Tag Archives: smart speakers

Is Radio Biting Off More Than It Can Chew?

caravelle radio broadcast stationThere are lots of items in the news these days about what the radio industry should be doing. Streaming, podcasting, smart speaker accessible etc. The one thing I hear little talk about is, improving the core product and focusing on what the listener is seeking.

The Radio Ecosystem

If you think about it, the radio ecosystem, AM/FM radios, have not seen any real changes in decades. Oh, there was the introduction of HD Radio – introduced around the same time as Apple introduced the iPod (R.I.P. 2001-2014), but listeners never really understood the need for it. HD Radio was embraced by commercial broadcasters when they learned they could feed analog FM translators from HD Radio signals and have more FM radio stations in a single marketplace. This was hardly listener focused and actually chained the radio ecosystem to old analog technology.

What IS Radio?

In the beginning, radio was a way to wirelessly communicate with other people using Morse Code on spark gap transmissions. Guglielmo Marconi built a radio empire on this technology.

David Sarnoff, a skilled Morse Code operator and a Marconi employee envisioned a “radio music box” and wrote a memo about developing a commercially marketed radio receiver for use in the home. It wasn’t until after World War I, when Sarnoff proposed the concept again, this time in his new position as general manager of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), that it would see the light of day.

Sarnoff would demonstrate the power of radio by broadcasting a boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. In just three years, RCA sold over $80 million worth of AM radios, and not soon after created the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).

Federal Radio Commission

America’s first attempt at regulating radio transmission was the Radio Act of 1912, that was enacted after the sinking of the Titanic. This law didn’t mention or envision radio broadcasting.

As radio broadcasting began to grow in the 1920s, then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover would begin the process of trying to regulate the limited spectrum that everyone now wanted a piece of.

The Radio Act of 1927 was America’s first real attempt at regulating radio broadcasting. The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was then formed by this act.

It should be noted that the FRC operated under the philosophy that fewer radio stations, that were well funded and provided live original programs, were better for America than a plethora of radio stations providing mediocre programming. It was an idea that the major radio receiver companies championed.

Federal Communications Commission

In 1934, the Congress took another attempt at regulating broadcasting (radio & TV) as well as all the other forms of communication that now existed. The Communications Act of 1934 created a new regulatory body called the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). By 1934, radio broadcasting had evolved into a highly profitable business. Broadcast educator, Fritz Messere, writes: “Many of the most powerful broadcasting stations, designated as ‘clear channels’ were licensed to the large broadcasting or radio manufacturing companies, and the Federal Radio Commission’s adoption of a rigid allotment scheme, under General Order 40, solidified the interests of the large Broadcasters.”

The biggest and most well-funded broadcasters have been favored since the very beginning. What kept things in check until 1996 was the limit on the number of AM, FM and TV stations a single company could own.

Telcom Act of 1996

Those limits would evaporate with President Clinton’s signing of the Telcom Act of 1996. Radio, as America had known it, would be over.

Now, for the most part, a single owner could own as many radio stations as their pocketbook could afford. Lowry Mays and Red McCombs, founders of Clear Channel Communications, would grow their portfolio of radio stations to over 1200 from the 43 radio stations they owned before the act was signed.

In 2003, Mays testified before the United States Senate that the deregulation of the telecommunications industry had not hurt the public. However, in an interview that same year with Fortune Magazine, he remarked, “We’re not in the business of providing news and information. We’re not in the business of providing well-researched music. We’re simply in the business of selling our customers products.” (Mckibben, Bill (2007). Deep Economy. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. p. 132.)

Radio Zoning The FCC is now considering whether to further loosen up the ownership limits of radio and TV stations in America. FCC Attorney John Garziglia recently wrote:

“If radio stations could be erected like fast-food establishments and grocery stores, with no numerical limits imposed other than a businessperson’s risk tolerance, it would be difficult to argue for FCC-imposed ownership limits on radio. Indeed, a regulatory agency enacting numerical limitations on restaurants and grocery stores would likely not pass legal muster.

But there are widely-enacted municipal limitations on just about every type of local business. The limitations are called “zoning” – the permitting or prohibiting of certain uses in certain areas to protect the character of the community.

The FCC’s radio ownership rules can be thought of as a kind of radio zoning. In the same way as land-use zoning protects a community’s character, the FCC’s ownership rules permit or prohibit certain radio station combinations protecting the amorphous concept of the public interest.

With land-use zoning, communities maintain a distinct character, livability, aesthetic, and economic success by not bowing exclusively to the profit motive of land developers. Allowing several or fewer owners to own virtually all of the radio stations in the country would doom the specialness of our radio industry.”

 

I think John makes some excellent points and I would encourage you to read his complete article HERE.

Biting Off More…

Radio operators today can’t properly staff and program the stations they already own. What makes them think that will change if they own even more of them? Most radio stations are nothing more than a “radio music box” run off a computer hard drive, an OTA (over-the-air) Pandora or Spotify.

Former Clear Channel CEO, John Hogan, introduced the “Less Is More” concept when I worked for the company. While it actually introduced more on-air clutter, not less, the idea was neither new or wrong.

If owning more radio stations was the answer in 1996, then why in 2018 are we worse off than we were then?

Why was Jerry Lee able to own a single station in Philadelphia and dominate that radio market?

Why are many locally owned and operated radio stations some of the healthiest and most revered in America today?

Radio not only needs zoning on the number of radio stations a single owner can control in a market, but the total number of radio station on-the-air in a market. And it needs radio stations that are neglected to be condemned like property owners who let their land go to seed.

The FRC wasn’t perfect, but the concept of “less is more” served America well for many decades. Fewer radio stations that provided high quality, live programming, operating in the ‘public interest, convenience and necessity’ and by virtue of that diversity of ownership, provided diversity of voice and opinions, as well as healthy competition.

 

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What’s Radio’s Why?

WHYSimon Sinek says people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Watching the live streams of the 2018 Radio Show sessions and reading all of the reporting on the meetings in Orlando this past week, left me asking the simple question: “What’s radio’s why?”

College Kids on Radio

The RAIN Conference in Orlando put four college kids from the University of Central Florida on stage and asked them about their radio listening habits.

Spoiler Alert: They don’t have any radio listening habits.

These four students said things like “radio is obsolete,” “there’s no need for radio,” and “it’s very rare that I listen to radio.”

To these kids, radio doesn’t have any “why.”

What does?

YouTube, Apple Music, Spotify…in other words things that stream what they want, when they want it.

Write The Wrongs About Radio

George Johns and Bob Christy are getting together to write a blog aimed at fixing radio, by writing about the things they hear radio is doing wrong.

“(Radio) has to evolve to be relevant in today’s world,” they write. “There has been almost no evolution in radio (and) what George and (Bob) want to do is challenge radio to evolve and become relevant again.”

They write the  3 basics of great radio are: 1) be professional, 2) be interesting and 3) be entertaining.

The 25-54 Demo

Fred Jacobs wrote about the fabled radio demo of 25-54, also known as, the “family reunion demo.” It never really existed, except as a way for an agency buyer to get the C.P.P. (Cost Per Point) down for a radio station they really wanted to place their client on.

You would have thought as the number of radio signals increased, that the variety of programming choices would have too, but the reverse happened. Radio offered less choice of programming and music formats. As Fred writes, “broadcast radio surrendered its Soft AC, Smooth Jazz and Oldies stations to SiriusXM and streaming pure-plays.”

Millennials are not kids. I know, both of my sons are part of the millennial generation. They are both well-entrenched in successful careers and raising families.

The college kids referenced earlier are part of Generation Z. And those kids don’t know (or care) what radio even is. They don’t even know what life was like before smartphones. And smartphones have really replaced just about every other device Millennials and Boomers grew up with.

Norway Turns OFF Analog Radio

Norway is a country of about 5.5 million people. Norway turned off their FM signals almost a year ago and went all digital using DAB+. So what’s happened to radio listening in Norway?

Jon Branaes writes, “Norwegians still choose radio when they think it’s worth choosing. Radio has not lost our biggest fans but the more casual listeners.”

Norway has also seen FM listening replaced by internet delivered radio, which grew significantly after turning off analog FM signals. They expect smart speakers to contribute to even more of that type of listening in the future.

The Takeaways

Radio first needs to know its “WHY.” Then it needs to communicate it, clearly and simply or suffer the consequences.  Bud Walters of Cromwell loves to say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Until the radio industry figures this out, getting new people to listen (or former listeners to return) will be a challenge.

“FM is not the future. DAB+ (digital broadcasting) can keep radio relevant in a digital future of endless choices.” But Jon Branaes adds, “Radio must respond with its core strengths – being live and alive, useful and present in listener’s lives.”

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Watch the Media

John ShraderI was recently invited to be a guest on the radio show and podcast “Watch the Media with John Shrader.” The program airs on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus radio station and the podcast of the show can be heard on SoundCloud.

John had some interesting questions and I thought I’d share them, along with my answers in this week’s blog article.

What is the State of Terrestrial Radio?

If we look at the topline number of how many Americans listen to terrestrial radio today versus the last ten years or so, that number is remarkably stable. Unfortunately, what has changed are the TSL (Time Spent Listening) and PUR (Persons Using Radio) numbers. They’ve been in a steady decline since 2007. That’s 11-years of erosion.

What’s not pretty is the accompanying loss of revenue that comes with losing 30% of your TSL.

Radio revenues today are characterized with such phrases as “flat is the new up.”

In 2017, U.S. commercial radio’s over-the-air income declined 2% year-over-year, according to BIA Advisory Services’ Q1 2018 “Investing in Radio Market Report.”

In should be noted that, the same report showed that radio stations reported a 9.7% increase in online revenues over the same period.

Radio Revenue Recent History

During the 1990s, ratings and ad revenue rose rapidly. According to the Radio Advertising Bureau, industry revenues grew from around $11 Billion per year to nearly $20 Billion between 1994 and 2000. After 1996, revenues grew by double digit percentages every year until 2001.dollar sign

PBS reported that “The collapse of advertising budgets that came in 2001 after 9/11 hit radio hard, cutting revenues by 8-percent that year to $18.4 Billion.”

In February 2005, then Viacom (today CBS) President Leslie Moonves told the L.A. Times this his top priority was returning the business to a “growth path.” Moonves recently sold off all of CBS radio stations to Entercom.

2017 Radio Revenues

In 2017, radio revenues ended at $13.87 Billion; not exactly a “growth path.”

BIA SVP and Chief Economist Mark Fratrik summarized the situation for American radio this way:

“Revenues are growing for broadcasters online but not over-the-air. We do not expect over-the-air advertising revenue of U.S. radio stations to grow much this year or in the near future. There is an unprecedented number of new audio entertainment and information sources and new advertising platforms competing with radio, including many that are unregulated. It’s an aggressive environment that competes for audiences with local radio.”

Who are Radio’s Listeners and Where do They Listen?

In general, today’s radio listeners are on the backside of Everett Rogers “Diffusion of Innovation Curve.” diff-of-innovationThey are part of the Late Majority and Laggards.

car radio.jpgThe primary way people access radio today is in their car. But by 2020, it is estimated that 75% of the cars sold will be connected to digital services.

Today’s heaviest radio listeners are reported to be Black or Hispanic.

Radio’s best listeners tend to be employed full-time versus unemployed. That’s great news for radio sales people to share.

What’s alarming is the fact that recent research showed that 29% of all American households don’t have a single AM or FM radio in them and even more alarming, 18-34 year old households are now at the tipping point of radio ownership. 50% of those household don’t have a single AM or FM radio in them. That probably explains how monthly online audio listening reportedly increased from 5% in 2000 to 64% in 2018.

Edison Research has more HERE

What’s the Future for Podcasting?

Podcasting is still growing. About 26% of people over the age of 12 have listened to any podcast in the past 30-days. However, 36% of Americans still don’t have a clue as to what podcasting even is. So, it would appear there’s a lot of growth potential.

Great podcasts, like great radio personalities, tell great stories.

Something to watch is Amazon. It laid off its entire original podcast staff in August.

What’s the Impact of Smart Speakers on Radio?

Tom Webster at Edison Research says “smart speaker adoption is the fastest tech adoption we’ve ever tracked in the Infinite Dial research. It went from 7% to 18% in a year.” echo

Smart speaker growth isn’t slowing and these new devices are replacing radios in the home.

I got my first Amazon Echo for Christmas 2017. By the end of Q1 2018, I owned three of them. 100% of my in-home radio listening now occurs via a smart speaker.

These things are addictive.

65% of people who own a smart speaker say they wouldn’t give them up.

What’s Radio’s Future?

People my age grew up with radio. Our parents controlled our home’s only television back in the 60s/70s. Radio was a way we could escape and connect with people our own age and the music of our generation.

Much as we created radio for our generation of listeners, today’s future broadcasters will need to mold it for their generation.

We are living in the days of a communications revolution. Not since the invention of the printing press and movable type has the world of communication been so rocked by change. Revolutions are messy, the future is not always clear, major disruption is par for the course.

New ways of communicating are being created.

Radio, as we knew it, is not coming back.

ON DEMAND

We now live in an ON DEMAND world. It has changed the way we use all forms of mass media. People going forward will want what they want, when they want it.on-demand-cpe

Netflix created the new phenomena of binge-watching TV shows. I do that now too. I also binge-listened to the podcast SERIAL on a long car drive after that weekly podcast had completed season one.

What Won’t Change?

What we know is that people will always be drawn to great story telling. Our brains are wired for stories. We also know that people will want to be connected to others like themselves.

Dan Mason puts it this way, radio is all about community and companionship.

I don’t see that changing, do you?

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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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Whatever happened to…

Red Sox CapThe other day, we took two of our grandchildren to a wildlife safari park here in Virginia. It was a simply magical day. But that’s not the part of the story I want to share. It is that both kids were wearing their Boston Red Sox baseball caps.

As we were getting ready to leave we met one of the animal caretakers who screamed “YES!” Then a second later, she exclaimed, “They’re both Red Sox Fans!” Instantly, there was a bond between complete strangers.

Purple People

Minnesota Vikings Mower

I’m convinced that Minnesota Vikings fans bleed purple. I know one whose whole wardrobe is virtually branded with Vikings colors and logos; even his lawn mower.

Sports franchises truly understand the power of their brand and building their fan base.

So, whatever happened to this sort of thing with radio stations?

Eazy 101

Eazy 101 receiverJerry Lee recently sold his only radio station, WBEB in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was 55-years ago this past May that Jerry and his partner David Kurtz put the station on the air. It signed on as WDVR. In the 1980s the call letters were changed to WEAZ and the station was branded as “EZ 101.” The station brand was not only well known, but fixed tuned FM radios were given out by the radio station to area businesses to play the station in their stores and offices.

B101 Bee

When the station updated its format, and changed its call letters again, this time to WBEB and branded itself as “B101.1,” giant bees appeared at events all over the “City of Brotherly Love.”

The End of an Era

Marlin Taylor (no relation) was there from the beginning and recently blogged about the station’s sale to Entercom. His article was titled “End of an Era.” You can read it HERE 

Marlin wrote:

“While I pretty much grew up with a ‘Can Do’ attitude…seeing Jerry in action confirmed that staying pro-active and constantly on the offensive were keys to a meaningful and effective life! If you need proof, just take a look at the 55-year track record of the station at 101.1 on the FM dial in Philadelphia.

There’s no question that Jerry was and is a promoter, pure and simple! And, yes, he’s a Futurist…a person who studies the future and makes predictions about it based on current trends and conditions. I would also add…always looking down the road to see what challenges and opportunities lay ahead, then utilizing (his) assets to most effectively counter-act or benefit from them.”

Familiarity

As Jerry changed his brand over the years to keep his station’s programming and image in vogue with the times and his target listeners, he understood the power of familiarity in attracting and keeping a radio audience tuned to his radio station. Mark Ramsey suggests that “familiarity IS preference.”

morefm rebrandingMost recently, Jerry rebranded his station as “101.1 MoreFM.” This change, like all the others, was promoted in every imaginable way and became familiar to listeners virtually overnight.

wobm bumper sticker

Bumper Stickers

Once upon a time, you couldn’t drive in New Jersey without seeing a WOBM-FM bumper sticker on the car driving in front of you. They were everywhere. They made this station VERY familiar and Paul Most, a former GM of WOBM-FM, always used to say “When you can’t be heard, you’ve got to be seen.”

Arbitron Diary

arbitron diaryOnce upon a time, all radio listening was recorded using a diary, kept by a listener for seven days. Years of diary reviews at the Arbitron headquarters in Maryland proved to me that the radio stations most familiar to their listeners got the most “votes” from their fans.

When PPM measurements were introduced, the importance of unaided recall seemed to take a back seat with radio operators. Best Practices in large radio companies replaced the old tried and true ways of doing things. Radio promotion, except for over a station’s own airwaves, was cut from station budgets.

New Media Platforms

The shiniest new media platform on the block is the smart speaker. A recent research study, “The Smart Audio Report” from NPR and Edison Research, showed that traditional OTA radio was seeing the time people spent with radio, being the most disrupted. smartaudio-chartPeople in the survey said traditional AM/FM radio was the thing most replaced by audio listening via their smart speaker.echo

Having now owned three Amazon Echo smart speakers for six months, I can tell you Alexa is very addictive. But she’s also very precise. To have her serve up what you want to hear, you need to say it correctly, in the exact way she is programmed to understand, or else she will serve up some really bizarre things.

My household pretty much matches the research on why audio consumers love their smart speakers: 1) it’s fast, 2) it’s convenient and 3) it provides great choice.

Brand Promotion

In an interactive voice world, if people are familiar with your brand, they will ask for it by name. If not, the digital assistant will make that choice for you. That will make branding more critical than ever.

This means that the way radio promoted itself to its listeners back before PPM – the unaided diary days – will be the way it will need to promote itself in a world of voice control devices.

“Brands are a risk of being marginalized in a voice driven world, so brand marketing may matter even more.” -Bryan Moffett, COO, National Public Media

branding“Brands now have a chance to behave like human beings, talking, understanding, guiding, empathizing…voice is the single biggest vector of emotion, emotion is the biggest driver of preference. This is a true 1:1 marketing opportunity and a chance to build relationships like never before.” -Mark Paul Taylor, Chief Experience Officer, Global DCX Practice, Capgemini

Jerry Lee never deviated from his proven path of spending on promotion and delivering a quality product.

Everything old is new again, when it comes to branding a winning radio operation.

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Disruption is Everywhere

disruption aheadI’ve been reading the trades, trying to grasp what is happening, and it is all so very confusing. Have you felt that way too? That’s what a period of disruption looks like. Black is white. Up is down. It’s enough to give you an Excedrin headache.

SiriusXM

Jim Meyer, the CEO of America’s only satellite service reported strong growth in Q2. On his conference call he’s reported as saying that despite the surge in technology over the past ten years, AM/FM radio still attracts a big number of listeners. However, he also feels that the radio industry has a problem and it’s their product. He warns that if AM/FM radio doesn’t vastly improve their product, it will be to their own peril.

The feedback I received from my recent article “Radio & Traveling – Then & Now” that I wrote about in “From the DTB Mailbag…” seems to indicate that Mr. Meyer is not alone in that sentiment.

Streaming

Then I read how just halfway through 2018, streaming is growing at a rate that defies mathematical trends. By that, the writer meant when it comes to percentages, they are usually big when the numbers are small but become smaller as the numbers of people engaged increases.

With this area of streaming, we are seeing BOTH the numbers of people who stream growing with the percentage of people who are now streaming.

That’s a trend worthy of keeping you up at night.

Adoption Curve for Smart Speakers

In my university “Process & Effects of Media Classes” I introduced my students to the work of Everett Rogers and his Diffusion of Innovation Curve. Adoption Curve - Everett Rogers

Rogers studied how innovations with farmers in his native Iowa were adopted. He very soon realized that what he was witnessing occurred in all areas when a new innovation was introduced.

The latest research report from NPR/Edison, “The Smart Audio Report” showed we are into the Early Majority part of the curve with the smart speaker innovation.

Good News, Bad News

The smart speaker innovation has the ability to bring radio listening back into the homeEcho at a time when AM/FM radio is no longer the entertainment focus of the vehicle dashboard, replaced by the entertainment center that resembles the touch screen on your smartphone.

Unfortunately, the smart speaker also delivers an infinite world of audio choices and it is not a given that radio will be the benefactor.

Fred Jacobs basically lays out the fact that radio’s established brands such as a Z100 or a WTOP will find their engagement traversing from over-the-air to over-the-stream and onto smart speakers. I know that in my own case I can receive WTOP over-the-air, but atmospherics can play havoc with the signal at times. Not so with listening to WTOP via Alexa.

The best radio brands with strong listener engagement will grow.

Cord Cutting

The latest numbers indicate that cord cutting (eliminating the cable TV bundle) is growing faster than expected. The latest study from eMarketer  says that we can expect people cutting the cord to grow to 33 million Americans in 2018.

Netflix is now more popular than cable TV.

Jim GaffiganThe other night I watched Jim Gaffigan’s 5th Netflix special called “CINCO.” In his standup comedy routine, he hit the nail on the head about why Netflix is more popular than cable TV. Here’s what Jim said:

“Netflix has definitely made watching television with commercials kind of painful. Takes forever. You’re like, “What am I, growing my own food here? All right, Geico, we get it!” And it’s not just the length or the number of the commercials, it’s what the commercials say about the typical viewer of the show you’re watching. “Catheter? Why would–? Reverse mortgage? Back pain? I do have back pain. You know me so well, television show.”

Changing Habits

What we are witnessing in the current period of media disruption is the changing habits of the audience. They now have choices. Lots & lots & lots of choices.

Baseball, still radio’s #1 sport is seeing the decay of its audience to a myriad of choices to watch or listen to the same game. It’s no longer the monopoly it used to be.

But worse, once you’ve developed the Netflix or Alexa habit, going back to any delivery system that delivers lots of interruptions is, as Jim Gaffigan says, “painful.”

Ad Supported Media’s Future

I believe that there’s a future of ad supported media, but it can’t be done the way it’s currently being done. Podcasts understand this better than broadcast.

Amazon Prime is good at airing program promotions before the movie starts, in much the same way that my local movie theaters do.

And who didn’t enjoy hearing Paul Harvey say “page two?” It would be the first commercial break in his news and commentary but we listened. Because Paul was as engaging with his sponsor’s material as he was with the rest of his broadcast.

And thank you Mr. Harvey for making me want to own a BOSE Wave Radio. I now have two of them. However, I now play my Alexa Dots through them.

Life’s Only Constant

My old boss used to always say, nothing stays the same. You are either getting better or getting worse.

And he was right.

Life’s only constant is change.

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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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