Radio & Records -- Playing Not To Lose

As many of you know I love ice hockey.

More specifically, I love the Philadelphia Flyers for their physical play and great passion for winning.

I see a lot of similarities between hockey and life. In fact my son and daughter were raised on Flyers hockey from six months old.

The Flyers never give up, I told them.

Look at the Hound (Bob Kelly) in the corner mucking it up trying to make something happen, I used to say. The lesson is obvious.

Stand up and fight for what's worth fighting for.

When you lose, you don't really lose unless you give up. There's always something to build on.

But recently it has occurred to me from watching the Flyers during the regular season and in the NHL playoffs that sometimes they look like they are playing not to lose -- in other words, they're not playing to win. That's why they get tentative and cough up a goal in the final seconds to lose the game. Last night's game -- an exception.

We sometimes do the same thing in life -- and specifically in two businesses of which I am really fond -- radio and records.

Somehow you get the feeling that these two ex-powerhouses are concerned with trying not to give up another goal (profits, CDs, listeners, advertisers -- you name it). They're not on their game. They are on the defensive.

Instead of blazing the way into the digital future, the record industry has been trying to hold on to CD market share since 2000.

Not figure a way to handle Napster.

Not get an answer to illegal filesharing.

Neither iTunes nor iPod can make the labels go on the offensive -- other than suing people. Occasionally, they buy a small company to show that they can or they do an unremarkable deal. But you get the feeling that if the mighty record labels wanted to score with two minutes left, they could -- if they played to win.

Instead of getting into the mobile and Internet content businesses, the radio industry has also played defense -- in hockey we might call it playing the "trap" -- trying to keep others from "scoring" in new media instead of pulling out the stops and going for it.

The analogy breaks down here: in hockey you'd put the best men on the ice to win, but in radio they've fired, retired or demoted their best players and benched the others.

I have a hard time believing that these two industries wouldn't be doing a lot better in their quest to find a meaningful and profitable role in the world of new media -- but not by complaining to the referees (the courts, by the RIAA), threatening to field a team of minor leaguers (the ones who will work cheaply) or using players from their farm teams to win in the big leagues -- that is if they still have a farm team.

In life, you play to win but sometimes you lose.

In radio and records, they play not to lose and sometimes hope to win.

If these two mediums are not ready to take a few chances and play with the talent they have "on the bench", they soon will be out of competition in their fight for survival.

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