Internet Radio’s Twilight Zone

It’s easy to get lost in all the drama surrounding the Congressional Royalty Board battle now going on between SoundExchange (referred to henceforth as “The Executioner”) and Internet radio.

There are plenty of issues there and I don’t think they will satisfactorily get worked out in the coming months. “The Executioner” wants to avoid the wrath of Congress and streamers want to wake Congress up and get them to act in the name of fair royalty rates. I see an unfortunate compromise coming that resolves nothing and once again leaves Internet radio in limbo in a year or two. But we’ll see.

What I see for the future of Internet radio is not so much 24-hour streaming – although no question we’ll have plenty of that. I see delayed listening programs delivered by the Internet to mobile devices and computers. There will be 15-minutes shows, three hour broadcasts. Content will determine the length. Enhanced podcasting in a way. The 24-hour broadcast standard may disappear.

The next generation isn’t going to listen to radio on the go the way radio and satellite companies hope they will. These Gen Y’ers have shorter attention spans. They will waltz in and out of musical genres and content of interest. Their emerging mobile devices such as iPhone and iPod give you an indication.

Some of my students report that their younger brothers and sisters already have shorter attention spans with their iPods and they tell me with some outrage that they (the brothers and sisters) can’t even listen to an entire song all the way through on their iPods.

Don’t tell this to traditional media but they're going to have to change what radio is because the next generation has changed their expectations.

Sprint has committed to a 20-year plan to build a WiMax system nationwide. It’s fraught with problems for Sprint but if they succeed they will leave their competitors in the dust and will enable mobile Internet on the fly. Internet radio will then be as available as terrestrial radio in theory.

But having said that, it will also be very different.

The big broadcaster of tomorrow – online or on land – will be broadcasting thousands and thousands of streams not a handful of 24/7 stations. The niches will be very small indeed. I was born in Hoboken, NJ and love all things about that little town that Sinatra made famous. If there are 1,000 people like me, you could monetize that “station” -- something that terrestrial broadcasting could never do.

Streams for all kinds of people with various interests and musical tastes are starting to arrive already on Internet radio. This excites the next generation even though they must listen to this content tethered to their computers.

Look to social networking.

I’ll be writing more about social networking going forward because I want to share with you what is developing among the next generation. They live online, but they interact through social networks. This will become more prominent as the years go on and broadcasters will have to understand and incorporate some social networking into their business plans.

Internet radio has been a smash hit already with lots of obstacles in its path.

Internet radio doesn’t have universal portability (as terrestrial radio does).

Internet radio doesn’t have a fair royalty agreement (like radio currently has but may not if “The Executioner” gets its way).

Internet radio is not run by seasoned professionals (maybe that’s an advantage in some ways).

I’d like to see terrestrial and satellite get into the Internet radio business. I plan to. Many of my friends are moving to that space as well. Cyberspace is friendly to radio program directors.

The future is Internet radio.

For those of you who would prefer to get my daily posts by email for free, please click here. Check your mail or spam filter to verify.