Radio & Records Generation Ex

You should see the email I get every time I mention the needs and desires of the next generation.


Stuff like "you can't go by what the students of the University of Spoiled Children say" or "wait until they have to get a job, they'll see" or some other dismissive phrase that only supports why the radio and record industries are currently without a future.

It's easy for radio and record executives to blame the iPod or the Internet or those thieving kids who pirate music. But the real answer is closer to home.

What we have is generational ignorance.

All of us who have children think our kids are representative of the next generation. They don't steal music. They still listen to radio and they even buy CDs with their parent's money.

This would be wrong.

I am more convinced than ever that the decline of the radio and record industries is based on the inability of baby boomer managers to understand the 18-24 year old demographic.

You want ignorance, I'll show you ignorance (maybe I should say that another way):

1. If you sue them they will quit stealing. This generation doesn't see file sharing as stealing. They have the ability to share music for the purpose of sampling it. They just don't like listening to new music on the radio. Can you blame them? There hasn't been a lot of new music on the radio for 20 years. Baby boomer managers at the labels are doing what they -- and read this slowly -- would do to a baby boomer who tried to steal their product out of a store. Punish them. It won't work. Isn't working. Will never work. They should fold the RIAA's legal efforts and accept that file sharing actually sells music, it doesn't hurt. What hurts the labels is consolidating, cutting back, thinking today's consumer is just like they were.

2. Top radio executives think radio is a public business. Look at stock prices for radio over the past ten years. Mostly down and almost out. Radio isn't a public business -- hate to tell you. The investment banks have figured it out after making tons of money off willing radio companies going to the public trough to raise money for buying stations after consolidation. The next generation -- the one that will have more people in it than baby boomers -- know radio is irrelevant. They don't crave radio, they mostly listen in when it's available. No young person is a radio freak. Please consider this -- radio is a public trust. As my longtime friend Bill O'Shaughnessy has said for a lifetime -- their owners are fiduciaries for the public trust. Laugh. Deny. But he's right. Radio doesn't do Wall Street as well as it had hoped. Now we can see it in their "ratings" -- the stock quotes.

3. Baby boomers don't understand the importance of social networking to Gen Y. Social networking is bigger than the Internet itself. More important than email. More pervasive than text messaging. This generation defines itself by making friendships and associations with each other. Radio is not their friend. Record labels are not their friends. Indie artists might be their friends and they discover them through social networks. The boomers who grew up at the record store are doing all the wrong things to understand the mindset of the next generation who grew up online.

4. Boomers might be startled to hear 18-24 year olds say, "we don't care if Facebook screws up by revealing our buying habits to potential advertisers, we'll just find something else". I had a class of students say just that a few days ago. As a generation they are uniformly fickle -- I've been telling you that. They'll just pick up and go someplace else. Many of us who presided over the hey day of radio and records knew that our market was always there -- we just had to compete to get our share. Now, you can't be sure they are even available.

5. Cool and sexy impresses them which is precisely why HD radio will never cut it. They don't care about fidelity -- hell, they listen to severely compressed music on crummy little iPod ear buds or on their computers. It's hard to find one who doesn't lust after a cool and sexy iPhone. Not a satellite radio. Not an HD radio. Not even an Internet tabletop radio. These devices are very uncool.

6. Boomers running TV businesses are in for a real comeuppance. The 18-24 year olds increasingly watch television on their laptops or desktop monitors. The better those screens get, the easier it will be to keep watching on their computers. Of course, most of them turn the sound off or ignore the pre-roll commercials. HD TV? Not for them. Seems like anything with an HD in it is doomed. Boomers are impressed with HD but Gen Y is not. Their world is the laptop -- they want what they want when they want it. Some of those new MacBook Pro laptop screens are getting nice.

So, when you're looking for reasons why traditional media fell down and can't seem to get up, you need to look no further than the baby boomers who run the outlets.

Don't get me wrong. I'm one of them. Baby boomer media execs are talented people. They've had lots of accomplishments. Its not about their ability or lack of it. It's more about their ability to understand a generation so opposite themselves that the instincts they've depended on to have a successful career don't apply any more.

The willing can get down and learn about these generational wars -- a good first step.

They must believe it is possible to be born of an older generation and sell to a younger one.

Apple's Steve Jobs does it -- and does it better than anyone. After all, he's a boomer right down to his jeans and turtleneck but he knows his young market better than they do.

So there is always hope.

Otherwise today's baby boomer media execs will become part of an even bigger generational group we may someday being referring to as Generation Ex.

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