Radio vs. The Internet

The new USC Annenberg Digital Future study is out and it's worth consulting for a snapshot of where traditional vs. new media stands. It provides some insight as to how the audience is changing.

Some in traditional media think that radio can be fixed (just about every consolidator says so) and that even newspapers can be revived (Tribune Company's pitch). But as you'll see, competing in the digital world is far more complicated.

This is from the latest USC Annenberg Digital Future study:

The Digital Future Report found that the Internet is perceived by users to be a more important source of information for them -- this over all other principal media, including television, radio, newspapers, and books. Eighty percent of Internet users age 17 and older consider the Internet to be an important source of information for them -- up from 66 percent in 2006 -- and higher than television (68 percent), radio (63 percent), and newspapers (63 percent).

You've got to believe that the older demographics are boosting the traditional media numbers here and the younger demos prefer the digital options. Even at that, the Internet is the winner and without a groundswell of younger consumers interested in radio, TV and even newspapers, their audiences will continue to dwindle.

The dilemma broadcasters find themselves in is how to respond.

If young people are not listening to radio, does that mean they dislike radio? They seem to like Pandora (the customized radio service that suggests music through its genome formula) and Pandora is in effect online radio.

You see what happens when anyone suggests that radio is dying. Loyalists go nuts. Critics hop on board and the issue often becomes emotional.

Some have argued that the answer is Internet radio. So how does terrestrial radio respond? By streaming their radio feeds online. This is not the future. Developing new content for the Internet -- including new radio content -- could be the answer and yet few radio companies will spend the money or hire the talent to do so.

Can you imagine where a consolidator like Clear Channel would be today if when they closed on its 1,100th radio station they also decided to invest in 1,100 more "stations" -- totally new, totally different -- with podcasting and social networking options -- online.

When Clear Channel removed Randy Michaels they sent him to a low-profile Internet job. How wrong were they?

I'm being unfair to Clear Channel here because few of us knew when they hit 1,100 that social networking would be this important and that podcasting could be the best fit for a mobile device. Back then, we were so primitive many of us thought a cell phone was for making phone calls. And there are monumental royalty issues unresolved. Still, some content development would have placed terrestrial radio in the forefront of creating valuable content.

And while traditional media companies obsess about their world (Wall Street, transmitter and towers, etc) the Annenberg study shows the audience has moved on in a dramatic fashion that is worth noting:

The Digital Future Project found that membership in online communities has more than doubled in only three years. More than half of online community members (54 percent) log into their community at least once a day, and 71 percent of members said their community is very important or extremely important to them. Fifty- six percent of members reported meeting their online counterparts in person. The study found that participation in online community membership has particularly dramatic effects on participation in social causes. Three-quarters of online community members said they use the Internet to participate in communities related to social causes, with 40 percent saying that they use the Internet at least monthly to participate in such communities. Eighty-seven percent of online community members are participating in social causes that are new to them since their involvement in online communities began. What's most noteworthy is that more than half -- 55 percent -- said they feel as strongly about their online communities as they do about their real world communities. And this number is growing.

Radio stations used to be great at ascertaining the needs of their communities. After consolidation, they were not so great. If stations ascertained the needs of their communities today, they would find that for radio to survive it would have to become the hub of social networking.

Here's where opportunities abound.

Radio is best when it is local. Social networks work best when they are specific in nature. MySpace, the NewsCorp-owned mega site is starting to decline. While Facebook, its competitor still grows, young people I work with tell me that they wouldn't count on that for long either.

Two trends I have observed is the need for smaller niche social networks -- i.e., local and specific.

And, the ability to communicate, share and even "mash-up" or have a say in content.

So I get concerned when I see my friends in radio trying to put a finger in the dike and try to keep radio from coming undone.

It has come undone. Arguably, free radio has seen its better days. It is dying with the baby boomers who still love it and will until their last breath.

The Internet is everywhere for every generation. I have an 82 year old mentor who sends me a barrage of email on aging (just what I don't need -- I'm a baby boomer and I will never age, right?). My 20 year old friends and students use email differently. And communicate through texting. They are fast finders of news and information online.

Radio broadcasters are the best providers of content on this earth.

They're just providing it in the wrong place to reach future audiences.

Radio broadcasters can do more than format programming.

The next generation needs prolific podcasts on a myriad of subjects.

The Internet is a delivery system.

Radio is a content business.

I can understand why media companies that have spent billions to own radio properties would instinctively fight for the status quo, but the Annenberg study and wide-ranging studies of all kinds indicate that it is time to cooperative with inevitable.

Become content providers not only radio broadcasters.

One represents yesterday's technology and the limits that technology placed on a generation of broadcasters.

The other is the future which is virtually unlimited, wireless, increasingly omnipresent and ready for commerce.

The next big thought should be between the left and right ears of decision makers.

The USC Annenberg Digital Future report is available for purchase between $750-$2,000. Cheaper than most corporate dinners and far more cost-effective than flying private. You can order here.

Cheapskates, victims of recent radio firings and the rest of us can read an overview for the low, low price of free -- here.

Enjoy and share the links and this piece with others who want to get excited about being part of the digital future.

For those of you who would prefer to get Jerry's daily posts by email for free, please click here. IMPORTANT: First you must check your mail or spam filter to verify your new subscription before service can begin.
Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.