Today’s radio industry is so overgrown with signals and other air pollution, that it has impacted its health.

Doing more of the same, and expecting a different result is insane.

It’s time to get out the pruning shears.

Less Is More

I believe that the way to improve the radio industry in America, to have more advertising revenues to support quality local services including news, sports and emergency journalism, along with entertainment by talented live performers, is by reducing the number of radio signals.

AM radio is the logical first place to start.

Elsewhere in the world we are seeing that not only the AM band being sunset but the analog FM band as well. The world has gone digital.

American radio has one final chance to get it right by correcting for past decisions, hurtful to radio broadcasting, in creating a new and robust digital broadcasting service.

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F’ing With the Magic

Those that know me, know I don’t use profanity. But former radio CEO Mel Karmazin, upon learning about Google’s automated advertising sales algorithm, verbalized what every nervous media and technology CEO was thinking when he said to Sergi Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt “You’re fucking with the magic.” I read this in Ken Auletta’s 2009 book titled “Googled: The End of the World as We Know It.”

Media Advertising – The Last 10 Years

If we measure media advertising as a percentage of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), we see that in the last decade, media advertising in the United States was down 25% according to the Progressive Policy Institute. This think tank is reported to do some of the best research that uncouples advertising expenditures from the rest of the economy.

What caused this drop? Low cost digital ads, as compared to advertising rates in traditional media, what many of us used to call trading traditional media dollars for digital dimes.

Unfortunately, as traditional media, especially print, was seeing its advertiser base disappear, it compensated for fewer advertisers by raising its prices. Television did this too. They were assuming they held an impregnable position with advertisers. Unfortunately, they completely ignored the digital reality exploding all around them.

Radio’s Expansion

Similarly, the radio industry went about over-populating the AM and FM broadcast bands without acknowledging the growth of digital alternatives. The FCC’s “MM Docket 80-90” added over 700 new FM radio stations in the first three years after the law took effect in 1987. Then LPFM (Low Power FM radio signals) were added to help AM radio stations, as well as to provide local non-profit radio stations to communities that had no local radio service.

If that wasn’t enough, radio broadcasters began to embrace HD Radio (digital radio signals) when they learned that the same law that allowed for an AM radio station to rebroadcast its programming on an FM signal also allowed HD Radio broadcasts to be rebroadcast on an analog FM signal.

To be clear, in 1927 there were 705 commercial radio stations on-the-air (all on the AM band and most with transmitter power of under 1,000-watts). Today we have 25,819 radio stations (21,209 FM / 4,610 AM).

While all of this was going on at a frenetic pace, no one was paying attention to the 800-pound elephants in the room aka Facebook, Google, and Amazon.

Time Spent vs Ad Expenditures

It stands to reason, that the more time a person spends with a particular form of media, the more likely they are to be exposed to more of the advertising content it runs.

Ten years ago analyst Mary Meeker showed in her annual “State of the Internet” slide show, how things were trending negatively for traditional media.

For print, our media attention in 2010 was only 8%, but print commanded 27% of ad dollars. By 2018, our print attention had dropped to only 3%, and print’s ad dollars fell to 7%.

For TV, in 2010 it garnered 43% of our media attention, and commanded 43% of ad dollars. By 2018, both attention and ad dollars had fallen to 34%.

In 2010, for radio, we gave this medium 16% of our media attention and it collected 11% of the ad dollars. By 2018, our attention had fallen to 12% and radio’s ad dollars slipped to 8%.

Where did those ad dollars go? To digital media, as this Mary Meeker chart clearly shows.

More specifically, to mobile digital media.

In 2010, the smartphone in your pocket took up about 8% of our media attention and a paltry 0.5% of ad dollars spent. But by 2018, mobile digital media was commanding 33% of our attention and collecting an equal 33% of ad dollars, soon to be eclipsing TV in both metrics.

Too Little, Too Late

It’s easy to look back 20 years into the beginning of the 21st Century, and say what should have been done, but the fact of the matter remains that traditional media companies were in denial. The denial of the coming digital media world wasn’t just in the ad-supported mediums such as print, radio and TV, but also in companies like Kodak, which actually invented the digital camera in 1975, but whose leaders were in denial about it being the future of photography, and worried about cannibalizing its lucrative print film business.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

-Peter Drucker, legendary management consultant

Radio’s golden assets were its radio personalities and the relationships they built with the listeners. In the rush to expand, and appease shareholders who wanted accelerated growth, radio owners killed their “golden goose,” while enlarging its nest.

Radio continues to jettison the very people that connect its stations with their community of license.

Simon Sinek said, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do, simply proves what you believe.”

For me, radio was a passion to make something great come out of a person’s radio speaker. It’s why I made radio broadcasting my career and why I went on to teach broadcasting at a university. It was my passion to create great radio!

What is radio’s WHY today?

I think that’s the question the industry needs to ask itself.

“If you keep your eye on the profit, you’re going to skimp on the product.

But if you focus on making really great products, then the profits will follow.”

-Steve Jobs

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Where Have All the Salespeople Gone?

emptydeskFact: the number of people working in the advertising industry is in decline. What makes this noteworthy is that America has been in an economic expansion.

For the past thirty years, advertising jobs have grown in line with the economy, why not now?

I See/Hear Lots of Ads

In my youth during the 60s/70s, it was estimated that the average American was exposed to around 500 ads per day. Those were the days where advertising was delivered by what we now quaintly refer to as “traditional media;” newspapers, magazines, billboards, radio, television and direct mail.

In today’s world of smartphones and internet, digital marketing experts estimate that the average American is exposed to somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 advertisements per day.

With this explosion in advertising, why are salespeople disappearing?

Google It

Or Facebook it. Or Amazon it.

In reality, the world’s largest advertising companies are these three technology giants and they have realized virtually all of the growth in digitally based advertising.

Programmatic Buying

The advertising business has always been one based on building relationships, be it directly with the business owner or with an advertising agency. Programmatic buying eliminates these relationships by the use of algorithms. This allows for the placement of more advertising, on a variety of platforms, with the need for fewer people.

The downside of programmatic buying is that a company’s ads may be placed in low-quality or even offense editorial material. That’s been very troublesome for advertisers.

The High Tech/High Touch Pendulum

Throughout my broadcast career, I’ve watched the pendulum of change oscillate between a communications industry that is “high touch,” aka people talking to people, to one that is “high tech,” aka machines/automation talking to people. This pendulum oscillates on a fairly regular cycle between the two extremes.

Maybe we’re close to the apex of the pendulum swinging in the direction of high tech, and it will be moving back toward a world that demands people interacting with people again. We’ve been here before.

Digital Truths

In the current generation of digital media, we know that two things are true:

  1. No one is looking for more ads
  2. High Quality Content Rules

So, what’s the answer?

Every form of media needs to look in the mirror at itself and be honest about its advertising content and the quantity of ads it’s running. (Note: Running more low quality ads was never a solution to making your budget number.)

Whether we’re talking about the songs we program, the banter of our personalities, the content of our talk shows or the quality/content of our ads, it’s ALL important in a world where high quality content rules.

Media sales today is more about building partnerships than transactions. It is one where consistency and trust are the foundation upon which today’s sales professional becomes a sustaining resource to the businesses they serve.

Human Relationships

Advertising is influencing and influencing is fueled by relationships.

Whether it’s the relationship between an air personality and the audience, or the sales professional and the client, there’s real value in building human relationships and partnerships.

The airline industry today could save as much as 35 Billion Dollars employing the use of pilotless planes. But according to Fortune “54% of passengers refuse to board a remote-controlled plane.”

Representative

I know I’m not alone when I call a company for help and find myself frustrated having to deal with an automated voice system. Very quickly I find myself yelling over and over and over “REPRESENTATIVE.”

Are we approaching the age of algorithm burnout?

We will always opt for a real live human to work with, over a digital one.

That’s why there will always be a job for media sales professionals who are both knowledgeable and emotionally intelligent.

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