Tag Archives: Infinite Dial

The Past is Not Prologue

200px-Duck-Rabbit_illusion

Thomas Kuhn used the duck-rabbit optical illusion, to demonstrate the way in which a paradigm shift could cause one to see the same information in an entirely different way.

One of my favorite weekly reads is Tim Moore’s “The Midweek Motivator.” You can sign-up for Tim’s weekly wisdom here.

This past week, Tim wrote about how people inside radio stations are asking him, “is radio failing?”

Now Tim’s a student of history, and he responded with “If you care about history (because the past is prologue) here’s the simple truth: some large groups are faced with debt loads that will either force bankruptcy or massive reorganization.”

Tim’s analysis about how America’s two largest broadcasters dug huge debt holes that can’t be re-filled by current operating revenues is spot-on. With radio, like a lot of businesses, it’s a matter of buying it right from the get-go. Start out upside down and most likely you won’t have a good day.

A system that is over-reliant on prediction through leverage, hence fragile to unforeseen “black swan” events, will eventually break into pieces.

-Nassim Taleb

Technology

Crystal balls are hard to come by but my tea leaves are leading me to believe that mass mediated communication is confronting more than just debt loads. What we are also dealing with is “paradigm paralysis.”

Radio’s leaders are holding onto a set of beliefs and views that radio is invincible.

Thomas Kuhn coined the term “paradigm shift” in his influential book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” in 1962. The business world adopted this terminology of “paradigm shift” to describe a profound change in a fundamental model.

Paradigm paralysis, on the other hand, is the inability or refusal to see beyond the current models of thinking.

Let Me Share a Story

John C. Harrison told this story at the First World Congress on Fluency Disorders held in Munich, Germany in 1994. See if you see a parallel to radio and the advent of satellites, streaming, podcasts, and smart speakers.

In the late 1940s a man walked into a laboratory of a major photographic

manufacturer in America to demonstrate a new photographic process.  But

he didn’t bring along a camera or film.  He brought along a red box with a

shiny steel plate, a charging device, a light bulb and a container of black

powder.  The picture he created was faint but discernible.

 

“But where’s the film?” they asked.  “Where’s the developer?  Where’s the

darkroom?  Why, that’s not really photography!”  And so, the company

passed up an opportunity to acquire the process for electrostatic

photography, or xerography…a process that has grown into a multi-billion

dollar industry.

 

Why did they pass up such a great opportunity?  Because the people who

saw the process were suffering from PARADIGM PARALYSIS.

 

Call Me an Outsider

Joel Barker wrote a book called “Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future.” Joel says that anyone who develops a new paradigm is often labeled an “outsider.”

Truthfully, when you’re running a cluster of radio stations, you don’t have time to think let alone take a step back and look at things with a fresh eye. I know. I’ve been there.

What teaching and now blogging have given me the opportunity to do is listen to everyone talk about the prevailing paradigm of radio broadcasting, in all of its subtleties and contrast it, to what I’m witnessing taking place before my eyes and ears by the end users of mass media.

And what I sense may be happening, is the radio industry being on the verge of a “black swan event.”

Black Swan Events

Credit card companies, who amass tons of data on their customers, still managed to miss the huge financial crises in housing back in 2007-2009.

When a tidal wave struck Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, the predictive model used to calculate how high the protective wall should be built, provided for a 20-foot wave. Yet, the wave that struck the plant was 24-feet high.

AIG, an insurance company in the business of predicting risk, missed seeing the financial collapse that bankrupted them.

Digital Advertising

Now Facebook is dealing with a black swan event over their data breach by Cambridge Analytica. Only this black swan could have major implications for how digital advertising is bought and sold in the future. The UK and Europe will put in place in May 2018 the “General Data Protection Regulation,” that will protect their citizens’ personal data or offending companies will suffer stiff penalties and fines.

So, what the Facebook story is doing, is making its two plus billion users aware of such massive collection and abuse of our data, but the fallout from this breach of trust will impact the ad supported business model of everyone in the digital advertising world.

30% of American Homes Don’t Have a Radio

Edison Research and Triton Digital’s annual “Infinite Dial” research just produced this astounding statistic. Close to a third of America’s homes no longer have a radio set in them.

Many people see smart speakers as the way back into the home for radio. But are they really?

Cable TV & Over-The-Air (OTA) TV

In the beginning, cable television was called “Community Antenna Television.” The concept was simple, TV stations were primarily located in big cities and the suburbs couldn’t receive those TV signals. So, antennas were placed high on mountains and cables would carry the signals received to homes in the valley.

TV operators loved this back then. It was like getting a power increase for no money.

Ah, but remember, there’s no such thing as a “free lunch.”

As the cable industry grew, channels such as ESPN and CNN and The Weather Channel were born and would compete with OTA TV.

Then along came streaming video.

Netflix

At the end of March 2017, one year ago, Netflix surpassed cable TV with its number of subscribers. And if you were to add up all the other streaming video services available to today’s television consumer, the lead over cable wouldn’t be a couple million viewers, but tens of millions.

What happens when a household begins subscribing to these advertising free channels? They find it almost impossible to return to ad supported ones.

Smart Speakers

Now we circle back to the smart speakers, Amazon’s, Google’s, Apple’s and Microsoft’s for starters. Instead of a handful of audio choices, the smart speaker delivers an almost infinite choice, and many, advertising-free.

When you put a prime rib steak next to hamburger and they are both the same price, which do you think most folks will choose?

The smart speaker lets you customize your favorites, much like the pre-sets on your car radio does. I’m willing to bet that the average consumer will end up with about 3 to 5 favorite audio streams they spend the bulk of their listening time with.

In fact, Nielsen’s Total Audience Report released in the second quarter of 2017 said that 87% of OTA radio listeners spent their listening time tuned to one of their three favorite radio stations. And 58% of that time was spent listening to just one station, what Nielsen calls their 1st Preference or P1 station.

Why would we expect this number to grow with the advent of smart speakers?

Goldstein’s Words

I think Steve Goldstein summed it up best in his recent blog when he wrote, “Commercial radio should put down the hammer and stop searching for nails. As they think beyond the stream, they will see how people are using audio media these days and create on-demand solutions in-sync with the vast opportunity of the exploding Smart Speaker universe. On Smart Speakers, the listeners are asking for it.”

 

 

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Radio Stations Aren’t Performing Like it’s 1999

Calendar 1999Remember when spot loads were small, rates were high, profit margins were 30% to 50%+ and revenue growth was double digit. I do.

What Happened?

Change happened.

FM radio replaced AM radio.

And AM radio stations are adding FM translators in an attempt to stay relevant.

An Abundance of Listening Options

Today there are too many radio stations playing the same program features, repeating the same positioning liners and doing the same things that we used to do 30 to 35 years ago.

Pureplay streamers are relentlessly competing for our listeners’ ears.

Listening options are infinite.

The Internet Tore Down the Gate

Traditional media was born when the “gates” to being a media property were very high. For newspapers those high gates consisted of having to buy large printing presses, paper, ink, etc. For radio & TV those high gates were things like having a broadcast license, a transmitter, studios, etc.

Traditional media enjoyed being gatekeepers for news, information and entertainment because there was no place else to go.

Legacy media enjoyed attracting huge audiences, huge margins and lots of cash flow.

The Gatekeepers of the 21st Century

The new gatekeepers are called listeners, readers and viewers of media.

The new gatekeepers are accessing their media via their smartphones, tablets, computers, smartTVs and now voice activated devices such as Alexa, Google, Apple and Cortana.

Bottom Line

Long stop sets no longer need to be tolerated by listeners or advertisers. Every element that goes out over-the-air needs to be thoroughly vetted from the listener’s perspective.

And your streaming product cannot be an afterthought. It’s your future and if you expect it to grow into your new revenue source, you need to give it your full attention.

Listener Supported

Have you noticed the growth of Christian formatted radio stations? Have you noticed the growth of NPR and public radio?

These radio stations depend on listener support as well as business underwriting.

If your station stopped selling commercials and asked its listeners to donate money to support it, would they?

Our Challenge

The challenge for broadcasters is to build audio brands that our audience doesn’t just casually listen to but feels they can’t live without. To do that, your media property needs to know your listener so well, that you are creating a product that they find engaging in every way.

It’s time to play to win again versus a decade of trying not to lose.

Consumers Have a Choice

Here’s the reality of today. Consumers of media have lots of choices for how they want to spend their time. They don’t need us. It’s up to us to create a reason for them to want us, to need us.

NAB Radio Show 2009

Now here’s the ear-opening part of this article.

Most of these points were made during an NAB Radio Show presentation I attended almost a decade ago.

It’s 2018, how many of these issues are the same today?

Why is that?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Radios Go High-Definition

37That was the headline that appeared in the Baltimore Sun on January 7, 2004. Unfortunately, unlike HDTV (High Definition Television) HDRadio never stood for “High Definition” radio. And maybe that was the first mistake. HDRadio was simply a name they chose for the digital radio technology.

The iPod was introduced in October 2001. Steve Jobs introduced this music delivery changing device this way. Only a month earlier, XM began broadcasting the first satellite radio programming to be followed four months later by Sirius satellite radio. So by 2004, digital radio was already late to the party.

KZIA-FM Z102.9 saw Kenwood USA sell its first digital receiver in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to take advantage of KZIA-FM’s HDRadio broadcasts. “This is a significant move,” Michelle Abraham, senior analyst at In-Sat/MDR, a market research firm in Arizona, said of the roll-out of digital radio equipment. “It may not seem duly significant in the beginning, but in a few years from now, it will be a huge leap.” The hope was it would prove to be competitive to the newly launched satellite radio offerings from XM and Sirius (now merged into a single satellite company). HDRadio was also seen as improving FM to have CD quality sound and making AM sound like FM. It was heralded to help struggling AM radio stations.

Solving a Problem That Didn’t Exist

What HDRadio did for FM radio stations was solve a problem that listeners to FM didn’t feel existed. No one who listened to FM radio was complaining about the quality of the sound of the transmission. (They were complaining about other things, like too many commercials.) And for AM radio stations, it meant people buying radios for a service that didn’t offer anything they really wanted to hear or couldn’t get from someplace else. AM radio was now the service of senior citizens who already owned AM radios, who grew up with AM radio’s characteristics and whose hearing was not the best now anyway. So HDRadio for AM wasn’t something they were asking for either. Worse, AM radio stations that put on the new digital signal found it lacked the benefits of skywave and often interfered with other company AM radio stations as the industry quickly consolidated radio ownership.

Industries Most Disrupted By Digital

In March 2016, an article published by Rhys Grossman in the Harvard Business Review listed “Media” as the most disrupted by the growing digital economy. Turns out if you’re a business to consumer business, you’re the first being most disrupted by digital. The barriers to be a media company used to be huge, but in a digital world they are not. The business model that media companies depend on has not adapted well to the digital economy.

Education – Disruption Ahead

Having moved from media to education I only got ahead of digital’s disruption for a while. But even those industries that had perceived high barriers of entry are finding those walls crumbling quickly. Grossman says fifty percent of executives see education being impacted in a big way in the next twelve months.

Where Are The Radios?

Edison Research did their latest “Infinite Dial” webinar and the slide that most impacted me was the one about radio ownership. From 2008 to 2016 the percentage of people in America that don’t own a single radio in their home has gone from 4% to 21%. When Edison narrowed this down to household between the ages of 18-34, non-radio ownership rose to 32%. Mark Ramsey’s Hivio 2016 Conference had one Millennial describe a radio set as being “ancient technology.” Ouch!

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Jerry Lee’s WEAZ in Philadelphia was giving away high quality FM radios to increase listenership to not just his radio station but to FM radio. And KZIA in Cedar Rapids gave away HDRadios to allow people to hear their new signal. It now appears time for the radio industry to begin giving away AM/FM radios every time they are doing station remotes, contests or appearing at venues that will attract lots of people.

Elephant in the Room

But the elephant in the room remains the broken media business model. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and television – any media that is ad supported – will be challenged to find a way to capture revenue to continue.

As Walt Disney famously said “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make movies.”

To anyone in ad supported media, we would agree we do it for the same reasons.

The $64,000 question is how.

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What Ronald McDonald Could Teach Radio

Today in America there are more radio stations on the air than at any time in its almost 100 year history. More radio stations are taking to the air every day. That’s a good thing, right? I would argue it’s not.

When I was working for Clear Channel Radio (yes, it was once called that – now it’s iHeartMedia), the President was a man named John Hogan. Hogan came up with a plan to reduce clutter. He called it “Less is More.” On the surface it sounded like a grand plan. However, the devil is always in the details and the devil was Clear Channel was now going to move away from a unit based inventory management system to a one that included half-minute long commercials, ten-second commercials, five-second long commercials it branded as “adlets” and one-second long commercials it branded as “blinks.” In the “blink” of an eye, the amount of units grew and we would learn that people don’t notice the length of commercials as much as they do the number of interruptions they are confronted with. “Less is More” would inadvertently introduce more clutter in the name of reducing clutter.

Well some clown named Ronald McDonald must have been watching us because at the end of last year, McDonalds announced that its menu had become so unwieldy that even the chain’s president had no clue as to how many items it contained.

In his book, “The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less” psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for consumers. That while autonomy and the freedom of choice can be healthy and good for our well being, modern Americans are faced with more choices than any group of people in the history of the planet and all this choice is having the reverse effect.

I remember the headline in Forbes “You Can Now Play 100,000 Radio Stations On Your TV with Google’s Chromecast.” A hundred grand? I have trouble finding enough radio stations I want to listen to, to fill the pre-sets on my car radio and they only give me pre-sets for 6 AM stations and 12 FM stations. I have a 10-minute commute on a bad day, so I don’t do a lot of button pushing.

Edison Research now calls their radio study the “Infinite Dial” because with the advent of streaming audio, we have the ability to listen to radio stations all over the world. I have ten Apps for listening to streaming radio on my iPhone and iPad. Of those, I primarily use three of them the bulk of the time. Of the three, one dominates. That single App now curates over 90 different genres of music. The good news is that I can create a “Favorites” section so I only need to choose from a limited number of genres to match my mood.

When radio began consolidating into clusters, adding HD signals & sub-channels and then streaming, the complexity proved to be a challenge to an ever shrinking workforce challenged with programming and selling all of those product offerings.

Schwartz tells us that modern psychology shows that happiness is affected by success or failure of goal achievement. Radio workers and McDonald’s folks probably aren’t all that happy; not like they once were.

McDonalds last year recorded its worst domestic comparable sales figures in more than a decade. In radio, being even with last year’s numbers was being called the new “up.”

McDonalds plan is to reduce the number of choices, focus on those items they will serve to improve their quality to delight the customer.

Most people’s cable or satellite TV package delivers hundreds of channels and yet, the most common thing people are heard to say “there’s nothing GOOD on to watch.” “Good” being the operative word. What a change from when I was growing up and my biggest problem was a GREAT show was playing on all three television networks; at the same time (days before VCRs and DVRs).

Radio in that same era was exciting, innovative and totally focused on delivering great content. These were the days when a Top40 radio station like CKLW had a 20-person news department on a radio station that was all about music not news. Had an air staff that was refreshed every three hours with a new disc jockey, had an off-air program director, a music director & assistant that did music research, a promotions department & promotions budget, plus consultants all for a single radio station.

Less is more works if more people can focus their attention on less.

Take it from a famous restaurant clown, “Less IS More” in more ways than one.

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