ClearGoogle -- Death of A Salesman

Google could be the next Clear Channel.

It is planning a massive assault on what is presently known as radio sales. If Google succeeds, it could become the next evil empire -- the term some journalist have used to describe some consolidators. Google not only wants to make it possible for anyone to buy radio ads online, it wants to go after radio's big advertisers thus the hiring away of top radio salespeople that is going on right now. Radio groups might be willing to let this mega-giant -- shall we call it ClearGoogle -- sell off unused inventory, but will they let Google turn their stations into a click and bid system open to anybody and everybody? Of course they will. While some radio groups are swearing up and down that they will have no part of ruining the personal selling relationship between station and client, their history shows otherwise. And while Google needs Clear Channel (now looking to split up) and CBS to succeed at this power play, neither has signed on -- yet! This Google Audio Ad Service is right down a consolidator's alley. You can smell the cutbacks, layoffs and reliance on a system that would make radio sales a mere commodity.

I say that because the past ten years has proven that that's the way radio thinks and acts -- like a commodity. Not a hot commodity just a commodity. And that's why radio is stuck at the $20 billion mark. Am I predicting some form of online ad purchasing for radio in the future? You bet. It's coming. The radio industry has single-handedly shot itself in the foot since consolidation by devaluing employees. Not all the radio groups -- just the big, public ones -- the ones who have led radio to its present predicament. The breakdown of the sales relationship between station and buyer in spite of all the angry denials you'll likely hear is inevitable because consolidation is all about efficiencies of scale. It's all involved with one person doing two or three jobs and if it could figure out a way -- no person doing two or three jobs. That's why online buying and bidding for audio ads is made for consolidated radio. It's about efficiency of scale. And why Google could become a new-age ClearGoogle -- at least to the radio industry. This idea can't lose and at the same time radio can't win. It made its bed and now Google has come to lie in it. Sarah McBride did an outstanding piece in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal on Google's plans if you haven't already seen it.

As many of you know, I took a lot of brick bats for predicting radio's demise at the hands of consolidation as editor of Inside Radio ten years ago. Sadly, I put even the casual use of online bidding and buying in the same category today. If radio heads really want to grow their businesses, start hiring. Hire young people. Turn them loose (put them in a garage to work like the kids who are turning out all the billion businesses these days). Then bring back the talent you've discarded as consolidation's collateral damage and value the pros you still employee. These pros never turned on you. Wall Street did. And listeners are now. Put bluntly, radio is a growth business only when it starts to grow its staff, grow beyond the false efficiencies of consolidation and grow into the next generation. It not only hasn't measured up, it is very vulnerable to ideas like this one.

Ironically, radio -- the same giant that gobbled up mom and pop radio stations as the booty of consolidation may be defenseless in the end to a bigger giant like Google gobbling them up into their click and serve world. Radio, meet Google. Google, meet Clear Channel's 1,150 stations. ClearGoogle.