The Next Generation of Radio – On-air, Online, on Mobile Devices

At the end of June I am going to teach an interactive session for radio executives at the Conclave in Minneapolis. It will be conducted as I have taught classes for my university students over the past four years – interactive and focused on several main ideas.

My view is that terrestrial radio is now a destination entertainment medium for available listeners – older members of Gen X and the baby boomers.

Radio is still a good business for these demographics – and, for that matter, could be an even better business for the available audience if radio owners could get back to the basics of radio programming, unleash the PDs who still have the ability to program what these available listeners want and invest in ways to increase income knowing that they cannot increase the audience size.

It is what it is – lots of baby boomers, aging but still working, and some of their Gen X children who have a love and appreciation for the medium.

Beyond that – radio has little future as of this moment.

That is, if radio is defined only as a 24/7 terrestrial signal.

On the other hand if radio content providers, marketers and sales people can embrace alternative ways to entertain Gen Y – not as easy as it sounds – terrestrial radio operators could be the fortunate drivers of mobile, Internet and WiFi entertainment for a youth generation that rivals baby boomers in population.

I am very excited about radio’s ability to cash in on this opportunity even though there is little evidence that existing major radio companies really understand Gen Y or for that matter the mobile, digital and Internet world.

Among the things I will address at the Conclave – that I’d like to mention to you are:

1. The future of broadcasting without the next generation -- options, strategies, challenges. There is no better content provider on planet earth than radio talent for producing content. But there is no need to produce 24/7 programming online. I am not saying that there won’t be streaming stations on the Internet to replace radio for Gen Y – there will. But the radio station of the future may only provide three hours of programming a day – that’s right, a day – and deliver it on a cell phone or mobile device. And, yes, there will be ancillary ways to monetize this concept.

2. Opportunities for radio on the Internet and in the mobile space. Podcasting will be the new radio for Gen Y. It can’t happen now because there are rights issues pertaining to the music and delivery programs without universal WiFi, WiMax or some other mobile enabler, but you can bet the old transmitter and tower on this – podcasting is the future and existing radio companies can own it if they can understand its challenges and opportunities.

3. Ways to better understand the elusive and quirky next generation. How to read the consumer more like Apple CEO Steve Jobs does. If radio companies think they know Gen Y because they have Gen Y children, then it is hopeless. Our children are not always the best indicators of a generation – it’s also our best work with lots of our influences considered. The successful content provider in the future will have to unlock the genius of Steve Jobs in understanding a generation they are not in – and Jobs, arguably, knows Gen Y better than they know themselves. There are ways to get started.

4. How radio stations can best program to the available audience for the terrestrial signal. CBS has dealt with this reality straight on. You can’t program to a generation that would rather not listen on a radio. Or a generation that increasingly would rather start, stop and time-delay their listening rather than tune in to a 24/7 broadcast. Never has the radio business done such a poor job programming to its base. This can be fixed in the short term and long term.

5. The role of social networking, mash-ups and viral marketing in content creation. Too many radio owners think social networking is MySpace or Facebook. It is that, but more. Record labels think radio stations break new music. They are, but increasingly less. The next generation has the ability to spread the word like no other generation and without a deep understanding of how they do it, you are not likely to benefit from this most efficient way to do promotion. And mash-ups – user-generated and influenced contributions to sound and sight are not a flirtation, but what many young people now see as their right.

6. Developing the kind of skills that radio companies looking to survive by being new media outlets will have to possess in order to compete in a changing world. In the past, a radio station had to be on-air, all the time and doing the same format over and over again. But in the future, new media will require radio broadcasters who want to play in this arena to be many things for which it does not presently have skills. But they are attainable and can be taught to others.

I’m hoping at the Conclave to help each participant draw up a list of action steps customized to each individual’s interests and needs and hear some excellent ideas.

The future is exciting and could be profitable for traditional broadcasters who can do two things at once – program better content for available terrestrial listeners and acquire the understanding and skills to participate in new media – not just technology but sociology.

Of course, I will continue to write about these topics for those of you who are not able to be in Minneapolis for the Conclave because traditional media can do new media once it isolates the opportunities for change.

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