Tag Archives: Netflix

Is Radio Up Schitt’s Creek?

When we travel, we’ve noticed that radios have vanished from hotel/motel rooms across America, replaced by free WiFi. Televisions didn’t go away, but were upgraded to widescreen High Definition TVs and you almost always still find a Gideon Bible.

Schitt’s Creek

When watching movies and TV shows, I often look to see if there’s a radio in sight, noticing in British productions they often are, but not in American ones.

The series Schitt’s Creek was produced for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in Canada and is currently running on Netflix. Sue & I have watched all six seasons of the show twice and while the residents of the fictional Rosebud Motel can be seen using televisions, computers and cellphones, we never see anyone listening to a radio*.

Nostalgia Sells

If you think about it, many forms of nostalgia have been reborn and enjoy great success in the 21st Century. Sonic successfully brought back the drive-in restaurant, Major League Baseball got its highest television ratings playing ball on a “Field of Dreams” in Iowa, Drive-In Movies are a way to watch a movie on the big screen while socially distancing and Schitt’s Creek, along with COVID, might be credited with bringing back the MOTEL.

The Johnny Rose character envisioned franchising his Rosebud Motel and found investors that believed in his dream.

MOTELS

The New York Times published an article over the Labor Day Weekend titled “Who Wants a Hotel With a Hallway Anyway?” The article explains that since COVID hit, people’s desire to travel hasn’t diminished, but that traveling by personal automobile and staying in places that allowed easy entry to a room without having to take an elevator or travel down a crowded hallway suddenly became an important criterion in lodging.

And when you think about it, motels are like baseball, hot dogs and apple pie; they are woven into the fabric of Americana.

Car Radios

Just as American, is our love of the automobile. Motels, which get their name from the merging of the words “hotel” and “motorcar,” grew across the USA right along with car ownership.

Car radios were an expensive option when they came on the scene in the 1930s, but by 1946, it’s estimated that over nine million cars had a radio in them. With the advent of the transistor, radios became a smaller and inexpensive auto option, so much so that by 1960 over 50 million cars – 60% of all the cars on the road – had a radio in them.

I’m sure the cars used on Schitt’s Creek had a radio in them, but we never see them used on the show like we do televisions, computers, cellphones and laptops.

We also see Facebook, Twitter, and online ratings sites being used on the show. Even the town’s real estate agent has a podcast that takes advantage of internet access and WiFi.

Staying Current

The big difference between those original motels and the motels of the 21st Century is that they have taken the positives – parking your car right in front of your room, avoiding crowded spaces – and eliminating the negatives – primitive furniture, lumpy bedding,  and dingy décor – creating an inviting and COVID-SAFE getaway experience.

Motels today have free WiFi, HDTVs, and plenty of places to charge your laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Interestingly, like radio many operators have taken the word “radio” out of their company names and logos, some motel operators think a better name might be “motor lodge” or “boutique hotel.” They are concerned the word “motel” conjures up bad images of the places shown in TV shows like Breaking Bad or in movies like Chevy Chase’s Vacation.

But whether you call them motor lodges, high-end motels or exterior-corridor hotels, they are once again in vogue because they are perfect for getting away in a coronavirus mutating world.

Buy the Rosebud Motel

Several years ago, when I was traveling through Cleveland, Ohio, I visited Ralphie’s home featured in the movie classic “A Christmas Story.” It was bought in 2004 by Brian Jones, a San Diego entrepreneur and a big fan of Jean Shepherd’s classic film. Jones used the revenue from his Red Rider Leg Lamp Company to purchase the home on eBay for $150,000 remaking the inside of this 19th century Victorian house an exact replica of the movie’s interior.

Since its opening on Thanksgiving weekend in 2006, millions of people have toured the home making it one of the top tourist attractions in Cleveland. Jones also built a wonderful museum and gift shop near the house and continues to enjoy success selling his leg lamps, Red Rider BB guns, and other movie nostalgia.

If you are just as enamored with the motel in Schitt’s Creek and think you might be able to turn it into your own “goldmine,” you can buy it for $1.6 million. Known in real life as the Hockley Motel, you will find it located just an hour outside of Toronto, Canada.

If you do decide to buy this piece of television nostalgia, please consider putting digital streaming radios in each of the ten rooms as part of your renovation.

*A clock radio appears for brief moment by Johnny’s bed in Season 2, Episode 4, but it never gets used, like the TVs, computers and cellphones.

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What I Recently Witnessed About Radio Use

Sue & I just returned from a seven week trip out west to visit our children and grandchildren who are living in Nevada, Montana and Washington. For me, our trip would also be a chance to witness how radio is used (or not used) in three different households, as well as in hotels, businesses and public transportation. What I would witness, was concerning.

Nevada

In Nevada, I noticed that for a household of seven, not a single radio was to be found. Audio was accessed by asking Alexa (Amazon Echo) to play something or a particular playlist was sent wirelessly to speakers via someone’s iPhone. Everyone, even the very youngest grandchild, who’s five, had their own iPhone.

In a house where both parents work, and can be called out at any hour of the day, this type of communications for all family members becomes a necessity.

Radio listening, if done at all, was something only done when in the car. Television, was connected to a cable bundle and only CNN or Netflix seemed to get viewed. The grandkids spent most of their time playing video games on the house computer, game console or their iPhones.

Montana

Here a Sonos home speaker system had been installed in the home. I found that two different local radio stations (country & classic rock) were programmed into rotation, along with an Amazon Echo smart speaker. Our grandkids called up songs they wanted to hear by asking Alexa to play them, so in the week we spent, Alexa was pretty much the default choice for anything musically played.

Television programs were all streamed via YouTube TV.

Radio pre-sets in the car were set to several country stations, several classic rock stations, several contemporary music stations and an oldies station. In all, 22 different radio stations were loaded onto the pre-sets. I added KBMC to that pre-set list when we borrowed the car a couple of times. KBMC programs a variety of jazz and classical music.

Washington

Our stay in the State of Washington took place on Whidbey Island. The only radio signal licensed on the island plays regional Mexican music and the majority of its content is in Spanish. So, it wasn’t surprising to find the pre-sets on the car radio did not include KNZW – La Zeta 103.3.

What was surprising was to see that all the pre-sets were to HD1 signals in this Mazda 6 sedan. (It appears Mazda has their radio default to HD signals and you have to toggle it off to get FM signals.) Since the island is just across the water from Seattle, all of the pre-sets were to Seattle radio stations. The two that dominated the listening in the car were KSWD (Audacy’s 94.1 The Sound) when mom was behind the wheel and KQMV (Hubbard’s Movin’ 92.5) when either of the grand kids got control of the radio. However, what is dispiriting to witness is how frequently the radio stations get changed whenever something comes on that they don’t wish to hear. When commercials come on, the station gets changed. Likewise, when songs they don’t like come on, the station gets changed. It’s like watching football using the Red Zone.

Here again, not a single radio receiver was to be found inside the home.

The Bus & Hotels

When we departed Whidbey Island, we took a bus into Seattle. On the bus we listened to KSWD 94.1 The Sound out of Seattle. It provided a nice sound track for the ride and the bus driver never changed the station for the two hours it took to reach our destination.

Every hotel room we stayed in featured flat screen TVs but none had a radio. The old clock radios have been replaced by digital clock/USB charging stations for our iPhones, iPads and laptop computers.

Summing It All Up

I realize there is nothing scientific about this, it’s all anecdotal, but it was a dose of reality that confirms much of the research I’m reading about today’s radio landscape.

No one in our seven weeks on the road tuned into any AM radio station. FM, was radio to everyone, but then, only in their vehicles. Listening to radio in the home was not possible, because there was only one radio in any of the homes we stayed at and that was in the garage.

HD Radio sounds great, but in all honesty, the one family that had this easily accessible in their car, probably didn’t know that’s what they were listening to and it certainly wasn’t the reason they were listening to any particular station.

With the exception of our two hour bus ride, radio exposure could be measured in short segments, that only happened to occur because the radio comes on with the ignition switch. Sadly, changing radio stations occurs constantly, so any commercial content never gets heard.

Likewise, businesses we frequented either had their own franchise “radio station,” like Walmart Radio or streamed a music channel from some other music service they subscribed to.

In our travels, we didn’t see a TV commercial, billboard or bumper sticker for any radio station. Lots of shirts and sweatshirts promoting lots of things, but not one for any radio station.

Radio, it would appear, has become the Rodney Dangerfield of media.

“We don’t get no respect.”

But then maybe, it’s a self-inflicted situation

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The Better Advertising Mousetrap

Ralph Waldo Emerson is said to have coined the phrase: “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” When it comes to advertising, social media has built the better mousetrap, and you and I are helping them to improve it every day.

The Social Dilemma

There’s a new documentary on Netflix called “The Social Dilemma” about how social media is impacting our lives, and is truly eye-opening. I encourage you to watch this documentary if you subscribe to Netflix, but especially if you’re in advertising and marketing. In fact, it would pay you to subscribe to Netflix just to view this documentary; it’s that important!

This blog won’t be about many of the important social issues raised in the documentary, but instead I plan to focus on how traditional media, like AM/FM radio broadcasting, is fighting a battle for advertising with the internet companies that isn’t a fair fight. Broadcasters are in essence coming to a gun fight, wielding a knife.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to regular readers of my blog, because back on February 25, 2018, I wrote an article titled “Radio Has an Addiction Problem,” that quoted MIT professor Sherry Turkle’s 1995 book “Life on the Screen, Identity in the Age of the Internet” saying “computers don’t just do things for us, they do things to us, including ways we think about ourselves and other people.” Turkle said that computers weren’t just a tool, but were sneaking into our minds and changing our relationship with the world around us.

Monetizing Social Media

Social media quickly realized that in order to sustain itself it needed to monetize its service. Google’s search engine business was a Silicon Valley marvel for not only harnessing the power of the internet but simultaneously building a revenue engine that grew right along with it. Tim Kendall, now CEO of Moment, was one of the early people at Facebook, charged with coming up with a way to make money. He said that he decided that the “advertising model was the most elegant way.”

Advertising

The advertising business has always been about selling exposure to the people who use the product. Newspapers sold access to its readers, radio sold access to its listeners and television sold access to its viewers.

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted;

the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

-John Wanamaker

Businesses have always wanted to get the biggest bang for their advertising buck, but realized that in the world of advertising, there were no guarantees, that is until social media came along. Mel Karmazin, former broadcasting and satellite radio CEO put it this way when he met with the founders of Google: “You’re messing with the magic of sales.”

Jaron Lanier, who wrote the book “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” explains that what social media is doing more effectively than traditional media is “changing what you do, how you think and who you are…it’s a gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your behavior and perception.” It’s similar to a magician performing slight-of-hand tricks, and making you believe things that aren’t real.

“This is what every business has always dreamt of, to have a guarantee that if it places an ad it will be successful. That’s (social media’s) business, they sell certainty. In order to be successful in that business you have to have great predictions. Great predictions begin with one imperative, you need a lot of data.

The internet has given us a new kind of marketplace that never existed before, a marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures. Just like there are markets for pork belly futures, or oil futures, we now have markets that trade in human futures, at scale, and those markets have produced the trillions of dollars that have made the internet companies the richest companies in the history of humanity.”

-Shoshana Zuboff, PhD, Harvard Business School

Author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”

“Any sufficiently advanced technology

is indistinguishable from magic.”

-Arthur C. Clarke

Getting Your Attention

Every company whose business model is to sustain itself through the selling of advertising is competing with other companies for your attention. Traditional media is competing with every social media company to get as much of your time and attention to their platform as they possibly can. Remember, when you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.

The advantage social media has over traditional media is their development of persuasive technology. It’s designed to intentionally apply to the extreme behavior modification in the user, and cause them to take a desired action. It does this through the use of positive intermittent reinforcement, just like a casino slot machine lures you into thinking the next pull of the handle will release its fortune. Social media works to create an unconscious habit, programming you for a deeper level of control than you even realize is happening.

Social media has learned how to exploit a vulnerability in human psychology, which even when you know how it works doesn’t inoculate you from its power to change you.

No longer is social media a tool we use, but is a tool that uses us, creating this technology based environment designed for mental addiction through psychological manipulation.

“There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’:

illegal drugs and software.”

-Edward Tufte

Most concerning about this change is that it’s being driven by a technology that’s advancing exponentially. In contrast, our human brain has not really advanced at all over the same period of time. The rate of change is beyond our human comprehension, even for the very people who are designing and building these computer networks.

“The race to keep people’s attention by social media isn’t going away. Our technology is going to become more integrated into our lives, not less. The AI’s (artificial intelligence) are going to get better at predicting what keeps us on the screen.

How do you wake up from the matrix when you don’t know you’re in the matrix?”

-Tristan Harris, Center for Humane Technology Co-Founder

“Whether it is to be utopia or oblivion

will be a touch-and-go relay race

right up to the final moment…”

-Buckminster Fuller

Today, the internet is a more efficient way to sell our attention to advertisers.

Now you know why.

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I Want It Now

I want it nowGrowing up telling mom or dad that I wanted something now, got the usual response of “you will have to work for it” or “you’ll get it when it’s ready.” Learning that good things come to those who wait was part of my maturing process.

But not any longer.

Google

I remember when I wanted to know about something, I either had to spend some time going through our family’s World Book Encyclopedia or take a trip to the library. But not any longer, I just Google it.

Alexa

I’ve been able to stream radio around the world for years, but it never became easier than when Alexa entered my world. Now, anything I want to know or hear, I simply ask Alexa, and that little genie in my Echo serves it up. My wish is Alexa’s command.

FOX TV

Remember when we used to have television seasons? Every fall, I couldn’t wait for TV Guide to arrive to plan out my TV viewing strategy.  ABC, NBC and CBS would introduce lots of new shows every fall and it was a big deal.

Then FOX changed things up while working to become America’s fourth television network. FOX began introducing new shows during the summer, and winter break, while ABC, NBC and CBS were showing re-runs.

Now new television programs are a year-round affair. Gone are pilots, re-runs and the fall season being the only time networks introduce brand new shows.

Netflix

But the most dramatic change to the introduction of a new television series happened five years ago when Netflix started releasing an entire season’s worth of shows, all at the same time. Netflix now gave viewers a choice in how you could watch a new season. You could watch on a weekly basis, watch a new episode every night, or binge watch the entire season.

Binge watching became the preferred method.

Disney+

Which is why I was surprised to hear Disney+ announce that it would be releasing its new shows an episode a week. History has shown with many different products and services, that you can’t go back to the way things used to be. I wish the mouse house good luck.

Knowing Your Audience

Netflix spends a lot of time trying to understanding what their subscribers want and like. They’re adamant that releasing an entire season all at once won’t ever change. They cite two reasons for this:

  • TV viewers have moved away from appointment viewing in droves, preferring to watch shows ON DEMAND, often by binge watching, and
  • 2) Netflix has found that people tend to watch only one show at a time. In other words, once a Netflix viewer finds a television series they like, they will watch all the episodes of that program before moving on to another show.

Netflix knows a happy customer remains a paying customer.

Reflecting on my own Netflix viewing habits, I would have to agree that I’m hooked on the concept of ON DEMAND television viewing and when I start a Netflix TV series, I watch the entire series, usually several episodes a night, until I’ve finished it. I’ve watched Downtown Abbey that way twice now.

Radio vs Podcasting

GoldsteinIs there a lesson for radio broadcasters from what I just shared about television viewing habits? I think there is. Programmer Steve Goldstein puts it this way, “Traditional radio – by design – is a lean-back business. Podcasting is a lean-in business.” That perfectly describes the difference between Netflix (lean-in) and broadcast (lean-back) commercial television.

These changing media habits are not just a temporary thing.

These changes in how people want to access and use media are the future, and we can’t wish the past back, no matter how much we might want to.

Goldstein says a podcast needs to be “thumb stopping.” By that he means the listener doesn’t exit the program and move on to something else with a press of their thumb.

Because of push button pre-sets, radio stations know all too well how easy it is for car radio listeners to change stations when something they don’t want or like comes on. Today, it’s in the car where most broadcast radio listening takes place.

Sadly, radio operators aren’t acknowledging this reality in the digital world.

Mad Men

Matt Weiner, the creator of the Mad Men television series that played on A & E, said that if he ever approached Netflix to run one of his shows, he would try to convince them to release the episodes on a weekly basis.matt weiner

It’s the same kind of thinking old timers in radio might suggest when they talk about how to make radio great again.

What would Netflix tell Mr. Weiner if he pitched his idea of releasing his programs a week at a time?

“He would lose,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s content chief.

Radio should think of this reality as its “canary in the coal shaft” moment.

 

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Our New Normal

Normal?We are living in a surreal time. The birds are singing, the trees and flowers are blooming and yet, life is anything but what we used to call normal.

Huge changes are in the wind, in ways that we hadn’t predicted as 2019 was coming to an end.

If You Had More Time, You Would…

Funny how we fool ourselves about the reasons we haven’t gotten around to doing some tasks.

Example: A person on Facebook wrote, “After years of wanting to thoroughly clean my house, but lacking the time, this week I learned that wasn’t the reason.”

I’m sure similar thoughts are conjured up in your mind.

Normal Routines

I’m retired but I still had a daily routine. I got up every weekday with my wife, had breakfast, saw her off to work and then poured myself another cup of coffee while watching a morning television news program.

Then I’d start my day.

The media I used consisted of streaming TV and streaming audio. Over-the-air radio was something I played in the car when I went shopping for food or supplies.

Then COVID-19 invaded everyone’s normal life.

Disrupted Routines

With my wife now out of work, we didn’t have a need to rise with an alarm. Watching the morning news with that second cup of coffee was now a memory. Going out for the daily food and supplies is now something done much less frequently. Streaming movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hoopla and YouTube now make up more of our day, as has Face-Timing with our kids and grandkids, as they too are all home now.

I can only imagine, how even more disrupted the lives of parents are, they now find themselves trying to work from home, plus home school their children.

New Normal

On average it takes a person over two months to form a new habit, 66-days to be exact. That’s the length of time, most of us, will be staying-at-home. What will we be like after that time?

Will we immediately make plans to dine out, go to shows, be in large crowds or will we cautiously proceed?

Will we maintain some of those new habits, never to fully return to the way things used to be?

Will we begin to maintain a basic stockpile of necessities, like toilet tissue, to be sure we never find ourselves looking at bare store shelves when we’ve run out?

Will we find that saving more money in our bank accounts is prudent for times when we may find ourselves out-of-work again?

Will the new media choices we’ve found during our time of forced hibernation become the ones we now depend on in our daily lives?

How Has Your Life Been Changed by COVID-19?

In the comments section of today’s blog, I hope you will share your COVID-19 stories about how your lives have been changed by this virus. How you are adapting and how you are surviving. Maybe there’s something you’re doing we might all enjoy doing as well.

We’re all in this together.

Stay safe, stay home.

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Streaming & Podcasting

computers streaming & podcastingI’ve been thinking about these two forms of audio for some time now. With each new article published about streaming, we see how more and more people are listening to music in this way. The smart speaker has certainly contributed to the growth of music listening via streams, and the smart speaker growth is exploding.

I know with my own experience by getting my first smart speaker as a gift, to now owning three of them, how it’s totally changed how I listen to music.

And then there’s podcasting, a way for the spoken word to be communicated.

Radio versus Streaming & Podcasting

Radio for most of my life was a way to hear both music and the spoken word. It was curated and delivered in fresh and exciting ways by a variety of radio stations across the country.

Unfortunately, radio delivered programming on its timetable, not the listeners.

As VCRs came into the television world, I remember hearing, why isn’t there a device like that for radio? There actually was, I owned one, but it never really caught on like the video devices did.

The VCRs and DVRs changed how people consumed their television programs, and essentially did away with the concept of “Must See TV” turning it into “must record TV.”

Netflix

Then along comes Netflix, and the concept of On Demand TV viewing was born.

One might argue that Blockbuster started it with video rentals, but it still really didn’t impact American viewing habits like streaming video did.

Again, Netflix disrupted people’s viewing habits when it would release an entire season of a TV series all at once. Gone was the need to come back week-after-week to see a program. Now, a new type of TV consumption was created, the binge-watch.

Broadcast versus Streaming

What’s really changed in our consumption of TV and radio is our ability to control what we see and hear, and when we want to see and hear it. In other words, On Demand is the media consumption process of the 21st Century.

I stream 100% of my television viewing. I can watch a program live, or start the show from the beginning if I arrive late, or just view it whenever I want, at another time through On Demand viewing.

Streaming TV has trained us, and now the smart speaker is taking our new media consumption habit and making audio listening just as easy to consume in this manner.

Alexa is ready, willing and able to play any genre of music that I want to hear, on a moment’s notice. She has more song selections than my own personal CD library and it’s so much easier to ask Alexa to play a song for me than try and find the CD that a song is on, and then load it into my CD player.

Podcasts

Complete honesty here, I’m not a fan of podcasts. I don’t know why, I’m just not. The only one I ever listened to in its entirety was the first season of the podcast Serial, and that was mainly due to a long 13-hour car drive, and my ability to download all the episodes onto my iPod to play in my car.

However, I do know that younger folks are really getting into podcasts and this segment will only grow as the spoken word genre finds a way to promote its wares.

The Looming Audio Battle

What I do see on the horizon is radio being drawn and quartered by streaming audio for music, and podcast audio for the spoken word. Both types of audio programming are easily called up via smart speakers and available On Demand.

Curated programming, as has been the staple of broadcast radio, will be challenged to compete.

Professional Radio & Amateur Radio

Radio won’t die, it has a future, but I see it bifurcating in the following ways:

  • There will be professional broadcasters and amateur broadcasters.
  • I see the future of radio looking something like the difference between professional and amateur theater. For example, the difference between Broadway and community theater; where the former are professional paid actors, and the latter is made up of talented volunteer locals with an insatiable love of theater.
  • The advent of low power FM radio stations is the first toe-in-the-water that points in this direction for amateur radio personalities who volunteer their time and energy.
  • Some of these volunteers will come from the ranks of retired or “dislocated” professional radio personalities and some will be members of the community that always thought it would be fun to be on-the-air.
  • What seems to be disappearing are local radio stations in the middle, ones that used to be ad-supported by local businesses, who now find themselves displaced by big box stores and online shopping.
  • The newspaper industry is the canary in the coal shaft for ad-supported media. Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charles Munger points out that, “Technological change is destroying the daily newspapers in America. The revenue goes away and the expenses remain and they’re all dying.” However, Munger does feel that papers like The Wall Street Journal and New York Times will most likely survive.
  • Newspapers have been cutting staff like crazy but it’s done little to turn things around. Radio is following in print industry’s footsteps as “employee dislocations” are occurring at all the major broadcasting companies.

Does any of this make sense to you?

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are.

Please post your thoughts on comments section of this blog article, so that others may read them and hear different opinions.

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Choice Paralysis

57 channelsI sat in on Radio World’s presentation about “Digital Sunrise for AM Radio” hosted by editor-in-chief Paul McLane. The webcast lasted almost two hours and was technically informative.

The question Paul kept asking the presenters about going all digital on AM, was a question he hears numerous people asking him, “has the horse left the barn?” In other words, has the world moved on and does anyone really cares about AM radio anymore.

But that’s not the question that was running through my mind.

Too Many Choices

We live in a world with infinite choices when it comes to audio & video entertainment. Twenty-eight years ago, Bruce Springsteen released his song “57 Channels and Nothing’s On.” The lyrics are very telling of the condition we find ourselves in today.

I bought a bourgeois house in the Hollywood hills
With a truckload of hundred thousand dollar bills
Man came by to hook up my cable TV
We settled in for the night my baby and me
We switched ’round and ’round ’til half-past dawn
There was fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on
Well now home entertainment was my baby’s wish
So I hopped into town for a satellite dish
I tied it to the top of my Japanese car
I came home and I pointed it out into the stars
A message came back from the great beyond
There’s fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on
Well we might’a made some friends with some billionaires
We might’a got all nice and friendly if we’d made it upstairs
All I got was a note that said “bye-bye John
Our love is fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”
So I bought a .44 magnum it was solid steel cast
And in the blessed name of Elvis well I just let it blast
‘Til my TV lay in pieces there at my feet
And they busted me for disturbing the almighty peace
Judge said “What you got in your defense son?”
“Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”
I can see by your eyes friend you’re just about gone
Fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on

It’s not unusual for people to spend an entire evening going through the program guide on Netflix only to finally retire for the evening having not watched a single program. We’ve all done that.

On just Netflix alone it was estimated in 2015 that it would take a person 34,739 hours to watch everything available on the streaming service. I’m sure that number has grown considerably when you consider in 2019 Netflix introduced 371 series and movies to view.

Add to Netflix more television streaming services like Amazon Prime, Hulu, Apple TV+, Disney+, YouTube and it means choice is not the TV viewer’s problem, it’s choice paralysis. (And maybe also how to pay for it all.)

ALL DIGITAL AM

The question running through my mind about investing in building out an all-digital AM radio service in America is, “why?” When I scan the AM band now, I can hear the same talk shows on station after station. The FM band is no different when it comes to everyone doing the same type of programming.

It has me humming Bruce Springsteen’s song in my head, only with a lot more channels of programming attached to the “nothing’s on” part.

Digital AM seems to be the answer to a question, that listeners aren’t asking.

Less is More

Many businesses fall into the trap of thinking that more products equal more sales and radio certainly can be accused of falling into that trap.

HD Radio was designed to offer a higher quality broadcast signal for AM and FM radio stations. FM station owners didn’t really get interested in HD Radio until they learned they could feed FM translators with HD2, HD3 signals and put more FM analog signals on-the-air in their market.

I learned that the all-digital AM service offers the opportunity for an HD2 signal that could feed another FM analog translator.

What Al and Laura Ries tell us from their research is how this strategy of adding more and more choice becomes a trap and can lead to negative consequences in the long term.

Just One Thing

In media sales, we try to have our clients identify what one thing makes them special and unique. What makes their business so different that consumers will want to come to them instead of their competitors. You may know this process as finding a business’s “unique selling proposition.”

One Good Reason

Back in the day, 66-WNBC put up a billboard that gave radio listeners one good reason to turn their radio dial to 660 AM. It simply said “If we weren’t so bad, we wouldn’t be so good.”

56

This one simple sentence captured the essence of both Don Imus and Howard Stern. It was this radio station’s one good reason to listen. It was this radio station’s one good reason to advertise on it.

And speaking of one, I was told by the WNBC Sales Manager that it only took one commercial on Howard Stern for an advertiser to see immediate sales results.

That’s the power of a unique brand.

Misplaced Priorities

Radio had a choice to make in the last decade, to either develop unique powerful brands localized to the marketplace the FCC licensed them to serve, or build out more signals with programming that was virtually hard to tell apart from one another. Unfortunately, the radio industry chose the latter and as a result has turned the business into a commodity.

Something for everyone equals nothing for nobody.

Economics defines a commodity as goods or services that have fungibility, or in other words something the marketplace treats as everything being nearly equivalent to each other, with little regard for who produces it.

This is why radio sales people will often hear advertisers says things like “all radio stations sound the same, now let’s talk about your spot price.”

Perception is reality.

Or should I say that the listener and advertiser’s perception is accurate with the reality today being all radio stations do sound the same.

Elections & Radio Listening

I read an article the other day that said what changes the outcome of any election is turnout. That the way someone wins an election is by getting people, who normally sit it out on the couch, engaged and out to the polls. It’s not getting people to switch party affiliations.

I think radio may have a similar problem.

For the radio industry to be growing again, what radio needs to be focused on, and investing in, are its people and programming, not putting more signals on the air with nothing to hear.

 

 

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Great Expectations

OR FMI read with great interest the five part series by Matt Bailey on “The Alexa Effect.” In the 5th and final installment Matt shared what he called the “radio weapon Spotify will never have.” What is it? The radio personality. He wrote:

 

  • “A radio personality can tell you the backstory of a breakthrough artist that makes you want to hear her work.”

  • “A radio personality can point out that crazy line in the second verse to stay tuned to hear.”

  • “A radio personality can engage you to smash or trash a song on the station’s social media.”

  • “A radio personality can give you the chance to be among the very first to hear a new song by a star artist.”

“A radio personality can add context that will make listeners excited to hear a song that otherwise would simply be weird and unfamiliar. It’s a deeply personal and emotionally engaging weapon no algorithm can match. When we stifle their voices and their role in introducing new music simply to avoid potential tune-out, we might win a few tenths of a point in the PPM battle, but we will lose the new music war to Spotify.”

Consolidation & Voice Tracking

I don’t disagree with Matt, but I lived through the ramifications of the Telcom Act of 1996 and the consolidation of radio stations, along with the rollout of voice tracking.

Clear Channel called it “Premium Choice,” and we were told it would replace our local personalities with big market talent.

I watched in market after market as radio personalities, who were like members of the radio listener’s family, were sent to the unemployment lines. Relationships that took years, even decades to establish, wiped out in an instant.

Early Media Expectations

I grew up at a time when the family television set received a signal from a couple of antennas on the roof. We had two channels, which meant we received two television networks, CBS and NBC. If you wanted to change the channel, you had to get off the couch and change it. There was no remote control.

Our radios had both the AM and FM bands, but I remember wondering why. I often scanned the entire FM band to hear nothing at all with only the AM band picking up radio signals.

My early media expectations were two TV channels and AM radio stations. The radio provided a lot more variety, plus I had a radio in my room and our family had a single TV located in the living room. I controlled my radio, my parents controlled the family TV.

Media Expectations Change

In time, I would come to expect television to be in color, to be connected to a cable and have a remote control to easily change the multitude of channels I could now receive, from the comfort of my couch.

Radio would expand to the FM band and a whole new type and style of radio was born. The one thing that connected AM and FM radio was the radio personality. Every station had them and the decision to listen to one station over another was because of the radio personality.

In fact, I wrote an article on the power of the radio personality back in 2015 entitled “We Never Called It Content.”

I wrote this article after reading about the latest round of “forced retirements” in the radio industry.

And if you thought this type of downsizing was only occurring in large radio metros, the movie “Corporate FM” told the story of how in the 80s, ninety percent of mass media in America was owned and controlled by about fifty different companies, but after the Telcom Act of 1996 it was down to just six corporations.

New Media Brings New Expectations

Let’s fast-forward to today. I cut the cord on cable TV two years ago and all of my television viewing is streamed. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sling TV and YouTube provide me with more hours of television entertainment and information than I could ever have time to watch, and I’m retired.

Amazon Echo provides me with all of my audio entertainment and I do mix it up between stations via TuneIn and the pureplays like Pandora and Amazon Music.

I also read a lot and subscribe to several online newsletters that all link to the original source of the material.

Which leads me to this conclusion, my calendar age did not cement my media habits. They’ve been fluid all of my life.

My 21st Century Great Expectations

  • I expect NPR to open up my world to things I should be aware of, that I might not have been. I expect them to also provide me with more depth to the stories in the news. I expect them to have all of this posted online for almost immediate access. They don’t disappoint.
  • I expect my television viewing to be On Demand and commercial free.
  • I expect my music listening to match my mood and be there by simply asking Alexa to play my favorite channels when I want to hear them.
  • Finally, I expect I’m not alone in these “21st Century Great Expectations.”

Rewound Radio DJ Hall of Fame

On Saturdays, I enjoy asking Alexa to play Rewound Radio so I can hear another fabulous radio personality featured in the weekly “DJ Hall of Fame.” The other weekend they featured WOR-FM out of New York City and the air personality was Johnny Donovan. OR-FM air checks are all in stereo and the music mix has plenty of variety. It was a time when Music Radio 77 – WABC dominated the world’s airwaves on the AM band. But the one thing I notice in these weekly trips down memory lane is how integral the radio personality was in the total program. They were a constant companion. They really were radio’s “secret weapon” to attracting faithful listeners.

The question I ponder often is, was this period of radio history akin to the vaudeville period of theater. It filled the right hole at the right time but won’t ever be coming back again.

I welcome your thoughts.

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Alexa, Let’s Go for a Ride

alex in a ford carRadio’s last bastion of domination is the automobile (aka SUV, pickup truck etc.). In the home, voice activated devices are replacing AM/FM radios. I own 3 Echos, and Alexa has become a real friend of the family.

So, when I saw this television ad for the new Fords and how the drivers went from talking to Alexa in their house to talking to Alexa in their car, while they were driving, I saw the future of AM/FM radio for America’s Road Warriors.

Watch the ad HERE

Voice Activated Christmas

The results are in and as of December 31, 2018, 66 million voice activated devices are now firmly entrenched in America’s homes. The big winner is Amazon’s Echo aka Alexa which has a 70% share of the market. Google’s Home has a 24% share and Apple’s HomePod is third with just 6% home penetration.

Ironically, in my own home, I quickly went from one Amazon Echo in 2017 to three in a matter of a couple of months. Virtually all of my internet connected electronics are Apple products, but Amazon is my go-to place to shop. The price of entry for my first Echo was under $30. By contrast expect to pay Apple $349 for their HomePod.

The latest research from the Consumer Intelligence Research Partners* (CIRP) also found that 35% of the owners of these voice activated devices own more than one. That’s about double from only a year ago, so it’s pretty clear that these devices are not collecting dust but are actively being used.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see where once the average American household had about 5 AM/FM radios in their home, the Echo or Home VAD is taking their place. (Today 21% of American households don’t have a single AM/FM radio in them. For households headed by 18-34 year old adults, that number without a single AM/FM radio rises to 32%.)

Alexa is The New Radio

I wasn’t surprised to read that iHeartMedia’s Bob Pittman was calling Amazon’s Echo the new radio. What I was surprised to learn, was Pittman saying that iHeart helped with the development of Alexa. I had never read or heard that before. Which begs the question, why isn’t more attention being paid to the streams of over-the-air (OTA) radio by the industry?

A better question might be, can the same programming techniques that have been used by OTA radio, simply be transferred to internet streams?

Marshall McLuhan

“The medium is the message,” was coined by Marshall McLuhan in 1964. What McLuhan postulated was that the form of a medium becomes part of the programming that is being transmitted. A symbiotic relationship is created by which the very medium that is conveying the program, influences how a person perceives it.

Another way of thinking about this might be, what a person’s expectations are for a particular media experience. We would not expect to see commercials laced through a movie being seen at a theater, but the same movie shown on commercial television laced with commercial interruptions, while maybe annoying, would not be unexpected or a surprise.

However, pay television like Netflix and Amazon Prime have changed the TV viewers expectations about watching television in two ways, no commercial interruptions, and a whole season of episodes released at once and not dribbled out a week at a time.

The internet likewise has changed audio listening expectations with Pandora, Spotify, RadioTunes, Apple Music and Amazon Music to name but a few streamers. Stream one of these and listener expectations of this internet delivered medium, are very few or with no commercial interruptions. Moreover, should you want to know the name of the song and artist, you simply ask while the song is playing, and are immediately given that information. OTA radio rarely tells you what the name of a song is, or who’s the artist.

In fact, the listener expectation using a voice activated device is that you can get anything immediately, simply by asking for it. Everything is at your command and delivered on demand.

For the audio listener, it’s like the difference between having air conditioning or not having air conditioning. Once you’ve enjoyed having central air, you won’t ever want to go back to not having it.

What’s the Listener’s Expectations?

The challenge for the radio industry is creating content that fits the listener’s expectations for the medium they are accessing the content on.

OTA radio is a one-to-many delivery system. Everyone is served the same thing at the same time.

The internet, streamed through a device like Amazon Echo, is a personalized listening experience. Everyone gets it served up the way they prefer it.

Trying to have a single source originating content for both OTA and online, compromises both.

 

 

*CIRP based its findings on a survey of 500 U.S. owners of Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod, surveyed from Jan. 1-11, 2019, who owned one of these devices as of Dec. 31, 2018.

 

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What a Radio Looks Like in the 21st Century

first iPhone introducedIt was only 11-years ago that Steve Jobs took the stage and held in his hand the future. It was an iPhone.

Many people were skeptical that this device could compete with the very popular Blackberry. I think I may have been one of them, as I was a Blackberry owner/user until 2012.

I quickly realized that I knew how to operate an iPhone, after buying an iPad in the fall of 2011.  All Apple devices share a core eco-operating system that makes learning them fast and easy. My first iPhone was the 4S. The “S” stood for Siri and I quickly learned to use Siri to type all of my text and emails via dictation. In 2017, I upgraded to an iPhone 7.

OK, so I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know. But in just a decade, have you ever stopped to think about the impact that the smartphone has had on our lives and the technology we use?

RADIO

In America today, 29% of households don’t have a single working AM or FM radio. But it gets worse. The percentage of households without a single working AM or FM radio grows to 50% for the 18-34-year-old age group.

Edison Research recently reported that even 63% of heavy radio listeners now consume their audio online. 82% of those listeners own a smartphone and the most commonly downloaded App is Pandora (40%).

For many, a radio in the 21st Century looks like a smartphone.

SMARTPHONES

Crosley AM FM Radio

Often it appears like radio people think they are the only ones who are not affected by the innovations of technology. Such as, no matter what comes along, AM/FM radio will always be there. Unfortunately, that kind of thinking is like sticking your head in the sand.

Let’s think about how smart phones have replaced other “must have” technologies:

  • My Nikon camera no longer goes on vacation with me, it has been replaced by the pictures I take on my iPhone
  • Same for videos using my very expensive camcorders
  • My iPod is now my iPhone
  • My newspaper is my iPhone
  • My calculator is my iPhone
  • My eBook reader is my iPhone (or iPad)
  • My pocket voice recorder is now my iPhone
  • My GPS when on foot is my iPhone, though I still prefer my Garmin SmartDrive 61 in the car
  • My flashlight is now my iPhone
  • My iPhone is my compass, barcode scanner, and portable video player
  • My iPhone is the way I access Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn away from home
  • My iPhone is the way I get both my local weather forecast as well as access weather radar. Weather alerts come in immediately to my iPhone replacing the need for my weather radio.
  • I’ve been a cellphone only household since 2000
  • My smartphone is my household answering machine
  • My smartphone is my alarm clock
  • I no longer wear a wrist watch, as my iPhone is my watch
  • I use my iPhone as a timer when I’m cooking
  • I have my digital library on my iPhone
  • My work and personal calendars are all on my iPhone
  • I keep notes and other records on my iPhone
  • Since I take all my pictures with my iPhone these days, my photo album is also my smartphone. (Note: I have 2-TerraBytes of iCloud storage to back up everything)
  • My entire “rolodex” (contact list) is now on my iPhone (I started with a Day-Timer and went digital in 1989 with a Casio Boss. Then moved to a Palm Pilot. Then to the iPhone.)
  • I check my email when not at home on my iPhone
  • I surf the internet frequently on my iPhone
  • When I call the kids & grandkids, it’s using Facetime on my iPhone
  • My credit cards, plane tickets, show tickets are now all in my Apple Wallet on my iPhone
  • I can even use my iPhone to run my Apple TV as a remote control

SMARTPHONE ADDICTION

A new research study by Pew finds that 54% of U.S. teenagers, age 13 to 17, worry they may be spending too much time on their phones. While they also say they are trying to reduce their smartphone and social media time spent, 56% of teenagers find that doing so makes them feel anxious, lonely, or upset.Group Of Children Sitting In Mall Using Mobile Phones

And it’s no better for parents (and may I add, grandparents). Pew’s survey tells us that we are struggling with the same impulses over the time we spend on our phones and social media, sometimes with even worse results than teenagers.

Adults lose focus on their work and students lose focus in the classroom, by the constant need to check their smartphone.

SMART SPEAKER

echoMost research today indicates that since the introduction of the smart speaker, the device that’s getting a little less use is the smartphone. I would concur that is the case in my home as well. Our 3 Amazon Echoes are the way we access at home radio listening, get flash briefs, find out the time and latest weather forecast.

At home, 100% of our radio listening is streamed through a smart speaker.

Speaking of Voice Command devices, my Garmin GPS SmartDrive 61 is now programmed by my voice and I can add via points while driving simply by telling my Garmin where I want to go next. It’s the best improvement in automobile navigation since the GPS itself.

ON DEMAND

on-demand-cpeWhat the smart speaker and the smartphone have in common, are both devices give the user what they want, when they want it. On Demand is the real game changer of the 21st Century communications world.

Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV etc. are delivering on demand television. The smartphone and smart speakers are doing that same thing for podcasts, radio, news, weather and everything else.

Edison Research noted, in their recent research, that the hardware challenge in the home is significant. Getting analog radio back into the home (and I would add, in the very near future, the car) seems unlikely

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