Tag Archives: The Great Recession

Radio’s $$$ Challenge

Revenues going downRadio, like all traditional media, is in the economic fight of its life.

In 2006, before the start of the Great Recession, the radio industry booked $18.1 Billion in advertising revenue. In 2006, the thought of earning digital dollars from doing anything on the internet was under development.

The Great Recession

Then America’s economy went catawampus. Radio’s ad dollars at the peak of the Great Recession dropped to $13.3 Billion in 2009.

Companies like Clear Channel began jettisoning employees, their biggest expense, by the boatloads. I sadly remember coming back from Clear Channel management meetings with a thumb drive and the dates that different spreadsheets would open and outline where the next employment cuts would be implemented.

John Hogan, Clear Channel CEO, told us at one of those meetings, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” By that he meant, by using cloud of the Great Recession that the entire structure of the company could be changed.

Digital Dimes

In 2010, the radio industry began tracking the impact that the Internet of Things (IoT) began having on the total revenue of the business. That first year, $0.4 Billion was earned.

In those early years, traditional media talked about how they were converting traditional advertising dollars into “digital dimes.” In other words, for the same amount selling effort, the Return On Investment (ROI) for digital was minuscule.

U.S. Inflation Rate (2006 to 2018)

Not helping the radio industry chiefs was the inflation rate in America. A dollar in 2006 was only worth 75.44-cents in 2018.

How did radio revenues in 2018 compare to what they were in 2006? They were down $4.8 Billion. That’s comparing the same Over-The-Air (OTA) revenue of 2006, which had no digital income, to the OTA revenue produced in 2018.

But what about those digital initiatives?

From $0.4 Billion in 2010, they rose to $0.923 Billion in 2018.

So, comparing total revenues for the radio industry from 2006 to 2018, we see that radio is only down $3.9 Billion. But here’s the problem, just to stay even with 2006, and not grow in revenues, radio would need to have earned about $22.5 Billion in 2018. In other words, instead of being down $3.9 Billion, radio needed to be up about $4.4 Billion. That’s an $8.3 Billion gap!

A Look Ahead

Local radio is one of the top five advertising platforms in America today. BIA Advisory Services SVP and Chief Economist, Mark Fratrik, is predicting that OTA radio revenues will continue to decline one to two percent in 2019 and for the next few years.

Even adding in those digital revenues predicted to be $1 Billion for radio in 2020, Fratrik says total radio revenues are expected to remain flat for the next five years.

That’s why we’re continuing to see radio companies trimming their employment rosters every time we read the latest radio trade publications.

If misery loves company, the only bright spot – if you can call it one – is that the advertising dollar challenge for newspapers and television will be even greater.

Traditional media is converging on one delivery platform, the internet.

Today in China OTA radio trails streaming music for in-car listening. Even in America, for people who listen once or twice weekly, streaming and OTA listening are tied at 33%.

“The decision we have to make is

not whether this is the media environment we want to operate in,

it’s the one we’ve got.”

-Clay Shirky

 

 

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Seems Like We’ve Been Here Before

I teach a course called the “History of Broadcasting in America” at the School of Journalism & Broadcasting at Western Kentucky University. It’s from this background I’m writing this week’s blog.

Broadcasting began with the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Navigation issuing KDKA the first commercial broadcast license on October 27, 1920. Let’s be clear, there was lots of broadcasting going on in America before this date, but this license marks the beginning of radio broadcasting that would be ad-supported.

Think about it. This period in American history was called the “Roaring 20s.” It would be a time the first tabloid newspaper would appear along with publications like Reader’s Digest, New Yorker magazine, and TIME magazine. This would be the world that commercial radio would be born in.

It was a time in America of unprecedented economic prosperity and social change. It was also a time of a strong backlash of racism, fear of immigration and morality.

Radio would be the new kid on the block in the 1920s. Broadband wireless Internet is the new kid today as we live in a period of time giving birth to the “Internet of Things (IoT).”

Déjà vu

Let’s compare the issues of then and now. In the 1920s, immigration was feared. America got tough on immigration with a stringent set of restrictions embodied in the Immigration Act of 1924 designed to limit the flow of immigrants from Europe primarily. Today we hear all about how we need to build a great wall between the American and Mexican border.

In the 1920s, the focus was segregation and discrimination of African-Americans. These same sticky issues are still with us today. Think Charter Schools. Gay Marriage. Muslims.

While women had earned the right to vote by the Roaring 20s, they still couldn’t go to college, most professions excluded women, they couldn’t own property, couldn’t establish credit or get loan to start a business. Women? How’s it going today besides your fight for equal pay, equal rights and women’s health?

The 1920s had the 18th Amendment, which brought about Prohibition. Today we have the “War on Drugs.” It’s been about as successful as Prohibition was, but it appears America learned nothing from its past.

The 1920s saw a technology revolution. American-made films not only captivated Americans, but the world. Every American city would have a movie theater by the end of the 20s. Today, virtually every American home is connected to the Internet, most with Broadband service.

Radio would grow up to be an ad-supported medium. It still is today. The Internet pursued the same ad-support path.

The 1920s were the best of times and the worst of times. Society was made up of the haves and the have-nots. The wealth-gap was huge. Today, that gap is bigger than it was a century ago.

The 1920s saw modern corporations and the federal government in a close alliance. And everyone thought that was a good thing, until October 29, 1929. A day known as Black Tuesday, the day stock market crashed, which would mark the beginning of the Great Depression. After that happened, Americans weren’t so sure about the big corporations’ influence over their government.

The equivalent (and hopefully the extent of it) comparison in our time would be “The Great Recession of 2007 – 2009.”

America 1920, commercial radio was born in America. It was the start of a mass communications revolution. It would kill Vaudeville.

Déjà vu All Over Again – Yogi Berra

Today, we are living in a period of world history that is undergoing a new communications revolution brought about by the creation of the Internet and the smartphone. And what the Internet of Things is doing is challenging the business model of just about every business.

When TV came along in the 1950s, it took the entertainment that radio had stolen from Vaudeville and stole it from radio. But radio, unlike Vaudeville back in the 20s, didn’t die. It re-invented itself into a new form of mass communication.

The challenge for radio today, unlike back in the beginning, is that broadcasters and the government understood they had to make a choice. Have lots of broadcasters and poor quality of broadcasts – OR – have fewer broadcasters but ones that could support the economics of high quality broadcasts.

Broadcasting in those early days was all live programs. Live music, live drama, live comedy, live variety, live everything. This requirement to do only live programming is what separated the big boys from the amateurs and that’s how those corporations got the best signals and the most power to broadcast on.

Operating in the Public Interest

 The requirement for gaining access to the public airwaves for these big broadcasters was that they operate in the “public interest, convenience and/or necessity.” The Radio Act of 1927 would embody these principles:

  • Access to the public airwaves would be restricted to a few quality broadcasters vs. lots of mediocre ones

  • They would operate in the public interest

  • They would be regulated by the government

  • They would be a commercial medium operated by private entities

Today, the government is licensing Lower Power FM stations and Translator FM stations like Johnny Appleseed planted apple trees. Today there are 22,970 radio stations broadcasting in America as of June 2015. Add to this the infinite number of streaming radio stations on the Internet and you can see how this challenges today’s radio owner to fulfill operating in the “public interest, convenience and/or necessity” and make a profit.

While some may make the case that radio is not living up to the original covenant, you also need to realize that neither is the government. Less radio stations enabled broadcasters to provide more services to their communities of license.

Nielsen Audio says radio still reaches over 92% of all Americans 12-years of age and older on a weekly basis. It’s the #1 reach medium today. It has always been the #1 frequency medium. That powerful combination of reach & frequency is the one-two punch of effective advertising. American’s still love their radio.

But today, places to advertise on radio are infinite. The advertising budgets, however, are finite. The advertising pie has never been cut thinner.

And that’s the problem.

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