Tag Archives: Seth Godin

The End of Mass Media

84Jack Nicholson famously said in the movie A Few Good Men “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

I think he was right.

We can’t.

We say we can. We want to believe we can. But the reality is the truth is scary.

The Future of Mass Media

The reality is the future of our business – mass media – is that it won’t be all that “mass” anymore.

The future will be a media that is built around relevance and quality of message, not volume.

And that’s scary.

Not to just us broadcasters but to the ratings service known as Nielsen. We aren’t going to need to know the volume (aka cume) or AQH (average quarter hour) numbers in the future. The real value that we will deliver will be based on how relevant we are to our listeners and what value we deliver.

The King is Dead

Remember when the catch phrase of the day was “Content is King”?  Bill Gates famously said that.

There were others that felt that distribution was king.

Turns out the “king” is dead for both of these theories and the new king is relationships. And relationships are based on mutual interests and relevancy.

Facebook

What’s the power of Facebook?  Relationships.

Oh sure it uses complex algorithms to manage our relationships, but we are not smitten with algorithms we are drawn to relationships and we friend or unfriend based on the relevance of those relationships too.

Google gets it too.

Each of us is an individual and these social media companies go to great lengths to treat us in just that way.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Commercial radio broadcasting still strives to deliver the “one size fits all” solution. Those days are over.

Radio needs to build, as Seth Godin might say, tribes. People who believe what we believe.

Simon Sinek says that people aren’t attracted to what you do but why you do it.

What’s your WHY?

If there are enough people in your coverage area that will make you a meaningful size tribe of listeners, then do it. If not, find something else that is meaningful.

But trying to be all things to all people – the concept of “mass media” – those days are over.

Advertising

The 800 pound elephant in the room is how to pay for it. Ad supported media is being challenged by the internet in ways that Netflix, Amazon, Google and others that grew up on a different metric are not.

Today supply far outweighs demand in the advertising world.

Even those special live television events that were growing in audience every year are now seeing they’ve peaked. Nothing goes up forever.

The future is creating something relevant to the people you develop a relationship with. The value will be in how strong those relationships are not necessarily how big, in terms of numbers of people, they are.

The future for all media I suspect will start to look more like that of public radio or Christian radio. Each of these mediums has established strong relationships with their listener. They also don’t abuse those relationships with underwriting announcements that either doesn’t fit their audience or by unbalancing the content to underwriting ratio.

Commercial broadcasters seem to take the view that adding one more spot to the hour; the cluster etc won’t affect their audience. They would be wrong. It does.

Keeping things in balance and running seamlessly will be critical to broadcasters whether they’re being consumed over-the-air on AM or FM, or over the internet.

Sales people in this new world will be business evangelists that seek out business owners with innovative ideas and solutions to their problems. Businesses owners who benefit from these relationships with media sales folks will in turn reward the media enterprise with their support.

What’s your WHY?

But it all starts by first defining, as Simon Sinek says, your WHY.

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy WHY you do it.”

Answer that question, and you will have taken the first step.

 

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Day of Reckoning

20There’s an old saying “Nothing lasts forever.” Do you remember flying on TWA or Pam Am? How about shopping at Woolworths? Broadcasters will remember names like Group W Westinghouse Broadcasting, or Taft Broadcasting, or Nationwide, or RKO General that would put the successful Bill Drake Top 40 format (with the non-stop innovations & promotions of 93-KHJ’s Ron Jacobs) in major cities across North America. They’re all now a memory.

In a time of limited radio signals, radio could control its inventory and increase stakeholder ROI by raising rates as it increased the size of its audience. That’s now a memory.

Next came the Local Marketing Agreement (LMA) to soak up all those Docket 80-90 FM signals that were squeezed into the FM band but found themselves economically challenged. More signals meant a new way to make more money. That’s now a memory.

LMAs were “training pants” for the Telcom Act of 1996 that would unleash a consolidation of radio and television ownership like the world had never seen. Companies would rush to acquire as many radio signals as they could as fast as they could. And do what with them? They would figure that out later was the common response. Owning more stations was a way to make more money, until it wasn’t. That’s now a memory.

You might have thought that would have sent a message that there are limits. It didn’t.

Today the game is translators. And the number of radio signals continues to grow, all seeking funding through advertising, just like every other form of media out there today.

So is the ad pie growing? Not according to Adam Levy at Motley Fool who saw advertising drop nearly 4 percent in the second quarter of 2015.

When the advertising pie isn’t getting bigger, two things usually happen: 1) budgets get cut and people lose their jobs and 2) more spots are added to the hour. Unfortunately, all through consolidation and the Great Recession radio companies have been doing both. They are like the Federal Reserve wondering what you do when you already have cut the interest rate to zero to stimulate the economy. Not a fun place to be.

Suggested Solutions

 Not to be all doom and gloom on you, I think there are some things that can be done to turn things around. The first thing is to focus on something and own it. Steve Jobs would put it this way “Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.” The way Jobs took Apple from near extinction to the world’s most valuable company was by his relentless focus on creating a small number of simple and elegant products.

Seth Godin calls it finding and serving your tribe. Radio needs to give up the quest to be all things to all people and learn to be something some people can’t live without.

Some stations can be the national brand in town, but everyone can’t. Likewise if people can get what you do someplace else, then why do they need you? This is the secret of “less is more.”

Radio stations need to have the agility to make decisions on the front line. Top down management is out, front line management is in. Mary Berner, the new CEO of Cumulus gets it. She has been reported in the trades saying “Cumulus will rely less on top-down management and more on letting managers do the job they were hired for.”  She also understands that while IoT (Internet of Things) is the future, it’s not the place Cumulus needs to focus on today. It’s about changing the culture and the way the company operates first. Getting the programming right and improving sales of those radio programs next.

I remember when I starting working for Clear Channel and hired to turn things around in my market, the company had a big push on selling the web and developing that component. I told my sales manager after the conference call ended that was not going to be the case for us. First we needed to get the programming and radio sales on fire and then – and only then – would we begin tackling our web based program. It worked too.

The hardest thing sometimes is not doing things, but figuring out what to stop doing. Jobs was good at this at Apple. You need to invest some serious thought about what you need to stop doing in your radio property. Again, less IS more if done right.

And the last suggestion I have is directed at colleges and universities. We need to be focused on the business model of radio and putting more of a focus on the business side of radio and radio sales. Radio owners and operators I talk with aren’t clamoring for more DJs or news people like they are for more sales people and innovators that will create the next revenue stream for their property.

In the end, your audience size won’t matter if you don’t have a business model to monetize it.

 

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It’s too soon…

DT WBEC (1970s)I knew from the time I was a little boy, I wanted to be on the radio. I built a radio station in my parent’s basement and broadcast to my neighborhood using AM & FM transmitters I bought at Radio Shack. Besides being on the radio, the other thing I wanted to do was drive a car.

I was fortunate that my opportunity to be on the radio happened in the 10th grade in high school and when my moment came, my only thought was “it’s too soon,” I need more practice, I’m not ready yet.

When I learned to drive a car and that day came when it was time for me to drive away by myself, I thought, “it’s too soon.” When I made the transition from radio disc jockey into radio sales and the day came for me to go out on my own and begin calling on businesses to sell radio advertising, that day came WAY too soon.

I was successful in radio sales and they made me sales manager. Too soon I thought, but sales manager led to station manager and then general manager of the AM side of an AM/FM combo. The general manager of the FM side of the operation was also part-owner so I always thought of myself as the “baby gm.” Then the day came when the majority owner of my radio station offered me the position of general manager in Atlantic City at another pair of radio stations he owned. Now I would have to make it on my own. No more baby gm, I would be the only gm. Too soon!

After 42-years in radio, thirty of which were as a market manager, I made a career change into higher education by becoming a professor at a university. I spent the summer preparing and planning every lesson in every class I would teach that fall. When the first day of classes arrived, my only thought was – you guessed it – too soon.

What’s interesting about everything I’ve share with you up to this point in time is that nothing was really life threatening. Even getting married and having our first child (too soon times two) was not life threatening. Having the second child – seemed too soon since we were just getting good a taking care of one baby – wasn’t life threatening.

Then I took flying lessons.

I found I was really enjoying my flying lessons. Those weekend lessons over South Jersey, along the beaches in the summertime were exhilarating. I was making great progress. Keeping the nose up, learning to trim the aircraft, scan the horizon for other planes in my proximity and learning how to land in the strong cross winds that came in off the ocean at 90-degrees to the only runway at Ocean City, New Jersey’s airport.

And then it happened. I had just landed the plane when my flight instructor hopped out and said, take her around again and slammed the door. Gulp!

I powered up the engine to full throttle and picked up airspeed down the runway and took off all by myself. All the while thinking, it’s too soon. I hope I can do this.

I’ve always heard that a student pilot’s best landing is their first one after their first solo flight. That was certainly the way it was for me. That single engine Piper landed ever so softly onto the tarmac and I taxied to the terminal building in a moment I will always remember. (The moments that I would almost not live to tell about would come much later in my brief flying career.)

The point of my story is that everything that happens to us, which will help us to take the next step forward in our careers, our business, our education and our life always seems to come too soon.

We will never really feel as prepared as we think we should be. Do it anyway.

Seth Godin puts it this way:

“There is a fundamental difference between being ready and being prepared.

You are more prepared than you realize. You probably aren’t ready, and you can’t be ready, not if you’re doing something worthwhile.

Because we always do our best work and take our turn before we’re ready.”

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The Future of Ad Supported Media

I’ve just finished reading Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” which I highly recommend everyone read, and Piketty stops me cold on page 357 with this graph (see below). I’ve highlighted in yellow two things for you to take note of. In a moment I’ll explain why this hit me so hard.

This same week, I was reading Seth Godin’s blog post “Mass production and mass media” where he explains that mass media exists because it permits mass marketers to do their job and how mass media is going away. If you’re in radio or TV, that kind of proclamation will get your attention; BIGTIME.

Godin is predicting that the “mass” part is what’s going away and that it is being replaced by “micro.” In essence that it’s better to be important to a few than be irrelevant to the many.

Then this article appears in AllAccess “Radio’s Dying…But The Cause Isn’t What You Think.” Seth Resler writes that radio isn’t going to die because it has been abandoned by listeners, but it’s going to die because it’s been abandoned by advertisers. Resler goes on to make the case that advertising is moving away from the Mad Men era art form that it was, towards a keyword and search scientific algorithm metric of today.

“…there has been little doubt for more than a decade that the advertising model that traditionally supported an industrial-age news and information system is evaporating,” writes Anderson, Bell and Shirky on pages 11-15 in “Post-Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present (2012)”

Mark Perry, blogging at the American Enterprise Institute writes: “The dramatic decline in newspaper ad revenues since 2000 has to be one of the most significant and profound Schumpeterian gales of creative destruction in the last decade, maybe in a generation.”

Well, I’m here to have you consider a 3rd possibility, one that stopped me in my tracks as I was reading Piketty’s book. Now, I may be putting words in Professor Piketty’s mouth when I tell you what I’m about to say. Piketty did not write about radio or TV, or mass media in general in his book. He writes about wealth inequality in our world from antiquity to the present day and then makes some predictions about where things are headed based on current trend lines.

But this graph on page 357 haunts me.

Picketty Chart on page 357

That graph, from the period of 1913 to 2012 includes the period in which radio and television were born. It’s the era when advertising supported media took off. I worked the last forty years of that graph in the radio business and experienced the change in business that this graph shows.

Commercial radio was born in 1920. Commercial TV took-off in the 1950s. And I quite agree with Seth Godin when he writes “Mass production, the ability to make things cheaply, in volume, demanded that we invent mass marketing – it was the only way to sell what was being made in the quantity it was produced. Mass media exists because it permits mass marketers to do their job.” To which I would add to Seth’s thoughts that mass media and mass marketing both existed because there was a strong American middle class of consumers.

If Piketty is correct, the concept of a middle class consumer economy that existed between 1913 and 2012, was an anomaly. It didn’t really exist anywhere in the world before 1913 and it’s very likely not going to exist anywhere in the world as we journey away from the year 2012. The middle class consumer economy will evaporate and along with it, advertiser support for mass media.

1913-2012 was a unique period in world economic history. It gave birth to consumers who had money to spend, mass production that could produce lots of goods and mass media that could advertise those goods. All three were simultaneously occurring at the very same moment.

The new buzz words are “shared economy” and “collaborative economy.” What roles will large corporations, universities and mass media play when people are getting what they need from one another?

In 2014, Nielsen Music reported a staggering drop in music sales where as much as a fifth of music buyers didn’t buy anything.   2014 also saw box office ticket sales plunge to their lowest level in three years. The home ownership rate reached its lowest point in 25 years at the end of 2014. More people were now living in shared living arrangements or going back home to live with mom and dad. And NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio appearing on “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” told viewers that:

“The wealth gap in New York City today is worse than during the Great Depression or The Roaring 20s – and the gap is growing bigger. Today over half the people in NYC pay over a third of their income for housing. The reality is, (according to the mayor) if we don’t change course middle class families won’t exist in New York City.”

Are these reports canaries in the consumer coal shaft?

Medialife Magazine, a magazine devoted to media buyers and planners, reported that 2014 wasn’t good for advertising. Total spending was up 3.0 percent, but if you take out political spending and the Winter Olympics, the number shrinks to 1.6 percent. “That’s the worst yearly growth pace since the recession began in 2008,” said writer Bill Cromwell. Traditional media is struggling and according to Magna Global, “this appears to be a lasting trend.”

Only recently have broadcast operators said things like “flat is the new up” when comparing year-over-year revenues. I realize there are exceptions to what I’m saying. Your broadcast property might be one of them. But what are the trends that are taking place and how will they impact you in the years to come?

It took two world wars to re-set the wealth inequality gap and put into place FDR’s New Deal. Changes that have in more recent times been stripped away returning things to the way they were in the 19th Century; a period of time when the concept of a middle class of consumers didn’t exist.

Roy H. Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads wrote recently (Monday Morning Memo, March 2, 2015) about “the shrinking of mass media” and “the growing reality of gender equality.” America went from being 16% single to 46% single in just one generation, Williams writes. “A once-proud nation of families is evolving into a proud nation of individuals.” And Williams sees “The trend toward singleness is sociological (while) the erosion of mass media is technological (as) each trend accelerates the other.”

Williams comes to this conclusion:

“We’re approaching the end of a golden time when courageous advertisers can invest money in mass media and see their businesses grow as a result. My suspicion is that we’ve got perhaps 5 to 7 more years before retail businesses and service businesses will be forced to begin playing by a whole new set of rules. Buy mass media while the masses can still be reached.”

The future of ad supported media is tied to consumerism. Consumerism is tied to having a strong middle class.

Does the Piketty graph on page 357 of his book “Capital” send a chill down your spine like it does to mine?

P.S. Thomas Piketty published an amplification on his r>g theory. You can read that here.

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It’s Not for You

What’s not for you? Maybe this blog for one. I’m not writing this blog for everyone. I’m writing for people passionate about radio and education.

From years of being on the street selling radio advertising, nothing would frustrate me more than a business owner that said his business offered “something for everyone.” Even Walmart doesn’t make that claim and they come pretty darn close to being able to deliver on that positioning statement.

Today there are more radio stations on-the-air in America than at any time in broadcast history. Tragically, most commercial radio stations are trying to offer “something for everyone.” It’s been proven that when you try to please everyone, you will end up pleasing no one.

I work at a big university. Yeah, we offer “something for everyone.” All universities do. However, in the state of Kentucky, the legislature said that some schools needed to be recognized at being best in some area and those schools would see those programs named a “Program of Distinction.” At Western Kentucky University the School of Journalism and Broadcasting is just such a Kentucky Program of Distinction. WKU is the only college or university in Kentucky so designated in the area of journalism and broadcasting. It also earns additional funding from the legislature.

College Magazine named WKU’s School of Journalism and Broadcasting #4 in America.

I think in time, institutions of higher education will eliminate those things it does, but isn’t the best at. The days of everyone offering “something for everyone” are over; if they ever really existed.

Radio also needs to re-think its role in today’s Internet connected world.

Radio was at its best when it was serving the public interest, convenience and necessity. Radio was at its best when it was LIVE and LOCAL twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Radio offered something that everyone needs; companionship. Ironically, in a world where every radio station can have its broadcast studio up on a LIVE webcam where listeners can watch the air personalities, most studios are unoccupied. Radio today is show business without the show.

Looking at this another way, Comedy Central to me was a one hour network. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show and Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Report were the only two programs I’ve ever watched on the channel. Watched religiously. Did I care if they were in HD? Did I care if they were in color or black & white? Did I care if the picture was a little snowy? Not really. It was all about the content. Content, that was not for everyone.

FOX News Channel and MSNBC understand this very well. (However, does anyone really watch “Lock Down”?)

Radio and higher education are both facing similar battles and they are both still operating in the “something for everyone” mode.

If you were to ask most people what they thought of radio, they’d probably tell you “it’s OK.” And therein lies the problem. No one is passionately pro or con. But they sure were in the days of Howard Stern or Howard Cosell.

Remember this dialog from Howard Stern’s movie Private Parts?

Researcher: The average radio listener listens for eighteen minutes. The average Howard Stern fan listens for – are you ready for this? – an hour and twenty minutes.

Pig Vomit: How can that be?

Researcher: Answer most commonly given? “I want to see what he’ll say next.”

Pig Vomit: Okay, fine. But what about the people who hate Stern?

Researcher: Good point. The average Stern hater listens for two and a half hours a day.

Pig Vomit: But… if they hate him, why do they listen?

Researcher: Most common answer? “I want to see what he’ll say next.”

Love Howard or hate Howard, he made people passionate about radio.

As Seth Godin puts it: “You won’t be doing great work until you can say to people ‘It’s not for you.’ “

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